Opinion

Common core stifles classroom freedom

Teachers know their students best and should be able to plan their own lessons

Since the early ‘90s, the trend in education has been toward national standardization in K-12 curricula. Currently, 45 states are members of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which outlines skills in math and English in which all students should be proficient by the end of each grade level. The initiative’s intentions are good; it aims to close the education gap and to ensure that all students are prepared to learn in a college environment and compete in the global economy. However, a standard should also help to guide teachers so that students from every background and town receive an education of equal quality. While all students should certainly be given the same opportunities, nationalized education standards do not take into account students’ differences.

Students vary widely in all sorts of factors that affect their learning. Elementary school students are especially varied in the speeds and methods with which they learn. Students learning English as a second language and disabled students have a very different learning experience from their peers. It is preposterous to expect all students to develop the same skills at the same time. Proponents of the Common Core (CC) recognize this and leave it to each state to build a curriculum to meet national standards. However, in providing states with clear and specific descriptions of what students should be able to do, the CC inadvertently creates a rubric for standardized tests that measure schools’ success in keeping with the standard curriculum. Standardized tests assume that all students can progress at the same time.

The Obama administration’s Race to the Top program rewards states with funding if they adopt the CC and implement standardized tests. States are also rewarded for the schools’ improvement, measured by test scores. States are given incentive to test students and judge schools and teachers based on test scores. Because they are judged on their students’ performances, teachers are forced to devote more time to preparing students for tests.

The major result of these changes is that the classroom is controlled less by the teacher and more by state governments. Taking control of the classroom is the government’s way of saying they do not trust teachers to teach. The CC was written by academic and assessment specialists, many of whom were tied with the College Board and the ACT. Teachers were only later invited to provide feedback and add credibility.

Only teachers can understand the classroom environment and judge what works best for each class and individual. Teachers need the freedom to tailor lessons to their students. Under the CC, teachers actually receive scripted lessons to deliver to students. My mother works at an elementary school with children who need extra help or attention and has worked with mentally disabled students in the past. These children are held to the same CC standard and are forced to take the same tests, even when they must be guided through them and forced to make guesses arbitrarily. On the other hand, students who are well beyond the test material go unchallenged, as teachers prioritize test prep over other, more advanced material.

Teachers should have outlines to adhere to, but the more their lessons are dictated to them, the less they are able to mold their methods to what’s best for their students. Every student is different, and teachers are the only ones close enough to the learning process to actually see what students need on an individual basis. States need to reevaluate the implementation of the CC in order to give teachers more classroom freedom and ensure that each student is challenged appropriately.

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.