Why Does Glenn Beck Fear Common Core?

July 24, 2014

When the Walrus was just a pup, he attended public schools in Buffalo, NY.

Back then, the best teachers encouraged their students to achieve subject mastery not through rote memorization but through active learning. In general, ‘subjects’ were not taught (or learned) in isolation. There was some integration of ELA into Social Studies; math into science; and reading and writing skills were the foundation for all learning.

Somehow, over the past 4 decades or so, our American education system (in aggregate) has deteriorated to the point where in a recent study conducted by The Economist, the U.S. was ranked 17th in an assessment of the education systems of 50 countries, behind several Scandinavian and Asian countries. Finland was ranked first, followed by South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan, with Singapore coming in fifth. The once-admired public education system in America has reached an unprecedented – and hopefully, unwanted – level of mediocrity.

If we look at public education outcomes by state, we find a wide disparity in student outcomes. In its most recent report on the status of education in all 50 states, Education Week found that Massachusetts is our top performing state, followed closely by Maryland and New Jersey.

Bringing up the rear at number 50 is Mississippi, just slightly worse than Louisiana and New Mexico.

The differences from state to state on some critical measurements are staggering.

Just 59.4% of students in New Mexico graduate from High School, where in Vermont, 85% of students graduate.

It is widely accepted that at-grade reading and math proficiency in the 4th grade is a strong predictor of success in school and in life. Maryland is the best performing state in the U.S. on 4th grade reading skills, yet just 45% of Maryland fourth graders demonstrated at-grade proficiency.

45% is the highest in our country? And, that is more than 10 percentage points higher than the national average?

Of course, we can drill down even further, looking within states as the disparity of student outcomes by district, or within districts, outcomes by school or by teacher.

The facts on disparate student outcomes were part of the inspiration which brought together state leaders — including governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states — to seek solutions to this national crisis.

The state-led effort to develop the Common Core State Standards was launched in 2009, through a collaborative partnership involving the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

The goal is very simple. Implementation of the Standards will refocus schools toward ensuring that students acquire skills which are useful in college and in life. Life is not a series of multiple choice or true/false questions. Critical thinking and reading skills, focused on nonfiction and current event articles rather than fiction, provide a foundation for college, career and success in life.

Understanding the raw components of how to do math problems using logic is much more valuable than memorizing formulas, and it provides the foundation for problem solving across multiple disciplines.

We know that multiple-choice tests are best used for testing well-defined or lower-order skills. Problem-solving and higher-order reading and reasoning skills are better assessed through short-answer and essay tests.

Yet, no matter how you slice it, multiple choice tests are more affordable for testing large numbers of students. In most of the United States, multiple choice tests have become the default form of “high-stakes testing”.

How it came to be that our public education system devolved away from active learning and critical thinking into a series of “drill and kill” classroom exercises followed by mind-numbing multiple choice and true-false tests must somehow be related to the amount of resources required to read, analyze and objectively grade essays and ‘show your work’ problems.

There is also the issue of cost and scale as class sizes have generally increased, school district resources are stretched, and the complexity of material has expanded.

Let’s face it: a standard answer sheet marked with a #2 pencil can be machine graded, and the ability to collect and analyze the data is unmatched.

On the other hand, multiple choice tests are very rigid. Misinterpretation of the problem or information presented by the test maker can result in a false “wrong”, even when the student’s answer has some validity. Similarly, when students have some knowledge of a subject or question, they receive no credit for knowing that information if they select the wrong answer and the item is scored by a machine.

Just a few years ago, some of the best and brightest educators and public officials from across the U.S. launched an intensive collaborative partnership to develop the Common Core State Standards as a means to repair our failing public education system.

The state-led effort was launched in 2009, under the guidance of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Here we are today, just a few weeks away from the beginning of the 2014-15 school year for some 48 Million K-12 public school students across our 50 states.

A large and growing coalition of Monday Morning Quarterbacks – most of whom I suspect were raised on multiple-choice and deprived of active learning and/or critical thinking – have begun to rally in opposition to Common Core.

Very recently, noted media personality Glenn Beck – himself a high-school graduate – added his voice to the nay-sayers about Common Core.

Beck tells us that, “American children shouldn’t be tracked, monitored, and educated from D.C. And parents should have a voice in their child’s education. Common Core standards threaten parents’ rights, children’s privacy, and traditional American values.”

Great rhetoric with no substance; and it fails the critical thinking test.

But it is emotionally appealing to some, and clearly falls into the “True or False, Multiple Choice Method to Maintain International Mediocrity in Education” model.

Want to help destroy the fabric of America? You don’t need weapons of mass destruction or any sort of acts of terrorism. Just keep depriving our children of the opportunity for active learning and/or critical thinking skills they so desperately need to lead a productive and meaningful life.

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