I am localist when it comes to education. I think parents and teachers know best what is in the interests of the particular children in their care. The main job of principals, superintendents, and legislatures is to support teachers and parents, not to prescribe for them in top-down paternalistic fashion what they think is in their best interests.
Regarding the Common Core Standards, many people might ask,"What’s wrong with setting standards"? Why should anybody think that's a bad thing? But what is the problem that needs to be solved here? Why are we spending these millions of dollars? Whose needs are being met? Is there a rampant national problem with teachers not knowing what their curriculum is? Do we have millions of parents across the land screaming for higher standards for their kids? No, most parent are fine with the education their kids are getting in American public schools, and American kids do fine on the International testing comparisons when you factor out poverty.
The problem narrative in the media is that our schools are failing, but this is simply not supported by the facts. Are many kids who go to schools in poor zip codes failing? Yes. But it’s not the schools that are failing them, but the larger society. Does anybody with an ounce of common sense think that raising standards is going to help failing poor kids to do better? Or is it rather going to reinforce for low achievers that they are not making the grade when they fail to meet these new "higher" standards and push them out of the system even earlier? Is the goal to get kids to perform at a standard level, or to help them to take the next steps that are right for them to improve their lives? Who knows what those steps are? Some bureaucrat in D.C. or Olympia, or the kid’s teachers and parents? Is the goal to work with kids to have them set their own goals for the life they want to lead, or to have their goals set for them by some cookie-cutter template designed in Washington or by the Gates Foundation?
Second, what’s driving this recent push for the common core? The same thing that has been driving education policy since at least 2000--so-called Education reform. What is driving education reform? A Neoliberal mindset that dominates policy elites in both parties and that thinks markets solve everything, that almost everything public should be privatized, that unions are the enemy, that the democratic process is an impediment that prevents technocrats from doing what they know is best.
And so the common core cannot be evaluated outside of this larger historical political context that has defined education policy for the last decade and more. It’s focus is largely to blame teachers and unions for the poor achievement of kids especially in poor zip codes.
The bad teacher narrative is a false one. The "Bad Teacher" is the same kind of stereotype as the "Welfare Queen", and it serves the same rhetorical purpose, which is to undermine the legitimacy of the vast majority of the people who compose the group who bear no resemblance whatsoever to the negative stereotype. Are there bad teachers? Yes, just as there are some people who abuse the welfare system. But the vast majority of teachers and welfare recipients are not “bad”, and in the same way that you shouldn’t design a welfare system assuming that most recipients will be abusers, you don’t design and education system assuming that most teachers are incompetent. You deal with abusers and incompetents on a case-by-case basis.
So what does the common core have to do with this anti-teacher campaign? Well, what’s the point of having a common core if there aren’t going to be tests that assess whether kids are making the grade at the new standard? And are tests within the Neoliberal frame really about assessing the kids, or are they about assessing the teachers and linking their effectiveness as teachers to the performance of their students on high-stakes tests? Can't you see how this Neoliberal reform mindset, whether they are conscious of it or not, assumes that kids are widgets and that teachers are assembly line workers who have to produce students that pass quality control before they can be let out onto the job market? Isn’t that really the goal of Neoliberal reform—not to produce rounded, educated human beings but good workers? Career readiness is the mantra continuously repeated by the reformers; it’s all about how these kids are going to make a living, and much less about how they will make a life.
Sue Peters' and Dora Taylor's Seattle Education blog makes the point emphatically:
The same heavy-handed, top-down policies that forced adoption of the standards require use of the Common Core tests to evaluate educators. This inaccurate and unreliable practice will distort the assessments before they’re even in place and make Common Core implementation part of the assault on the teaching profession instead of a renewal of it. The costs of the tests, which have multiple pieces throughout the year plus the computer platforms needed to administer and score them, will be enormous and will come at the expense of more important things. The plunging scores will be used as an excuse to close more public schools and open more privatized charters and voucher schools, especially in poor communities of color. If, as proposed, the Common Core’s “college and career ready” performance level becomes the standard for high school graduation, it will push more kids out of high school than it will prepare for college.
This is not just cynical speculation. It is a reasonable projection based on the history of the NCLB decade, the dismantling of public education in the nation’s urban centers, and the appalling growth of the inequality and concentrated poverty that remains the central problem in public education.
Education reform is just another Neoliberal con. It's all about marketizing education on every level possible. There's lots of money to be made here, and it's just a new gimmick for the corporate education industry to suckle at the government teat.