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Goals for education reform are admirable but unrealistic

By Lara Hawley
On September 16, 2012

  • Director of Dining Services Gerald Weller will be retiring at the end of the semester after more than two decades at UConn. Brett Mickelson

Revamping American educational standards might sound like a good idea in light of this country's poor performance on standardized tests and increasing global competition, but the consequences of doing it too quickly and without proper preparation or funding erodes my confidence in the idea.
By 2014 ,almost all 50 states will have adopted the Common Core Standards. In theory, this is a great idea. These standards will be more demanding and more competitive than current ones and will universalize the American educational system. To date, forty-five states and three territories have adopted these standards and I don't think that anyone can directly challenge the standards themselves. They support a goal of having all students regardless of location prepared for the next step in life, whether that is college or the workforce, and for all students to obtain a quality education. Although I support the tenets of the Common Core, I think that hasty implementation will ultimately undermine our efforts.
The new standards are so much more rigorous than current state standards that many students will automatically fall behind. According to an article in the New York Times, only 21% of students who started high school in 2006 in New York City tested high enough to be considered ready for college. This percentage is measured against existing standards rather than the new and more challenging ones. Imagine what will happen to areas such as New York City when the standards are raised even higher.
The Common Core represents a significant jump for most schools. According to an article on Teaching.about.com, students will need to learn in kindergarten what they are currently learning in the second grade under the Common Core Standards. This represents a jump of two years that students will need to make with questionable support once changes are implemented.
This degree of change in such a short amount of time is outrageous. Less than two years is a grossly inadequate amount of time to prepare educators and students to succeed. Teachers need to receive intensive training to assimilate a new system of teaching. They will need to rework their curriculum to support new standards so that students can actually pass the exams and meet program goals of being prepared for the next step in life. In addition to this is the important question of how school systems will acquire the necessary funding to support these changes when many towns currently struggle to pass existing budgets. Where will the money come from to hire additional teachers, increase course offerings and provide teacher in-service training? This seems unrealistic when program roll-out is slated for 2014.
There is also the frequently unspoken concern about where the creativity in the classroom will go when teachers are asked to teach to universal, national standards. Specifically in the field of English, where will the creative writing, poetry and plays go? Yes, the Common Core Standards include a variety of contemporary and classic works but these are only an outline on paper. Once the standards are implemented, the focus will be predictably narrower. For example, teachers will need to teach directly to the exams in order to ensure student success. Already teachers must teach to the standards of their state. In Connecticut, teachers struggle to prepare students for exams such as CAPT. My high school English teachers only gave exams in the style of CAPT the year we had to take the exam and our writing assignments were focused on CAPT success. With more difficult standards in place, teachers will be guided more completely by the Common Core exams effectively dialing creativity out of the classroom in return for success on standardized tests. This will happen during a time when we recognize that creativity in the workplace is essential for success in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
wThe Common Core Standards is an impressive idea but in order to succeed careful attention must be paid to key issues such as teacher training and funding. Without these ingredients, I predict that students will fall even farther behind once the standards are implemented and this will lead to disappointment and frustration by legislators, educators, parents and most importantly students. The creativity that helps to fuel the learning process will be conspicuously absent when teachers scramble to get students to meet unrealistic expectations. Sadly, our haste and our failure to address issues such as funding and teacher training will ultimately doom the implementation of a very promising idea.
 


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