Why I Don’t Heart Common Core

If you aren’t familiar with Common Core by now then there’s not much I can do to help you. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but it’s dead and the activity can be fantastic for relieving stress. Now that I’ve thought about it I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided to beat a dead horse.

There are several problems I tend to encounter when discussing Common Core with others. I’m not going to dive too deep here, but I’d like to hit the major points I’ve considered regarding Common Core. I would love to know what you think.

First, I don’t care about Common Core math. There! I’ve said it. This seems to be what most most people think about when Common Core is mentioned. They talk about the crazy math that kids are being forced to do. I think the math is strange, too. I don’t always understand it and sometimes I have to go online to learn how to do things so I can help my kids. That said, the homework almost always says something like “Use the trade-first or any other method you want to solve these problems.” If you’re child connects with one method over another then they are always free to use a different method. My child really connects with the “lattice method” when solving multiplication problems. He will do math all day long and he gets the right answer every time. So who cares? You can even force your kids to learn your math methods and then have them complete the homework your way (as long as they show the work). Common Core math is weird. I don’t think it’s the easiest method. But I really don’t care. To focus on the math is to miss opportunities to discuss much bigger problems with Common Core.

So, what are the bigger problems? There are many, but I’ll touch on a few that bother me the most.

First, I don’t like a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching. Common Core is about treating all children as if they were the same. My own children have been left in the classroom with nothing to do while the teacher tries to help students who are struggling. This might not be directly related to Common Core, but I’ve heard a lot of other parents complain of the same thing since Common Core stepped onto the stage. It’s more about getting everyone to the minimum than about helping every child achieve their own maximum potential. This means smarter kids might spend a lot of classroom time just sitting at a desk reading a book. Not terrible, but they can do that at home.

Another big problem is the testing. Your government paid $350 million to develop tests for Common Core assessment. Were the old tests so bad that we needed to spend $350 million for new ones? Can our government afford to spend $350 million to develop tests? (Hint: No, it cannot.) And that was just to develop the tests. States still need to pay per child, per test. Can the states afford this? No, not really. Do you know what the purpose is of the test? Here’s the kicker: to get federal funding. That’s it. Test results are not received until well into the next school year, which makes the results useless in regards to helping your child progress. Yet, the tests are mandatory! Why? Because your state’s funding is affected if you don’t have at least a 95% participation rate in testing. The solution was obvious to Nevada lawmakers: make it “illegal” to not take the test. Your child is being sold by the state to the federal government to get funding. (Funding your government cannot afford to provide, mind you.)

Funding. That’s all this is about. Governor Sandoval wants to tax businesses more to pay for education. He insists that all the people of Nevada need to pay more for education. We’ve whored our state out to get federal funding by clinging to Common Core. No matter how much money is collected for education it’s never enough. The state keeps collecting but who knows where the money goes? The school my children go to is over capacity by nearly 3 times. Their playground is full of portable classrooms. Nearby schools have similar challenges. There doesn’t appear to be any effort to build new schools (at least not anytime soon). So, Sandoval punishes everyone in the name of education and we stay at the bottom. Kind of makes you think it’s not actually about education at all.

When you talk Common Core with people they generally will not have a problem with any of these points. The one that causes trouble is the dreaded data mining. Unfortunately, as soon as you say those two words people tend to tune out. What is data mining? Have you ever been searching for something online and then you realize that every website you go to has ads for those things you were searching for? It’s because your computer is building a profile about you to be used for marketing. It knows what pages you go to, what products you’ve been researching and then websites create a customized ad campaign to get you to buy those things.

This is very similar to what our school are doing to our kids. Nevada received $10 million in grant money (code for “paid for with your tax dollars”) to build a “longitudinal database”. This is basically just a system used to track information about kids in school. What kind of information would they need to track? The obvious answer would be test results and grades. I’m pretty sure that if this is all they were tracking they could do it for a lot less money. This database is actually designed to track test scores, grades AND information like religion and family income. And several hundred more data points. Many points are fairly innocuous, but there are a lot of questions about these databases. I guess it helps the government to figure how who is smarter between Catholics/Buddhists, hispanics/asians, boys/girls/other. But for what? It’s not necessary in order for my child to get a good education. Is the information being sold then? Does it go in a permanent file that follows children into adult life and forever after? I don’t think children should be treated like a product.

