Monday, April 14, 2014

Common Core

I have three children in public schools -- two in middle school and one in elementary. Next year we will hit a trifecta. We will have one student at Bozeman High School, a second at Sacajawea Middle School and a third at Longfellow Elementary. They are three different kids. There is no standard and little commonality among them.  But don't tell that to the progressives and bureaucrats who have grabbed the reins of control in our public education system.

In my family's life, the centrally administered, top down programs of Common Core, Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind are not abstractions, but central definers of how our children's lives proceed in school every day. It's not a pretty picture.  

This weekend I noticed a Wall Street Journal Op Ed written by Peggy Noonan on Jeb Bush's presidential aspirations, which for the life of me I can't understand, because the fellow has nothing to offer this country other than more of the same, albeit with a dose of integrity that is sadly missing from today's White House.

Noonan took Bush to task for his support of federal education standards, and expressed the frustration that I feel towards the sound bite education philosophy more clearly than I ever could.

A year ago I attended a meeting in which Jeb spoke of his support for the core to conservative education policy intellectuals. When told the subject of the meeting, I was confused: He's for Common Core or against it? For it? Really? In what abstract universe are conservative intellectuals operating? Federal standards for what should be taught in the classroom would immediately be received with skepticism by parents who, year after year now, have seen their children turned into test-taking monkeys. They are taught to the test, and the tests seem to exist so that school systems can claim achievement. What used to be called the joy of learning gets crowded out. Moreover, some parents, maybe a lot, would assume any new education scheme would be administered by the education establishment, meaning a lot of Lois Lerners—apparatchiks, ideologues, politicos. Federal programs like Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind always mean well, but maybe the answer to our education woes won't come from the federal level.
Peggy added her personal story.
Parenthetically I note that conversations with public-school teachers the past few years have reminded me how lucky I was, in high school in the 1960s, not to be surrounded by people who insisted I excel. They let us choose our own speed. I don't remember being hounded by tests, which was lucky because I didn't do my homework or test well. But I felt free to spend all my time reading good books and pondering things. I didn't always attend school, but I did experience the joy of learning. The indifference of the educational establishment was a great gift to me. It allowed me to get an education.
Peggy Noonan, who is one of the most thoughtful, articulate, knowledgeable and influential individuals of her generation, would not be Peggy Noonan if she was sliced and diced by the cookie cutter system churning away in public schools today.

At the front end of the scale we have a second grader who could not speak a word intelligibly to anyone outside her family when she started first grade. There is nothing about Common Core, Race to the Top or No Child Left Behind that helped or is helping our youngest to learn and grow. Do you think that repeatedly being told your daughter tested zero on useless tests told us or her anything of value, when she didn't have the verbal skills to respond?  

The only way to help her learn is to accept who and where she is and move from there. Ultimately she is making it, and will make it, not because of the system, but because she has parents who have been willing to pay for supplementing and promoting her education outside of public schools and have fought school administrators to the mat when they use the system to pigeon hole her using meaningless data. And she had a teacher who understood. We will let nothing and no one get in the way of our child's education. Sadly we are among the few.


  1. You're preparing tomorrow's leaders. We'll need them.

  2. Precisely. He's preparing tomorrow's leaders. Common Core/Race to the Bottom/No Child Gets Ahead is preparing tomorrow's followers.