Beyond the Common Core

Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints’ Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

I am a fan of the Common Core, but my reasons may surprise you.  I support this national initiative not because it raises the bar or guarantees student success or moves us back-to-basics or improves our standards or is simply “tougher”.  It is not, and doesn’t do, any of these things.  And in fact, not one of the hundreds of “reforms” that have been politically motivated since Lyndon Johnson signed the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) in 1965 have borne memorable fruit.  If I were to identify the connecting flaw in every one of these reforms, it would be that the standard became at once the uppermost limit.  There was a top on the pot.

We had SOL’s (Standards of Learning), outcome-based learning, ability grouping, comprehensive schools, learning communities, No Child Left Behind, and a host of others.  SBE’s were popular for a while.  “Standards Based Education” was supposed to guarantee a baseline of success for everyone, based loosely on a factory production line model.  It, like all the rest, has become sediment at the bottom of the vast ocean of political hope for smarter kids.

The factor that separates the Common Core from these other programs is that there is not a top on the pot!  Every other program (to greater or lesser degrees) held both teacher and student back from advancing beyond the published standard.  Furthermore, they did not allow for what I call “lateral learning” where a multi-dimensional understanding of the material is always achieved.

Our society is more transient than at any other time in our nation’s history.  Some sources claim that 75% of the nation’s families move within five-year periods.  The plight of (let’s say) a sixth grade math teacher who had four new students from four different states is obvious.  There was no consistency in curriculum.  The Common Core gives us a framework for this laudable practice, but it does not limit the students and teachers in any way!  This is why I am a fan.  The Common Core is not another smoke-and-mirror  program that guarantees mastery and future wealth and happiness.  It guarantees that certain topics will be covered at certain levels across our country.

If anyone is expecting all schools or individual students to perform equally, disappointment is in your future.  There will continue to be great schools, average schools, and weak schools.  There will be high achieving students, average students, and even students who fail.  There will be phenomenally powerful schools who consistently send 80% of their graduates to the Ivy Leagues, but who continue to be ranked “at risk” because of demographic quirks.  The Common Core does not fix the human condition.

The real reform in any school system begins with the overt and intentional value that every member of the school community places on education.  The Common Core will soon lose its current appeal.  As a titled name, it may also disappear.  Indeed, there is already push-back from some quarters (“since when did you want your child to be common?”).  Even so, I believe that this overarching framework heralds a strong and necessary infrastructure for schooling in America.

Source: Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN