Fighting Back with Progress in Education

photo by Flickr user 92wardsenatorfe

Yes, nationally there’s a campaign out there against American public education. And, yes, there’s evidence that campaign is based, even locally, on deliberately skewed statistics.

The tactics in this campaign are threefold. Outlined below, the first two prongs are easy to recognize and widespread enough to warrant their own press release template:

1. Idiocy, public incompetence, and private corruption conspire to drive above-mean public education costs <insert local per-pupil cost numerator (n) and denominator (d) where n is greater than d and d is either a national or regional mean or the tuition charge at a parochial school>

2. Idiocy, incompetence, and corruption conspire to drive below-mean performance <insert slam-dunk substandard standardized test score, state ranking, proficiency ratio, or international benchmark comparison to recent rough equivalent from Massachusetts, Finland or Singapore>

While corrosive enough on their own, bear in mind that these alarums are merely applause traps for the cheap seats intended only to roll popular support for public education back on its heels ahead of the third roundhouse punch which is to represent public education as calcified and incapable of change.

This last is the grievous charge, the one that defenders of Jefferson’s vision of for the beneficial commonwealth of opportunities that rise to society from free and equitable public education need to refute, authoritatively and regularly.

For the truth is that public schools, even while enduring assault from diverse interests who intend their failure, do need steadily to remake themselves to meet the challenge of the times and to respond effectively to the changing abilities and needs of students.

The historical catalog of failed initiatives imposed on schools by outside reformers can overburden educators with present cynicism. From such defensive postures we risk recognizing the opportunities for beneficial change. 

Clarity of mission, rigor in standards, and a local agility in meeting individual needs are all inherent attributes of public education which we must not cede.

Maine’s adoption of the ‘Common Core’ standards is one example of such an opportunity which should prompt neither divides of partisanship nor reflexive missions to sand the gears.

Derived in collaboration with other states (not as a top-down federal imposition), the Common Core represents a valuable and coherent consensus about what students need to know, sequentially, as they progress towards realization as productive, self-actualized human beings.

For example, the Common Core standards outline that:

  • Kindergarten students should know how to count to 100 by ones and by tens and should be able to write numbers from 0 to 20.
  • First graders should be able to write narratives recounting two or more sequenced events, including some details of what happened.
  • Third graders should be able to multiply and divide whole numbers within 100.
  • Sixth grade students should be able to delineate a speaker’s argument and specific claims, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.
  • Seventh graders should be able to solve real-life word and mathematical problems using algebraic expressions and equations.
  • High school juniors should be able to evaluate the hypotheses, data, analysis, and conclusions in a science text, verifying the data when possible and corroborating or challenging conclusions with other sources of information.

Adopting the Common Core leaves specific curriculum decisions to the schools and full latitude in teaching practices to teachers. 

Indeed, just having a consistently mile-stoned road map should be both empowering and liberating to schools and teachers. Parents and taxpayers will benefit from clearly outlined expectations. And students may benefit from being able to progress more efficiently and independently through their school careers.

This is a clear opportunity to demonstrate how public schools can, in fact, responsibly improve steadily, incrementally, and effectively.

Finally, if progressives still have reservations, maybe knowing that Phyllis Schlafly hates the Common Core will win you over.