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Michael Swartz / Jan. 19, 2018

The Bell Is Tolling for Common Core

Betsy DeVos says, "at the U.S. Department of Education, Common Core is dead."

For several turbulent years, the Common Core State Standards Initiative, better known simply as Common Core, was the hot new trend in education. As such, it was finally at long last going to make our kids smarter and more academically well-rounded for college and career. Sold as a replacement for the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind program, Common Core got its big push from Barack Obama’s administration when it dangled federal stimulus money in front of the states during its initial Race to the Top program — but only for including Common Core standards in their efforts. No Common Core, no cash. At its peak, all but five states took the money.

But as our erstwhile colleague Allyne Caan wrote a couple of years back, “The real takeaway here is that the federal government makes an abysmal schoolteacher and is no better at being principal or superintendent. Perhaps that’s one of many reasons our Constitution does not include education among Congress’ enumerated powers. Instead, education is rightly a state, local and primarily parental responsibility.”

Added Caan: “Let’s face it. The federal government doesn’t know what’s best for your child and clearly doesn’t understand what private employers value.”

So when Betsy DeVos defied the Left and declined to withdraw her name from consideration to be secretary of education last year, there was hope that Common Core, which had been losing its appeal to the states over the last three years and had prompted thousands of parents to opt out of the too-frequent testing regimen, would finally be shown the door. And while many states are stubbornly maintaining a version of these guidelines, many others have decided to work outside these parameters to some degree or another.

This is why, while the press has been harping on Donald Trump about his alleged vulgar assessment of certain foreign lands, they missed the good news about Betsy DeVos and what she’s doing to address our excrement heap of an educational system. “I agree — and have always agreed — with President Trump on this: ‘Common Core is a disaster,’” said DeVos, who most importantly added, “And at the U.S. Department of Education, Common Core is dead.”

In a speech full of news about a new federal hands-off approach to education, the Education Secretary asked a lot of good questions herself — questions that often get labeled as “non-negotiable” or just don’t get asked at all:

Why do we group students by age?

Why do schools close for the summer?

Why must the school day start with the rise of the sun?

Why are schools assigned by your address?

Why do students have to go to a school building in the first place?

Why is choice only available to those who can buy their way out? Or buy their way in?

Why can’t a student learn at his or her own pace?

Why isn’t technology more widely embraced in schools?

Why do we limit what a student can learn based upon the faculty and facilities available?

Why?

It’s obvious that Betsy DeVos wasn’t taught to have a Common Core mindset, isn’t it? Addressing these out-of-the-box questions with creative thinking is what state and local school boards — not to mention parents — would do infinitely better than someone sitting in a windowless cubicle in Washington, DC. At a time when a significant portion of higher education is accomplished online, with thousands of college graduates coming from programs and institutions that use the Internet and the real world as their campus, one has to wonder when some of that will filter its way to the youth.

Common Core was but the latest fancy in a series of educational ideas that, over the last century or so, have attempted to mold all students into what was considered the model citizen — one that could be plugged into his or her assigned slot in society. All the while, we’ve been slipping behind other countries. We’ve tried everything from nationalizing standards to more modern, light-filled school buildings to throwing billions upon billions of dollars at the system in order to refine it. Rarely, though, has anyone in a position of real authority ever challenged the very paradigms and foundations of our educational system.

“We should be horrified of not changing,” DeVos concluded. When one can readily conclude that the average product of the American educational system today isn’t getting the quality of education that those of us who were taught in a different era received, a change would certainly seem to do us good. What we’ve lacked until now is a fresh perspective from someone who isn’t beholden to our failing system.

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