Common Core: “another Stalinesque five-year plan that will have little effect on creating opportunities for a child.”


by David Safier

I don't know a whole lot about Rafe Esquith who, according to the intro to an interview in Ed Week
(subscription only), "is the only teacher to have been awarded the
president's National Medal of the Arts," and has a whole lot of honors
next to his name. I probably should know more about him, especially after reading his take on the Common Core:

The Common Core is another Stalinesque
five-year plan that will have little effect on creating opportunities
for a child. All good teachers believe in standards and goals. All good
teachers believe students should be assessed to make sure they are
grasping important concepts.

The Common Core, as with other schemes,
fails to address the most important reasons why so many students are not
doing as well as we would like. Poverty, family dysfunction, and
decaying societal values have far more to do with student failure than a
set of standards. We can dress up standards any way we like. But 3
times 5 is still 15, and you still have to put a period at the end of a
sentence. As long as our society values the Kardashians more than people
trying to cure cancer, we are going to see millions of children fail to
become real scholars.

My advice to teachers is to go to the
Common Core meetings as I do, smile, nod your head, and jump through the
latest hoops. But while you are jumping, make sure your students know
the most valuable things you can teach them are not a part of the Common
Core: Integrity, a joy of learning, and the taking of risks are not a
part of the Common Core training, but they are essential skills I hope
my students internalize.

The interview quoted this from Esquith's new book, "Real Talk for Real Teachers":

"Teach your students that all great books
are about them . At all levels of school, we teachers must constantly
read with the kids and help them connect the dots between the printed
page and their own lives."

Amen to that. Great books are written by people with an uncommon
understanding of the human condition. To get students to relate to them,
they should be taught as part of the human experience, not as hallowed
pieces of writing that should be treated with awe.


  1. Here’s where I disagree, Andrew. Schools are being used as a scapegoat, blamed for genuine societal problems, and as an excuse for not addressing them. The basic argument: if we can fix our schools, we’ll have so many well educated adults, our other economic problems will take care of themselves. Each time we come up with another snake oil solution to make our schools better, we not only waste money, we divert our attention from more pressing issues having to do with jobs, wages, taxes, etc. And since any results we might see from the magical Common Core will take a few years, we’re putting off doing anything purposeful. (When legislators want to kill a bill, they put together a committee to study it until people forget about the bill and the problem it addresses.) Then, when we see Common Core isn’t living up to the hype, we’ll have a brand new batch of educational snake oil that’s sure to fix everything.

    That’s why you have to mix criticism of educational quick fixes together with questions of poverty and income inequality, because if we concentrate on Common Core in isolation, we’re helping to perpetuate some societal problems we should, and can, be addressing right now.

  2. I feel like we’re not really talking about Common Core. Attacking “poverty, family dysfunction, and decaying societal values” might be critical to actually improving student performance, but they aren’t problems that are addressed by curricula or curricular standards. Similarly, whether high stakes standardized tests are based on Common Core or on state-by-state standards, the question of the primacy of high stakes standardized tests is another matter entirely. No one benefits when we conflate too many policy issues with Common Core, and our dialogue is degraded when adjectives like “Stalinist” get thrown around with reckless abandon.

  3. Actually, common core is the first major move away from multiple choice. You have to show some depth of knowledge. But, Rafe hits it out of the park in talking about reading and character development. Standards can help a little but teachers can help much more and shouldn’t be unduly burdened or distracted by standards.

Comments are closed.