Unless you’ve been on sabbatical for the past two years, you’re probably aware that the new American education policy called the Common Core has all but replaced the well-intentioned but disastrous No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This hasn’t been the first time an education policy promising to reinstate our beleaguered public school system to the envy of the world has exited stage left with its tail between its legs as a new, more vigorous policy has entered center stage saying, “The last policy to fix everything turned out to be lame, but this new one is great.”
Am I cynical? To think that any policy can “fix” public schooling is naive. Schools and teachers can sand and polish our students’ veneer, but the rotted wood of dysfunctional families, poverty, and apathy that lay below is mostly beyond our resources. The mantra “If only better teachers could deliver stronger curricula, then we will reach the education mountain top” is a recipe for failure. It’s akin to mandating oil companies to formulate gasolines that don’t produce carbon dioxide. It ain’t gonna happen. Quixotic is the more appropriate word.
That said, the Common Core is definitely better than NCLB. Focusing students on analysis is better than focusing on learning facts that were central to the NCLB tests. Still, analysis isn’t everything. I teach high school English. Of the ten Common Core anchor standards in reading, the number of standards that engender a love (or even a like) of reading is zero. Everything is about analysis and evaluation. Kids already pretty much don’t read these days. Do we think that we are going to create more literate generation if we don’t teach kids how to love literature? Poet Billy Collins says it better than I ever could in “Introduction to Poetry.”
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
This week my students will be taking the Common Core’s standardized end of the year test called the SBAC. The NCLB is likely going to get the boot because American students did not make the progress that politicians legislated they make. Yet, the SBAC is way, way harder that the NCLB tests. Once we get the results, watch for the headlines. They’ll read something like, “Schools and Teachers Still Suck: American Kids Know Nothing.”