Rejecting The Status Quo In Education (Robert Coon On Politics)

by Robert Coon  on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 2:43 pm  

Robert Coon

When I was in the 4th grade, I was a little energetic in the classroom. My teacher, Mrs. Wimmer, told me I needed to exhibit more “self-control.” Obviously that’s a hard concept for a 10-year-old to get his head around. 

But Mrs. Wimmer had a useful tool to encourage me: multiplication tables. Bringing home one or two — and sometimes four or five — multiplication table assignments daily quickly became the norm for me. It wasn’t long before my mother, picking me up from school, stopped asking “if” I’d been assigned any tables, but “how many.”

As you can imagine, by the end of my 4th grade year, I was a pro at writing those tables. Not only had I developed a system to write them more efficiently (and to lessen hand cramps), I could recite any multiplication answer between zero times zero and twelve times twelve at the snap of a finger. 

Fortunately, I eventually developed some much needed self-control. But I’m not sure whether I developed a better understanding of math from this daily exercise, or just got good at memorizing numbers. 

I’ve been pondering the difference as the debate over Common Core State Standards has heated up nationally and in Arkansas. 

Common Core is a set of K-12 educational standards developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers in conjunction with teachers, parents, academics and school administrators. In a nutshell, Common Core seeks to establish standard benchmarks for each grade level. For math, the standards favor critical thinking and problem-solving over memorization. For reading and literacy, Common Core encourages a broader, more informational and analytic approach. 

Forty-five states have adopted Common Core standards. But recently they’ve become highly controversial, with opponents calling for them to be scrapped. Certainly the standards aren’t perfect, but much of the criticism leveled against Common Core is based on misinformation and hyperbole

Groups like the Foundation for Excellence in Education and education policy experts like Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute have done a good job breaking down a number of the bogus Common Core claims earlier this year. So instead of re-plowing old ground, I think it’s more important to ask whether we can afford to reject change in education for the sake of maintaining the status quo.

The truth is, we can’t. 

While we probably don’t want to admit it — and it doesn’t make us feel warm and fuzzy to say it — the hard reality is that our education system is not performing at the level it must. There certainly are bright spots. But time and again, we’re reminded how we’re struggling to educate our children:

Quite simply, we’re going backward when compared to the competition.

This should be a wake-up call for any parent with schoolchildren anywhere in the United States. But it should also be a wake up call for everyone who cares about our children, our economy and our nation’s future. 



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