Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Common Core: Alleged Rigor or Real Learning?

Guest Column 
February 11, 2014
Posted by Dayne Sherman

Common Core: Alleged Rigor or Real Learning?
Dr. James D. Kirylo

The last work week of January brought a standstill to much of Louisiana.  We are not accustomed nor prepared for below-freezing temperature and icy roads.  It was a good call to close schools, stores, and simply encourage folks to stay home.  And a great many of us did.  While there was a real threat to lose electricity in our area, most were spared.  It was a good opportunity to spend time with family: playing board games, watching movies, and even reviewing school work with our young ones.  Surely, many also took to social media, staying connected with others, as was the case for me.

I was particularly fascinated by a Facebook post from a parent of a school-aged child who expressed grave concern about the impact the closure of schools for three days would have on the preparation for the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (or LEAP tests) this coming spring.

Perhaps to interpret the concern another way:  instead of relishing the occasion to realize all the learning possibilities that can take place through family time, games, reading, music, and anything that captures the imagination of young minds while being homebound during that period time, this parent was preoccupied about missing LEAP practice.

And there you have it.  That is how so-called education reformers would like us to think. That is, they have indoctrinated many with the idea that the only “real” learning and measure of success is reflected in passing a test, and that only knowledge that is tested is worthy of study.  To be sure, this heightened sense of placing such importance on testing will only get worse with Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The fundamental focus of CCSS standards underscores the alleged notion of "rigor." According to Merriam-Webster, rigor is defined as difficult and unpleasant conditions or experiences that are associated with something; the quality or state of being very exact, careful, or strict.  In other words, never-mind developmentally appropriate practice, engaging environment, nurturing environment, inspiring environment, or even a fun learning environment in our schools.  We want difficult, unpleasant, and exacting environments for our children.  Perhaps a little hyperbole here, but that’s not too far from the truth.

So, then, what does rigor look like according to CCSS?  Well, it depends on who you talk to.  Some say it means we need our young ones to think more critically; others think that it means we have to raise our expectations; and still others think we have to better prepare our young ones for college and to compete in the 21st century global economy.  

The reality is no one really knows exactly what the notion of rigor looks like in practice as per the CCSS.  There are some suggestions, guidelines, and ideas that have been proclaimed as to what it looks like.  But we really don’t know because CCSS has never been field-tested, teachers were not intimately a part of the process to form and shape the standards, and education professors were virtually left out.  As if that were not enough, at the culmination of this allegedly rigorous environment, students will then be tested to see how the rigor paid off.  However, it won’t be termed LEAP anymore; it will be called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC).

The approximate start-up costs for these tests—along with massive technology facelifts, teacher training, books and materials—is in the $10 billion range. Additionally, it will take hundreds of millions annually for several years thereafter to fully get the program sustainably operating for Louisiana alone.  Not bad for those on the paying end of that revenue, particularly for a program that is unproven, for we don’t even know if CCSS will work.

To be clear, excellent teachers have always worked to foster critical thinking, have always had high expectations, have always nurtured the natural gifts, creativity, and talent of all their students, and have always acted locally, but thought globally.  CCSS is not espousing anything new to excellent teachers.  Excellent teachers understand that assessment is critical, realizing, however, that one size does not fit all and that a singular test and an emphasis on testing does a colossal disservice to children.

So back to that parent’s Facebook post.  If she thought she was worried now, wait until the full implementation of CCSS.  And for all those who think we are already spending a lot on education, you haven’t seen anything yet.  As for me, I plan to take my two boys to the local public library and let them explore, discover, and, ah, yes, learn.

Dr. James D. Kirylo's latest book is titled A Critical Pedagogy of Resistance.  He can be reached at jkirylo@yahoo.com.
Dayne Sherman resides in Ponchatoula, Louisiana. He covers the South like kudzu and promises that he never burned Atlanta. He is the author of Welcome to the Fallen Paradise: A Novel. His website is daynesherman.com.

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