A Common Core
It is no secret that, compared to other developed nations, primary and secondary education in the United States has been lagging. What was once the best public education system in the world now falls behind countries such as Finland, South Korea and even Poland in terms of overall achievement. In order to combat this decline, since the passage of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, the U.S. has sanctioned and established standardized tests in an attempt to bring students to grade-level proficiency no matter where they are in the country. After a decade of implementation, test scores have improved, but comparative proficiency with the rest of the world has not. Additionally, in the mid-2000s, various studies found that high school graduates’ skills were not up to par with what was required for college or the modern workplace. In order to address these problems, the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers created the Common Core Curriculum, which, while also focusing on a standardized education, significantly raises the standards and therefore the difficulty of the subjects involved.
Some states have formally adopted both the Common Core Curriculum and its associated tests. Many states, however, have begun to move backwards, attempting to defund the program and revoke the changes for a variety of reasons. The primary opposition to the Core Curriculum comes from conservative organizations that worry about federal intervention in what they believe to be each individual state’s responsibility. Another concern is that implementing a standardized-testing-based system irrevocably undermines the education itself, leading to an educational system that “teaches to test” rather than teaching necessary skills for future education or a career.
However, these concerns fail to comprehend the current situation: the modern economy requires a level of competency that American students currently do not have. While in a perfect world, every student should be inspired and taught such that they learn to love the act of learning itself, such a focus cannot and should not be the purpose of teaching. Organizations opposing the new Common Core Standards, namely tea party groups such as Americans for Prosperity, are harming students in their attempt to stall what they see as a liberal takeover of education and effectively pursuing the creation of an educational disparity between the states. Such differences would only perpetuate income differences given the close correlation between education and income and the low comparative income of the states, such as Georgia, that have repealed it.
The other major complaint about the Common Core is the difficulty of the curriculum. New York, which is generally thought to have one of the best public education systems in the country, recently observed a dramatic decline in the number of passing students. Whereas under the old curriculum, around 65 percent of students in the third through eighth grades passed math and 55 percent passed English, under the new curriculum, only 31 percent passed each subject. This dramatic decline, while certainly alarming, may reflect teachers’ unfamiliarity with the curriculum. It has certainly provoked fears of discouraging students. Nonetheless, if our education system cannot give students an adequate primary education, I believe there should be no need to sugarcoat the news. These scores, rather than being ignored or hidden, should serve as a wakeup call and hopefully inspire a dramatic revitalization within America’s public education system.