Tuesday, November 26, 2013

On Coddling Kids and Common Core

I don't know of any parent who would give a 6-month old child a sharp object.  Nor would anyone allow a 3-year-old to cross the street alone.  I also don't expect my bright 5-year-old to write a 500-word essay.  I doubt that anyone would consider these precautions as "coddling" children.  A recent op ed by Frank Bruni in the New York Times  poses the question, "Are Kids Too Coddled?"  By implication, those of us who are leery of the common core state [sic] standards are trying to preserve student self-esteem (God forbid!) at the expense of expecting them to buckle down and master these rigorous expectations.  School, after all, shouldn't be too full of mirth, now, should it?  

gty child tantrum ll 120703 wblog How Not To Spoil Your Children: Parenting Experts and Parents Weigh in

Like Arne Duncan, Bruni is supporting the common core by attacking its opponents, implying that those against implementation of the common core must be coddling children.  " What’s not warranted is the welling hysteria: from right-wing alarmists, who hallucinate a federal takeover of education and the indoctrination of a next generation of government-loving liberals; from left-wing paranoiacs, who imagine some conspiracy to ultimately privatize education and create a new frontier of profits for money-mad plutocrats."  So those of us with legitimate criticisms are labeled as right wing alarmists or government-loving liberals.  How convenient.  Instead of offering a logical, well-reasoned defense of the common core, we have ad hominem attacks against opponents or platitudes and sound bites assuring us that the common core is necessary for our children to "compete on the world stage."

As an educator of over 35 years, I have some concerns over the common core and some additional concerns over this notion that we are "coddling" children if we don't walk lockstep in line behind Arne Duncan and his common core corporate buddies.  

First of all, the idea of the common core feels a little too market-driven to me.  Do we REALLY want to help children succeed, or do we want to provide maximum profit to companies producing tests, textbooks, and test prep materials?  Bill Gates, at the 2009 National  Conference of State Legislators said that 

"When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. " 

 In fact, the common core standards for English/Language Arts speak of writing to text, citing evidence from text, answering text-dependent questions repeatedly. Why this emphasis on text? Could it be that text-dependent questions and writing can be scored more easily by machines? The architect of the common core, David Coleman, is the president of the College Board which designs the SAT and AP tests. Coincidence?  The standards were intended from their very beginning to be assessed with standardized tests.

Who really wrote the common core, anyway? I'm being told that the standards were developed by teachers, but the fact is that only one teacher was on one of the committees charged with actually writing the standards. Five of the 29 members of the validation committee refused to sign off, but their objections were never made public. A larger concern is how the standards were developed and expectations established. The committee started with the achievement required to get a 1630 on the SAT, and then backmapped to preschool. There is no evidence anywhere that this is a good idea or workable in any way. Children are not little shrunken down adults. Not one child development expert or early childhood professional was consulted in developing these standards. In fact, several organizations concerned with early childhood development have come out in opposition to the standards.

Mr. Bruni implies that we are coddling our kids by caring about their self esteem.  Those who work with children, however, know that school should be a place where learning is fun, where students develop confidence in their abilities, and where tasks are developmentally appropriate.  Why?  Because a) that's what responsible adults do and b) that's how children learn best.  Anything else is educational malpractice.

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