Of course, the biggest and brightest red flag is federal control of education. This is probably the easiest argument to make against Common Core. First, it’s argued that Common Core is not a federal curriculum. The problem is that the testing is federal, which means that teachers must teach to the test in order to get their students to pass. Which means it’s a federal curriculum. So, what’s the problem with having a federal baseline that states are required to meet? Pop quiz! Name something the federal government does well. Don’t worry, this is not a timed test. Healthcare? Postal service? Money management? Taxation? Border security? FDA? EPA? NSA? There are a couple things we could probably debate, but for the most part the federal government makes a disaster out of everything it touches. Do you really want these same people in charge of the education of your children?

There are more things I’ve thought a lot about, but many of these things tend to get clumped in the “conspiracy theory” category. They may be completely true; however, I think we’ve got a big enough fight with the things we’ve mentioned that we can put these other things on the back burner (for now, at least).

Unfortunately for you, I’ve got at least one more Common Core post in me. There’s good news, though. Once I’m done whining about Common Core it will be time to start with the 2016 election season. Yay.

You and the Elected Representatives Ruling Class

I’m finding that life is often complicated by life. I want to be here showering the world with drivel, but this can be a challenging challenge. To apply a serious thought to a trite matter, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” But enough excuses. I’m here now and ready to extract the blood from your eyes with the power of extreme inanity.

Over the past several months I’ve tried hard to become involved. When I say involved, I mean actually doing something. It’s not that I think that #hashtagtivism is worthless. The problem is that posting, sharing, retweeting, etc. is really the least you can do. Soooo, I’m trying to take it to the next level. Whatever that is.

In the past couple of months, I’ve attended a WCSD School Board meeting (that was amazing, let me tell you!), the legislative session when AB303 was discussed (amazing), as well as the session last Monday when Assemblyman Brent Jones proposed his amendment to SB75, which would have allowed parents the choice to opt their children out of SBAC testing (A. Maz. Ing.).

Monday was a particularly good example of state government at work. More than an hour and a half after the session should have started, officials were still wandering around as if they had nothing to do that day. Once they finally started (a couple hours late), they began with the formalities and blah, blah. Eventually, Assemblyman Jones stood up and presented his proposed amendment to SB75. First, they called for the ayes and a substantial number called out in the affirmative. Then, they called for the nays. A seemingly similar number of people opposed, only MUCH LOUDER. Since they yelled their opposition instead of simply saying “nay”, the amendment went down in flames. Since the decision rests solely in the hands of the chairman based on what he hears, there is no accounting of who was for or against the proposed amendment.

In addition to meeting up with others and attending meetings where important decisions are made, I’ve tried to get those around me involved. I’m extremely lucky that my beautiful bride has taken the lead when dealing with our children’s school regarding Common Core. We met together with the principal and let her know that we would not allow our child the take the SBAC exam, but we were essentially told, “Not an option. Too bad.” When WCSD finally decided to allow opt-outs, my wife again marched over to the school and completed the official request to opt our child out. She has educated herself and has become a great voice against Common Core.

(Interesting side note: When they took our child out of class during the testing, other kids were asking why our child was not taking the test. The teacher explained that there weren’t enough computers available and our child would be taking the test later. Liar.)

A frustrating part of this experience has been the realization that our educators and government are pitted against us as parents. The amendment on Monday was nothing more than language that would have officially allowed parents to opt their children out of SBAC testing. Those opposed were very clearly stating that you should not, as a parent, have any say in the education of your child.

Most frustrating has been the realization about why we are where we are. Many (most) people I talk to don’t know anything about Common Core. They don’t know what the SBAC test is, let alone why they should be for or against it. They don’t wonder why so much money is being poured into education, yet schools are 2-3 times over capacity. How can we expect anything different from our elected officials when no one is paying attention to what they’re doing?

I can’t do anything about anyone else, but I can do something about me. I’m trying some new things and I’ve got a few other things in the works. If you’re reading this I hope you’ll make a commitment to do the same.

For my next trick, I’ll try explaining what issues I have with Nevada education, Common Core and SBAC testing. If I start writing now maybe I can have two posts in 2015!