Common Core: One Size Does Not Fit All

On July 19, 2010, the New York State Board of Regents adopted the Common Core Standards, essentially adopting an institution that, as dictated by its own name, hold all students, regardless of race, family income, or disability, to the same self imposed standard that is supposed to prepare students to succeed in college, career, and life (“Common Core Background”). However, as demonstrated in Anthem by Ayn Rand, as well as in Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, putting the needs of the group over the individual is a dangerous institution that puts severe restrictions on creativity. This is a dangerous undertaking for education, and it supports a system that puts into jeopardy free thought and future innovation as well as individuality. Common Core was essentially forced upon the schools it preys upon.

While it was not technically required for each state to adopt the standards, the “Race to the Top” grant guaranteed that the majority of states would by essentially making schools better positioned to receive federal funding if they did. In a time of ever tightening budgets, tying federal funding to the adoption of education initiatives such as Common Core leaves little room for freedom and encourages an environment of coercion (Kertscher). Therefore the adoption of Common Core for many states was not a matter of choice at all. This means that, Common Core standards were already restrictive of personal freedom and state’s rights before even being implemented. In addition, the pursuit of a nationwide curriculum is yet another excuse to avoid the real problems this nation is facing. In this case, it is poverty and racism that are being overlooked.

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The fact is, the best predictor of test scores is not whether or not our entire country is learning the same material, but rather family income and ethnicity.Low income students typically score in the lower half of results, and failure rates on Common Core Exams are much proportionally higher for children of color such as black and Hispanic children. Higher income families have access to resources such as private tutors and extra test preparatory classes that are simply not attainable for many Americans. Common Core also neglects ESL students as well as children with disabilities (Ravitch). It is extremely unfair to expect the same results from all schools, regardless of the amount of funding or levels of poverty in the community.

This system smothers success. It does not allow everyone a chance to succeed, and for that the failing education system should be held accountable. If one is looking for further evidence that Common Core is not working, one needs not look further than our test scores. In 2015, average math scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress declined for the first time since 1990. Reading scores were all either flat or decreased (Ravitch).

Scores being flat is almost scarier than decreased scores, rather than moving forwards or backwards in terms of human progress, we are simply in a plateau, with no progress in either direction. If our generation is to lead the world one day, then it should be agreed upon that our education must prepare us for college,career, and life. However our education must also take into account individuality, considering our world is a melting pot that is only going to become more diverse. Additionally, both teachers and students alike have complained about the robotic, factory-like nature of Common Core. Some of the biggest critics of new lesson plans are the people tasked with teaching them.

A growing number of teachers say the national standards have put large amounts of pressure on teaching for the test, which essentially takes all individuality out of teaching. Michael Warren, a public school history teacher from New Jersey stated “Now teachers aren’t as unique. It means anyone can do it. It’s like taking something done by humans and having it done by a machine” (qtd. Chiaramonte).

At this rate, students could practically be replaced by machines as well, considering Common Core standards urge students to think a certain way, and take standardized tests in the mindset of ‘what the state thinks is right’ rather than what the students truly believe. This is an especially prevalent issue in English classes, considering interpretation of literature is extremely subjective and opinion based. How can we expect all students to take the same side of issues that literary scholars have debated for centuries? This puts severely damaging limits on creativity and self-expression. It turns schools into factories. If all students are like-minded, then there is no point to education.

Where would we be if not for those who dared to challenge traditional dogma? Humanity would not make any progress at all if we simply accepted the information handed to us by our predecessors and moved on. That, however, is exactly what Common Core is asking our teachers and students to do. In Anthem, everyone is supposedly a part of one collective brotherhood. They are all educated the same way, and strive to be alike. This is seen in both Equality’s thought process as he reflects on the rules of the society he inhabits and the very fact that for the majority of the novel he uses the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘they’, as everyone in the world of Anthem is expected to do.

Equality says, “We strive to be like all our brother men, for all men must be alike”(Rand 19). The society he lives in drills this into children’s heads since birth, and it is especially prominent throughout their education process. This is a time when people are most malleable, and therefore vulnerable. As a result school-age is a vital time in a person’s life to instill a sense of creativity and individualism into people. When this is not done, there are far reaching consequences. Equality recalls that, “We are six feet tall, and this is a burden, for there are not many men who are six feet tall: Ever have the Teachers and the Leaders pointed to us and frowned and said: ‘There is evil in your bones, Equality 7-2521, for your body has grown beyond the bodies of your brothers’; But we cannot change our bones nor our body”(Rand 18).

