What’s Wrong with Common Core?

biz_strategy_book_imaginationThe Common Core standards for English and Mathematics are not, in and of themselves, a problem. Who doesn’t want their child to speak well, be mathematically proficient and able to think logically?  Indeed, these are worthy goals. The problem is a deeper issue. The root of the problem lies in the assumption that standards enforced from the state will lead to improved education for all students. This strategy does not have a good track record. More than 12 years under the yoke of the NCLB – No Child Left Behind – law has resulted in very minimal improvements despite massive amounts of effort and cold hard taxpayer cash. This is one reason the-powers-that-be are plotting to dismantle it, but they aren’t going far enough.

Why don’t standards-based reform efforts work? Well…it is long story but, basically, schools are not factories. If you raise production standards you can control many variables and produce more and better widgets. Standards-based reform is an Industrial Revolution idea that believes that schools are industrial production lines: teachers = workers; students= raw materials manufactured into able citizens; test scores = widgets.

What’s wrong with this industrial model of schooling?   There are many ways that this model is flawed but most importantly, students are not raw materials that can be “standardized” to fit efficiently on the assembly line. Oh, yes, maybe this was true in the 1800s when this model was devised, but not in today’s schools. In the 19th century only the academically-able students got on the conveyor belt to be admitted into high school and and then to college and thus turned into high achieving citizens. Today students with brains of all sizes and shapes are conveyed through our classrooms. Our leaders are stuck in a concept of schooling that no longer exists. It is a fantasy that they wish to impose on the complex classrooms of the 21st century.

Every parent and every teacher will tell you that “all children learn differently.”  The designers of Common Core and NCLB must have forgotten to consult with parents and teachers when they were devising their master plan to improve education because their model assumes that all children have equal potential. This is simply not true. It does not take a Harvard psychologist to tell them this simple fact — every brain is wired differently. But, one of the world’s most influential psychologists at Harvard University has been telling them that very thing since 1983. Millions of educators around the world have heard this message but not our leaders in the corner offices of the business/government complex.

Howard Gardner’s landmark book, Frames of Mind, describes in convincing detail how there is more to being smart than the Logical-mathematical and Linguistic intelligences that are measured on academic and standard IQ tests. The human brain is capable of so much more than these “book smarts.” The six other intelligences are important ways that the brain thinks and creates things of value to the world. Ballet dancers provide choreography of lasting beauty. Spatially smart artists create visions and spaces that inspire us. Naturalistically adept people provide the food that sustains life. Musically skilled people give us national anthems that connect us to our national identity. Interpersonally smart people make incredible leaders. Intrapersonally smart people are able to live their lives with strength and integrity. These “other intelligences” make contributions to the world in ways that are equal to the big two that comprise IQ.

What is a parent or teacher to do? I will explore this important question in some detail in my next post, but for now, I’ll end with these two quotes attributed to Albert Einstein:

“One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect on me that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year.”

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”