Is this wise?
Let's take a quick look at the history of standardized testing in America.
In 1975, the College Board decried the decline of SAT scores, and in 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education called for higher standards for both teachers and students. This push prompted President Bush to set national goals for "excellence in education" in 1990.
At that time, Congress tried to mandate standards with the "Goals 2000: Educate America Act" in 1994. In response to the act, states issued grade-level standards followed by "revised standards" and then "improved standards." None of these attempts brought test scores up, and in 2002 the second President Bush signed into law the "No Child Left Behind Act" (NCLB). This act required schools accepting federal funds (virtually all schools in the United States) to provide assessment results.
Did NCLB improve test scores? No. And in the following decade, the SAT has been re-normed and state standards have been revised again, and now we have a new version of the same failed idea: The Common Core State Standards Initiative.
It's nothing new, so why are parents in Harlem holding up signs that say, "More Teaching, More Art, More Gym, and Less Testing"? Because, according to a report by the American Federation of Teachers, kids and teachers spend a staggering 19 full school days absorbed in test prep and testing each year. That's 19 days--roughly "60 to more than 110 hours per year"--in test prep in high-stakes testing grades.
It's no wonder that SAT scores have slipped over the years. Kids don't get nearly as much instructional time as they used to have in school. And financial resources have to be re-allocated to testing when they could be used for materials and programs. Common Core isn't going to address the problem of stealing precious instructional time for ever-increasing testing, and it won't reduce the financial burden imposed on school districts, but it will add to the conundrum: data gathering.
States that accept funds via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) are required to "build statewide longitudinal data systems that can follow individual students from early childhood through K-12 and post-secondary ed and into the workforce." What is all this information going to be used for? Well, that depends on who's in charge and what their standards, ideals, and ethics dictate, but to keep things open, the act says that schools should collect 400 data points, and "it is a comprehensive, non-proprietary inventory. . .that can be used by schools, LEAs, states, vendors, and researchers." It's already being used by vendors.
In other words, your kids are spending at least 19 full school days each year providing marketing data for corporations at taxpayer expense. And that's just one of the questionable uses for Common Core's data mining.
I have to tell you what I thought about when I read the phrase, "that can follow individual students from early childhood through K-12 and post-secondary ed and into the workforce." I thought about the summer I was a foreign exchange student in Czechoslovakia. It was 1992, the summer the country voted to split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Velvet Revolution had turned out the Communist government just 2 1/2 years ago, and although the young people were very optimistic about life and relishing their freedom, the older people seemed unreasonably suspicious and discouraged in my opinion.
One day I was on the bus with my host sister when a transit official stepped on board to make sure everyone had a stamped ticket. The older woman next to me pulled out what looked like a worn-out passport and held it on her lap. She kept it in sight until the transit official finished checking tickets, and then she put it away in her bag.
After we got off the bus I asked my host sister what the passport was all about. "It's not a passport," she said. "It's a record of everything she's ever done. We used to have to carry those around with us. It has everything: school grades, test scores, reports from employers, criminal records. If you ever got fired from a job, it's in there."
"But why does she still carry it around if that old communist government is gone?"
My host-sister shrugged. "She's probably scared they'll come back. You could get in big trouble if you didn't keep it with you at all times."
I'm sure there are good intentions behind the "longitudinal data systems." People move a lot, and having school records all gathered in one electronic place would probably save time for office workers. But efficiency isn't everything. Some things, like freedom, trump efficiency. America's world-famous reputation for providing opportunity for upward mobility depends on people being able to change and improve their lives. I'm not going to lie on a job application, but I'm probably not going to announce that I got a D in Physical Science unless they specifically ask about it. With our new longitudinal data system, however, there it is, screaming "Science Numskull!" for everyone who has access: schools, LEAs, states, vendors, researchers.
So what's a parent to do about Common Core? Well, you can follow the lead of Gretchen Murgenthaler and other NYC parents and opt out. Or you can homeschool. Just think of what you could do with those 19 extra days!