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Education

Common Core Brings Uncommon Problems

Does Common Core ask the best of teachers, students and parents, or is it a way for the federal government to gain control over failing state curricula?

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The gloves are off in New York, a state where Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo is on his bully pulpit, saying test results will count for 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

Two “needs improvement” or failing evaluations and the teacher can be denied tenure and lose their job. Too harsh?

Cuomo is no friend of teachers unions, among the most powerful in the state, and he is all-in on the Common Core, threatening less money for school districts that opt out. Even the federal government has come out recently, saying they may have to “step in” if states ignore opting out on Common Core exams.

But the natives are restless.

On Long Island alone, arguably the place where most of New York’s best public schools are, nearly 72,000 students opting out of 3rd through 8th grade English Language Arts tests. That’s 42 percent of those eligible. Comsewogue in Port Jefferson Station's opt out percentage reached nearly 82 percent.

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Teachers in anti-Common Core communities are juxtaposed: If they encourage accountability through test taking they risk rocking the political boat of their union.

Best to just shut up and teach, right?

But teach what, and how?

Common Core, for all its haranguing opponents, actually raises the achievement bar. To master the teaching tasks educators need hours of professional development. Once the teachers “get it” they need to educate parents on how to help their youngsters “get it,” especially regarding math, which has more English in it than ever before.

One rationale behind Common Core is that the United States doesn’t measure up to other nations regarding math, science and language arts. Common Core goes deeper into subjects, and should help student’s master concepts and skills before moving on.

Graduation rates in New York’s higher population centers is around 50 percent, and the state university system claims up to 46 percent of high school graduates who attend college aren’t ready for college level work. Needless to say the college professors are overwhelmingly in favor of Common Core.

It has been said that many union workers from all other trades have joined with the teachers in opposing the standardized tests in a show of solidarity.

A friend, who teaches on Long Island, had students ask her if they were allowed to opt out of the test, why did they have to do the work.

And there you have it. The long term results of anti-Common Core zeal. You get anti-learning zeal from students.

[sharequote align="center"]The long term results of anti-Common Core zeal. You get anti-learning zeal from students.[/sharequote]

And why not? If you’re not going to be tested on the material why learn it in the first place? “Is it on the test?” is a frequent question from even college students.

The trick is turning them on to learning.

How does avoiding the tests designed to gauge achievement in Common Core turn students on to learning? One would think parents would want their children to have more experience taking high-stakes tests, not less. Think of all the future tutoring session fees preparing opt-out students for college entrance exams.

Some of the rationale given by education experts against Common Core includes alleging the test amounts to “child abuse.” In reality the test is a fair reflection of what students are expected to know, developed by teachers and other education professionals in order to make sure all states have high standards. One problem is how it was implemented.

But benchmarking is done in nearly every industry. We do it in finance, energy, medicine, and education. Benchmarking is a part of life and should be explained to parents, not hidden from them to further a suspected union agenda.

Some have gone so far as to say high stakes testing causes students to cry, hyperventilate, pee their pants and even think about committing suicide. Those reactions are not normal, and are most likely the by-product of adult reactions to the tests, not the child’s natural responses to them.

Common Core curriculum is more challenging. My third grader, as many of his classmates, is struggling with the math. He is challenged by the English Language Arts. The science is elevated.

Is it too much? Perhaps. Does it take more time for him to finish his homework? Yes. Do his mother and father have to spend more time checking his work and then helping him with it? Yes.

So, how do we help our children considering Common Core is “here to stay,” as former New York State Education Chancellor John King has said?

Put down the smart phone. Turn off the video games, TV and computer.

Do the math flash cards, handwriting, and science fair project with your child. Open a book and have them read to you, and then read to them. Showing an interest in your child’s learning is a positive step toward showing them that it’s important.

Common Core has brought us out of our uber-technological comfort zones and is causing some people to freak out.

Is it a good thing? Time will tell, but only if students take the tests designed to provide data on how well they are doing. Without the tests, there can be no reliable way to gauge progress or lack thereof. The scores for these exams were never meant for children anyway. They are a way for educators and parents to assess the progress or lack thereof of school children. How else can educators be expected to decide what and how a student should be taught?

Post script: My children took all of their New York state assessments. When asked how they were, they said, “fine,” and “I thought the math test was easy.” One never knows until the scores come out. But when they do, as usual, we won’t show our children the scores, good or otherwise. We will use the scores as information for conversations with their teachers and administrators in order to help find the best way for them to continue to learn and grow.

I am a three times mobilized U.S. Army major (Ret.); former teacher, coach and public school administrator; husband and father of five. I am the author of "Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior." Blog, Facebook, Twitter @mjgranger1

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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