Thursday, August 22, 2013

Wishful Thinking? The NY Fishwrap's Blowhard Hopes We're Not Rotten To The Core

As the antiquated summer vacation comes to another end, the school doors around this land will open to students in their fresh "back to school" garb. We'll have another year of mediocrity as the national educational debate goes round and round about The Common Core. The Blowhard recites all of the dreadful discouraging statistics about the results of our ed-biz compared to other industrialized nations. We are falling so far behind that we have convinced ourselves that we are in first place. If this is a (fair & balanced) prophecy of national doom, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
The Common Core And The Common Good
By Charles M. Blow

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America, we have a problem.

Our educational system is not keeping up with that of many other industrialized countries, even as the job market becomes more global and international competition for jobs becomes steeper.

We have gone from the leader to a laggard.

According to the Broad Foundation, an educational reform group, “American students rank 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading compared to students in 27 industrialized countries.”

And we have gone from No. 1 in high school graduation to 22nd among industrialized countries, according to a report [PDF] last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

That same report found that fewer than half of our students finished college. This ranked us 14th among O.E.C.D. countries, below the O.E.C.D. average. In 1995 we were among the Top 5.

Some rightly point to the high levels of poverty in our public schools to adjust for our lagging performance, but poverty — and affluence — can’t explain all the results away.

As Amanda Ripley, an investigative journalist, explains in her new book, The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way (2013), American students are not performing at the same level of their peers internationally.

She writes: “American kids are better off, on average, than the typical child in Japan, New Zealand, or South Korea, yet they knew far less math than those children. Our most privileged teenagers had highly educated parents and attended the richest school in the world, yet they ranked 18th in math compared to their privileged peers around the world, scoring well below affluent kinds in New Zealand, Belgium, France and Korea, among other places. The typical child in Beverly Hills performed below average, compared to all kids in Canada.”

A report this month by the company that administers ACT, the college admissions test, found that only a fourth of those tested were ready for college. And that was among motivated students who want to go to college, from all sorts of schools, not just public school students.

Any way you slice it, we’re not where we want or need to be.

One strategy of changing our direction as a nation is the adoption of Common Core State Standards, meant to teach children the skills they need to be successful in college and careers — skills like critical thinking and deep analysis.

These are things that Americans recognize that our schools need to teach. According to a Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll released Wednesday, 80 percent of Americans strongly agree that schools should teach critical thinking skills, 78 percent agree that they should teach communication skills, 57 percent agree that they should teach students how to collaborate and 51 percent believe that they should help build student’s character.

The Obama administration strongly supports the Common Core, and the American Federation of Teachers endorses it. The president of the United Federation of Teachers says that most teachers agree it should be implemented. And, according to, “45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activities have adopted the Common Core State Standards.”

This seemed like a sure thing. The problem is that, in some states, Common Core testing has been implemented before teachers, or the public for that matter, have been instructed in how to teach students using the new standards.

This means that, when students score poorly on the more rigorous Common Core-based tests, it threatens to cause a backlash among parents, who increasingly see testing as the problem, not the solution.

That Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll also found that most Americans had not heard of the Common Core. Only 22 percent thought increased testing helped school performance, and most rejected the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.

Because we insist on prioritizing testing over teaching — punishments over preparation — we run the risk of turning Americans off one of the few educational strategies in recent memory that most people say we need.

That’s so American.

We have to decide as a country — politicians and parents, corporations and communities — that high-performance education is not only valuable to our sense of self, but essential to our future prosperity. Today’s students are tomorrow’s workers and leaders and innovators and entrepreneurs.

In all the discussions I have with educational leaders and reformers on improving our educational outcomes, there seems to be some level of agreement — though obviously not full agreement — on strategies that work: attracting, supporting and keeping the best teachers and investing in their development; providing “wrap-around” services for poor and struggling students; making schools safe, welcoming, fun places with recess and art and music and nutritious food; and strongly promoting parental engagement.

And we need a national standard for what the kind of education that we want our children to receive. Our educational system has become so tangled in experiments and exams and excuses that we’ve drifted away from the basis of what makes education great: learning to think critically and solve problems.

We have drifted away from the fundamentals of what makes a great teacher: the ability to light a fire in a child, to develop in him or her a level of intellectual curiosity, the grit to persevere and the capacity to expand. Great teachers help to activate a small thing that breeds great minds: thirst.

The Common Core is meant to help bolster those forms of learning and teaching.

The Common Core is for the common good, if only we can get our act together and properly implement it. Ω

[Charles M. Blow is The New York Times's visual Op-Ed columnist. His column appears every other Saturday. Blow joined The New York Times in 1994 as a graphics editor and quickly became the paper's graphics director, a position he held for nine years. In that role, he led The Times to a best of show award from the Society of News Design for the Times's information graphics coverage of 9/11, the first time the award had been given for graphics coverage. He also led the paper to its first two best in show awards from the Malofiej International Infographics Summit for work that included coverage of the Iraq war. Charles Blow went on to become the paper's Design Director for News before leaving in 2006 to become the Art Director of National Geographic Magazine. Before coming to The Times, Blow had been a graphic artist at The Detroit News. Blow graduated magna cum laude from Grambling State University in Louisiana, where he received a B.A. in mass communication.]

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