Curriculum Upsidedownia

Frequently, these days, I’m reminded of Edward Lear’s whimsical illustration titled Manypeeplia Upsidedownia. Depicting an imagined botanical species, the drawing shows a half-dozen characters suspended upside-down from a flower’s bending stem. A product of the Victorian golden age of nonsense, Lear’s fanciful drawing increasingly strikes me as all too realistic, too true to be good.

We seem to have landed in a new, darker era of nonsense, one in which we take our follies seriously, and act upon them. We shoot first, and aim later.

On the domestic front, folly is fully in evidence with the implementation of the Common Core Curriculum. Now adopted in 46 states, this federal effort imposes uniform standards on what subjects are taught in American schools and how, with student’s performance measured by extensive testing. Imposed on states as a corollary to the Race to the Top initiative, the Curriculum is the fruit of a process tainted with politics, vested interests and a lack of transparency.

For an initiative so oriented to students’ test results, the program has been put in place without itself being rigorously tested—making America’s secondary school students 50 million pedagogic guinea pigs.

Focused on developing critical thinking in students, the program’s design, implementation and potential costs reflect a conspicuous lack of reflection. If the program’s goal is to enhance reasoning skills, the curriculum’s developers would fail their own test.

Oriented to career development, the Common Core Curriculum emphasizes skill sets over content, and nonfiction texts over literature. The imposition of the one-size-fits all top-down approach recalls the imposition of the whole language (also known as “whole-word)” reading technique in the 20th century. Replacing phonetic reading, sounding out the words, by whole word: “look-and-say” recognition. The unproven method has produced a steady decline in American reading scores, and overall literacy.

The test-centric No Child Left Behind program resulted with half the nation’s schools receiving a failing grade. The Common Core cure? Create tests that are considerably tougher, longer and vastly more expensive.

It’s irrational and cruel to impose uniform standards on schools whose budgets, resources and environments vary so dramatically. How is an inner-city child supposed to compete with his affluent suburban counterpart, blessed with a wealthier school district, educated parents, and tutors and test coaches on call?

If leveling the educational playing field is our goal—and it is a laudable one—it would make sense to first align how much money is spent per student, before applying uniform standards of teaching and achievement.

The Common Core standards were developed by academics and testing experts, with little or no input from teachers and parents. Many of the curriculum’s consultants have ties to testing companies: indeed David Coleman, the Curriculum’s chief architect now heads the College Board.

In an ever-changing world, common sense would propose a broad range of educational approaches rather than a single one. In education, as in gardens, a monoculture is one doomed to decay and eventual failure.

A vast educational experiment, the Core Curriculum has been implemented without empirical evidence of its value, designed by a flawed process, and imposed hurriedly without consulting the very people most affected: students, teachers and parents.

In the future, American students might do well to study the Upsidedownia Curriculum as a textbook example of what critical thinking is not.

 

As seen in The San Francisco Chronicle

This entry was posted on Monday, November 25th, 2013 at 10:58 am and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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