Friday, January 17, 2014

More On The Core

The previous post here at Right Detour noted that the idea of some kind of common core has been around for decades and represents a sound pedagogical alternative to progressive education.

Among other things, modern progressive education embraces the idea of multiculturalism. This includes educational strategies adapted to the increasing cultural diversity of students. According to this view, education must be tailored to these different cultures. This also includes a move toward "critical thinking skills" at the expense of content based learning. Multicultural education theory seems to hold that a culturally diverse student population requires diverse content or as little content as possible.

In contrast, the idea of a common core includes the belief that every field of knowledge has core concepts that every student should know and that some kind of national common core will also help forge and maintain a common culture amid the cultural diversity of our country.

This is what make the video bellow so disturbing. This is one of five videos that raise serious questions about the CCSS being pushed by the Department of Education. It is narrated by Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project, a conservative advocacy group formed by Robert P. George, a law professor at Princeton University. While the setting of this video is a classroom, Robbins is actually a lawyer. For a detailed critique of CCSS by the American Principles Project, see here.

In contrast to the other presentations, this one makes several bogus and empty assertions.

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One of the benefits of  national education standards is that they will allow better comparisons between students of different states. Without national standards, students know only how well they perform as measured against other students within their states. National standards do not guarantee improved performance; they are only an information gathering tool.

Robbins brushes aside this claim by asserting that we can compare students of different states already through the NAEP, the ACT, and the SAT. She acknowledges the limitations of the NAEP, but ignores the severe handicaps  presented by the other tests.

Students of states that use the ACT cannot really be compared with those from other states who use the SAT. Moreover, doubts exist about even comparing states that use the SAT. States with high scores brag about their education system based upon those scores. States with low scores, however, deny that the scores can be used for making valid comparisons between states or even between school districts within the same state.  They usually argue that in some states or districts so many more non-college bound students take the SAT that it drags down their scores to artificially low levels. This makes comparisons invalid.

Next, Robbins recognizes the truth that no direct connection exists between national standards and academic performance. She overreaches, however, when she attempts to  buttresses this truth with the statement that "the thought that we can successfully nationalize and standardize education with a Bill Gates common core type operating system in a country of 300 million wildly diverse people is frankly ludicrous."

Aside from her  humorous but irrelevant snark about Bill Gates, Robbins forgets the most fundamental fact about education: in every field of study, core concepts exist that every student should know. For example, in civic or American government, all students need to be able to distinguish between the three branches of government no matter how wildly diverse they may be. And a national common core helps establish and affirm a broad general cultural unity even among our diversity. Before the rise of progressive education, we had something close to this even without national standards. In the past, textbooks routinely taught the same core ideas and, equally important, affirmed the same values, even without central direction.

It is ironic how quickly  conservatives who oppose multicultural education directed to our diverse student population will appeal to the assumptions of  multicultural education in opposition to  uniform common core standards on the basis of their lack of attention to diversity.

This brings us to the final empty claim. Robbins asserts that "parents and localities" should enjoy the "kind of control they use to have before the federal government took over."

She never identified when this takeover occurred. Does she mean CCSS or something else? Moreover, she never specified what kinds of control "parents and localities" exercise. Even before those 45 states adopted CCSS, parents and localities exerted almost no control over education. Localities do the hard work of actually educating the children. That's about the only control they possess.  Establishment of learning standards, curriculum development, and textbook selection, however, all occur at the state level in most cases across this country.  It is good and effective "sloganeering" to call for parental control over education. Who could object. But unless you are a home school parent, you have experienced almost no say in how your child is educated.




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