Common Nonsense

     Opposition is building nationwide to the Common Core tests for elementary school children, and I can see why.
     Leaving ideology and hysteria aside – as if that’s possible today – the Common Core tests cannot do what they claim to do: measure students’ educational achievement and teachers’ performance.
     Whether the intentions behind Common Core tests are noble or otherwise, they simply cannot do what their proponents claim for them.
     To link school funding, teachers’ salaries, their hiring and firing – and even school closures – to results of these tests is vindictive and stupid. It is aimed, above all, at poor children.
     If more than 5 percent of parents in a school or school district refuse to submit children to these exams, the schools can be punished by loss of federal funding for poor students, according to The New York Times.
     That’s our national education policy: Punish poor kids first, then their teachers and schools. Kick them around like a soccer ball.
     How does that help education?
     I taught English in public high schools for nine years – on the South Side of Chicago, on Indian reservations, in a dying mining town in Arizona and in a farmworker town in California’s Central Valley. That gives me more credibility than my master’s degree in teaching from Northwestern University, but I’ve got that too.
     Anyone who has taught in public schools, particularly in a small town, knows that yearly classes can, and do, assume characteristics, for reasons impossible to explain – probably random. A third-grade teacher will tell her fourth-grade colleague: “You’ll have a great class next year.” Or: “I don’t know what to do with them. Good luck.”
     Every public schoolteacher knows this. To punish, or reward, a teacher, her school or school district because a good class is followed by a bad one, or vice-versa, is insane, and punitive. It’s probably unconstitutional. Where’s the due process?
     Let’s suppose that children in Mayberry are all the same, year after year.
     But the third-grade Common Core tests are different from one year to the next.
     No standardized test ever devised is accurate enough to measure how much of the difference between two years of test results is attributable to the children, and how much to the different tests.
     Why then, do we link school funding – and teachers’ careers – to this?
     In New Jersey this year, 10 percent of teachers’ evaluations will be based on how well their students do on the Common Core tests. Originally, 30 percent of teachers’ evaluations were to be based on the test results.
     This is absolutely meaningless.
     Can anyone tell me what “10 percent” or “30 percent” of a teacher’s value could possibly mean?
     Can you tell me what it means for a teacher to improve by 17 percent?
     You cannot. No one can. Because it does not mean anything. It’s educationese. It’s politics. It has no meaning at all.
     I asked a friend who outlasted me what he thought about Common Core. He’s Mr. Chips: more than 30 years at his venerable institution.
     He wrote: “Common Core simply put is a crock o’crap. What it really is is a way to give people jobs who would not last five minutes in a classroom. It’s a way to pay people to write articles that make absolutely no sense. I looked at the English core a while ago and my head hurt. I got mad. I got depressed.”
     I went to the website of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers – which writes the Common Core tests – and took their 7th -grade English test .
     I have earned my daily bread for 30 years as a writer and editor. My sixth book will be published in June. Let me assure you: This English test is nonsense.
     No one reads “The Count of Monte Cristo” the way this test asks children to read it. This test does not assess English skills. It assesses one’s ability to take this type of test.
     The politicians who run the United States today do not value education. They value any excuse they can get to beat their puny little breasts in public – poor children be damned.

%d bloggers like this: