Whither Common Core

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Just about every U.S. President in recent times have declared bold, and challenging polices towards education, often with interesting and compelling mantras that encapsulate the essence of what is to be expected from their administration on this matter. Some can be construed as simply an extension of the policies of their predecessor, while others chart clear and definite departure from previous approaches, and impart, or attempt to impart, serious challenges to the status quo.

Ronald Reagan for example, made it quite clear while campaigning for the presidency, that he would dismantle the Department of Education; only recently created by President Jimmy Carter, if elected, and attempted to make good on that promise while in office. Of course, this did not happen, but Reagan did move forward in establishing a bipartisan National Commission on Excellence in Education, with the mantra “Our Children Come First,” and which promised to do more to restore discipline in schools, encourage the teaching of new basics and enforce tougher learning standards, while rewarding teachers of merit.

Bill Clinton who succeeded President Reagan, unsuccessfully tried to establish national standards whereby states would be required to end social promotion, the practice of passing students from one grade to another despite their failure to master skills. This did not deter President Bush from advocating for, and signing the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2002, which his administration touted as one of the great modern domestic policy successes. Largely viewed as an extension of NCLB, President Obama rolled out the much talk about “Race to The Top” (RTTT) initiative in July 2009, which provided for states to apply for the $4.35 billion Race to The Top fund, and which promised the opportunity for, according to education secretary, Arne Duncan, school districts to “reverse the pervasive dumbing down of academic standards and assessments that has taken place over the years”

An added component of RTTT, is the provision of an additional $350 million to competitively fund rigorous, common state assessment developed by the National Governors Association, and partially funded by the Bill Gates Foundation known as Common Core. Although the adoption of common core state standards was not required by race to the top, the additional money made it attractive; besides, schools could be affected if fewer than 95 percent of students take the exams. They could be denied extra funding and they could be identified as schools needing improvement.
Academic rigor and foolproof assessment sound like a reasonable approach to prepare students for success, but opponents argue that high stakes testing and heavy-handed, top-down policies that use the outcome of these tests to evaluate educators, regardless of circumstances beyond the teacher’s control, is not the way to go. This approach presupposes that the playing field is level in all school districts, and that they all have enrollment of a homogenous population.

While it may be true that most educators adopt the principle that all children can learn, it places a heavy burden on teachers in a school district like Westbury that is forced to accept, and educate a child close to 18 years of age that may be entering a formal education setting for probably the first time. Federal mandates state that unaccompanied immigrant children under age 18 traveling without their parents or an adult guardian must be enrolled in the school district that they reside. Westbury has more than its fair share, and is gearing up to receive even more. This situation does not exist in our neighboring school districts that we are often compared to. Social, economic and even nutritional disparities among the current school population create huge problems in the learning process—disparities that are beyond the teacher’s control, yet he/she is rated with the same measuring stick as their counterparts that do not face such challenges.

Under such circumstances is it really fair to our teachers who give of their best, even under such trying circumstances? Furthermore, going forward, can we reasonably expect to attract the brightest and the best educators to our school district? It should be remembered that school districts rating and performance proportionally impact real estate value; a disquieting reality that most people may not welcome at this time.
Chester McGibbon

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Since 1907, The Westbury Times has faithfully served the areas of Westbury, Carle Place, Salisbury and Old Westbury as a source for local news and community events.

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