This is very dangerous and harmful thinking. Since birth, Equality has known he is different by his height, just as many children know they are distinguished from others due to race, financial situation, or disability. These differences should be embraced and accepted by teachers, otherwise they may never be accepted by the very children who possess them. However this is not always the case. Common Core expects the same outcome despite all students having different backgrounds and limittions.It is extremely psychologically damaging to grow up with this way of thinking put into your mind.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what Common Core does. It holds all children to one standard, and assumes that all students are one and the same, and therefore can learn in the exact same way. This is clearly very damaging to progress, considering later on Equality states that, “All of the great modern inventions come from the Home of the Scholars, such as the newest one…how to make candles from wax and string, how to make glass…”(Rand 23-24).

Anthem clearly takes place in the distant future, so that fact that these are considered recent breakthroughs is astonishing. Clearly, a society in which the collective is valued over the individual is stunted in terms of progress. This is the type of future we may be headed for if we continue to allow education to be created with a ‘one size fits all’ mentality. A similar situation occurs in Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. In the book, Siddhartha is dissatisfied with his current life and teachings.

He believes he has learned all that he can from his current mentors, and is ready to move on to a new spiritual journey. Siddhartha states, “Dreams and restless thoughts came flowing to him from the river, from the twinkling stars at night, from the sun’s melting rays. Dreams and a restlessness of the soul came to him, arising from the smoke of the sacrifices, emanating from the verses of the Rig-Veda, trickling through from the teachings of the old Brahmins” (Hesse 5). Siddhartha is an individual with unique abilities and unique needs, both spiritual and educational. Therefore, he cannot simply be satisfied with learning from the sacred Hindu texts and from the brahmins, or priests.

The word usage in this quote is also very significant. Siddhartha refers to the Brahmins as old. This highlights that they are ancient, perhaps, even outdated in their views. They may not fully appreciate the concept of individuality in education. Siddhartha is an individual who requires individual attention in order to meet his full potential.

Similarly, not all students can be grouped together under one set of standards. Siddhartha also stresses the importance of individualized education, saying, “Was Atman then not within him? Was not then the source within his own heart? One must find the source within one’s own Self, one must possess it” (Hesse 7).The individual cannot depend on the group to lead them in their journey of self discovery. This will later factor into Siddhartha’s decision to leave Govinda and continue his journey alone. The individual must hold themselves to their own standard, not the standard of the collective.

One might argue that since children are all studying the same material and taking the same tests, Common Corepromotes equity (“Common Core State Standards Initiative”). However, the fact still remains that not all children are the same, so holding them to the same standards and tests and expecting them all to succeed is fundamentally impossible. Additionally, some claim that the process of creating Common Core relied on teachers and experts, so therefore the teachers do in fact have input in what they are teaching. (“Common Core State Standards Initiative”). However, while the drafting process may have supposedly relied on teachers and experts, the implementation of Common Core circumvents them completely and tells them not only what to teach, but how to teach it (Ravitch). In fact, on the Common Core Website, under the myths and facts section, there is one section which reads, “Myth: The standards tell teachers what to teach” (“Common Core State Standards Initiative”).

The article then attempts to explain how this is a falsehood. However, in the very second sentence of the ‘fact’ section, it states, “…these standards establish what students need to learn…”(“Common Core State Standards Initiative”). This is a direct contradiction.

Clearly these ‘myths’ aren’t so fictitious after all. Teachers are indeed being told how to do their jobs by people who often have never been educators in their entire lives, who have little interest in children or education, and who see education as a business opportunity; a way to market their products to make money. The thought that the future leaders of America are being conditioned to all think the same way, that the thoughts being put in their heads are being manufactured like interchangeable parts in a factory, is very frightening. Common Core does not factor in that everyone grows up in different circumstances, with different privileges afforded to them at birth. You cannot allow some people to have a head start and then force everyone to strive for the same finish line. It is an inherently unfair system that allows for far too much untapped potential and discrimination.

Students are being made to feel useless and stupid for not thinking a certain way, for being expected to meet the same standards without the same rights and privileges. They are essentially fish being judged on their ability to climb trees. Everyone has the potential to succeed, but the Common Core system won’t let all children realize their potential, and this is a crime for which we all must be held accountable. If we are to continue to thrive as a species, the future must be one in which the individual is taken into account, the education system reflects the diversity of our population, and above all education is not seen as yet another product to be advertised as “one size fits all”.