Thursday, February 20, 2014

Are State School Rankings Reliable? Is Common Core for the Common Good?

I recently attended the opening of our state's Board of Education meeting.  There was a round of applause and a back-slapping session as they discussed the fact that our state has moved in the rankings from 40-something to 6th place.

Quite an achievement, right?

We should be pretty happy, right?

But, a few things struck me as off-kilter about it all.

1.  Part of the success was attributed to expanded voluntary pre-k training. Supposedly, this early training has given us a great boost. However, any research I have ever read on this topic says that early training makes for advanced kindergartners but, by 3rd grade, nobody can tell whether the child attended pre-k or not. It all evens out. Other studies have shown that starting a child in reading and writing later in life (age 8 or 9) will often work out just fine as well.  (And some who start very early, face burn out in their teens.) As long as education is delivered "line upon line, precept upon precept" (Isaiah 28:10), children will learn.

In other words, pre-k might help prepare a child for kindergarten, but that is about it. Kindergarten was initially started (as a voluntary program) to help children prepare for 1st grade.  On a scarier note, "voluntary" often turns quickly to "mandatory" once we get "used to it."  Neither of my parents attended kindergarten -- it didn't exist for them.  I went to the first "full-day" kindergarten at my school (about 40 years ago).  Now, it is hard to find a parent who doesn't believe that kindergarten really isn't "mandatory" (depending on the child's age).

One of the state board members said that she was so happy dropping her children off at "baby school." I couldn't help but cringe. Babies don't need school. They need love, attention, individual care, and happy home surroundings.

2.  Part of the success was attributed to the increase in attendance of Advanced Placement (AP) programs state-wide, and increase in honor roll for those attending those classes. I only have anecdotal support for this, but I have been told this by more than one teenage source:
"If I get a 'D' on an AP test in class, the teacher will count it as a 'C' because this is hard material.  If I make a 'C' in the class, the grade will be bumped to an 'A' on my report card because the school does not want to penalize anyone or ruin their GPA because they took a hard-level course.  They don't want to discourage anyone from taking the class."
Only students who really perform well in class are "permitted" to take the AP exam.  So, here I have a system set up where the student feels great. The majority are possibly given better grades than they deserve. The school looks great:  "Look how involved our kids are in 'higher level learning.'"  (I believe they also receive funding by how many kids are in AP as well.)  The state looks great because only the really "smart" kids take the exam, so their scores will always look good. A very clever tautology (circular reasoning).

At least one of these students that I know made an "A" in the AP class, but did not qualify to take the AP exam, let alone pass it. She could be on the AB-honor roll, but probably deserved a C or D in the class.

Does this philosophy produce students who are really prepared to take college courses?  That is the goal of AP courses, to prove to colleges that students are ready to handle college courses (see another view here). But, if they are not being strictly judged, isn't all the effort wasted?  And aren't all the statistics tainted?

3.  One of the main goals of the meeting was to approve a name change for the Common Core program. If our current standards and efforts raised us from 40th place to 6th place, shouldn't we keep on doing what we've been doing? Why would we adopt new, untried, and untested methods proposed by our federal government (who, by the way, has no constitutional right to have ANYTHING to do with education)?

One psychologist considers the Common Core: "psychological child abuse" (find more info here). But, nobody at the DOE is listening, that is for sure. We see time after time school board meetings (in various states) where parents and teachers are not given time to speak, are yelled at, are ignored. At a recent rally, where my children and I, along with 80+ others protested, the board continued on as though no objections were raised. They voted unanimously to follow their pre-conceived notions and disregard the parents and teachers who have raised issues.

According to sources, the standards our state held prior to Common Core were actually more rigorous than Common Core. If we have been successful at the local and state level, why in the world would we choose to willingly adopt the (known-for-red-tape) bureaucracy of the federal government? Part of the reason must be the federal bribe that comes with it. And maybe there is peer pressure from other states -- you know, the states that are ranked LOWER than we are.  There is no other reason I can think of.

As for the name change, if it bellows like a moose, let's call it a duck. Then, nobody will notice that it just doesn't fly.