Thursday, July 18, 2013

In Response to the Common Core Protest

In Thursday’s Deseret News appeared an article describing the rally at the Capitol by protesters against the state core standards. I am more than a little troubled by the response from a loud minority to Utah’s adoption of the new core standards. I am particularly troubled that my own legislator attached his name to Cherliyn Eagar’s resolution which calls for defunding the school system unless the state renounces its adoption of the standards. I have held my peace in public throughout this debate, expecting that the teaching of the standards in our schools will allow their own merit to silence the critics. Yet this Wednesday’s rally has convinced me that silence will likely never come.
I am a school teacher myself, and in my brief career thus far I have taught under the auspices of three different state core curricula for English language arts. The standards unveiled as the Common Core are by far the best standards I have seen. Indeed, they are a testament to the power of collaboration--a product of many shows itself to be superior to a product of only a few.
As a teacher, I can offer evidence to refute Eagar’s claim that the standards are “unproven” and “inferior.” I taught my classes in the 2012-2013 school year using the state standards, fully implemented now, even though the state would be testing my students at the end of the year on a test focusing on the old (2006) core. All but five of my ninth graders reached the proficiency level on that test--far more than in any previous year. Even the students who did not quite make the proficiency level demonstrated improvement--four of the five of them were very close to proficiency. If the standards I am teaching my students are indeed inferior to the standards I used to teach them, shouldn’t their performance on the very same test regress? The fact of their progress demonstrates that their learning is certainly not inferior nor unproven. However, as the evidence continues to establish the superiority of the core as we teach it to the students, I worry that these critics will remain unsatisfied.
One criticism of the core raised by Eagar this week is that is was developed by “the unelected.” However, it is absurd to suggest that only elected officials have the knowledge and expertise to design curriculum standards. It would make far more sense if she were to complain that the standards were developed by non-educators--they weren’t, by the way--than to grant authority to elected lawmakers to create educational curriculum themselves. Indeed, Eagar neglects to mention that neither she nor her loudest supporters are elected themselves. However, those who are elected have given largely positive endorsements of the core. I applaud Governor Herbert for his continued defense of the core, in the face of its critics. The voters also applauded his defense by re-electing him. The State School Board also stood by their decision to adopt the core in the face of public pressure, and they were largely re-elected as well. Further, the first endorsement of the core came from the National Governor’s Association, a body composed entirely of elected officials. Where are the dissatisfied voters Eagar seems to imply in her argument? The continued re-election of officials who support the core would seem to suggest that the voters approve of the core.
Perhaps my strongest objection to the protesters this week, however, should be leveled at Oak Norton, whom the Deseret News quoted as saying that “Common core is preventing the needs of a child to be met.” On the contrary, the training teachers around the state have received at the Utah Core Academy this summer has focused largely on using the standards to meet the individual needs of students. The new formative assessment tools developed for the state, which are scheduled to go online this fall, are specifically designed to identify areas where each individual child needs attention, helping teachers to tailor instruction to meet the needs of their kids, rather than following any set instruction guide.

I would hope the legislature, the State Board, and the public will see the through the rhetoric and the fallacious arguments being leveled at the core and examine it on its merits.

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