The front lines of Common Core are beginning to resemble a true battlefield. Instead of the cooperation that is supposed to exist—that is purported to exist by the powers that be—between parents, teachers, administrators and states officials, one finds animosity, distrust, condescension and a bare-fisted power grab that threatens the very nature of American education. Where is the dialogue?
Where is the exchange of ideas and the addressing of concerns? This top-down education control maneuver is bypassing parents and sacrificing our kids on the altar of standardization. One Kentucky father has had enough, and shares his story of frustration, anger and action in the trenches of Common Core.
“This all started when we had some concerns about how our son was doing in school,” said Louisville dad Karl Steutermann. Given that his child was in the third grade, Steutermann expected to see certain basics being taught. “There were no phonics coming home, and the math was convoluted, ridiculous. They weren’t learning the times tables and how to use them to solve a problem. Instead, they were told to ‘draw a picture of 3X5,’ or ‘show 3X5 on a timeline,’ or ‘write a multiplication sentence.’ Third grade should be teaching fundamentals.”
Steutermann attempted to address his concerns with the school. “I have tremendous respect for teachers,” he said, “but their hands are tied. I was told the material is what it is and ‘we are doing the best we can do.’” The ambiguity in the questions continued and Steutermann and his wife had to seek outside help for their son in order to see improvements. In addition, the amount of work they were doing to compensate for the gaps at school was increasing. “The problems kept coming home,” he said.
“Estimate the answer, everything in the abstract. We had to work every night on reading and math. I was teaching my child, not the school.”
After voicing his concerns at an Oldham County Board of Education meeting, he received a call from the Curriculum Director. Though she didn’t make either of two meetings that were scheduled, Steutermann did end up sitting down with the superintendent. “He was arrogant,” said Steutermann,
“asking ‘Is this being recorded?’” When the concerned father explained that the curriculum was confusing and actually making it more difficult for the students to learn, he was met with condescension. “The superintendent asked ‘How many third graders have you worked with?’”
Steutermann, who possess a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Mechanical Engineering as well as an MBA, was having none of it. “I can look at my son’s homework and say ‘This is crap.’ I am qualified.”
Sadly, the rude, defensive posture taken by the superintendent is not unique. Those daring to question Common Core are being met with disrespectful, patronizing behavior suggesting its proponents have little more than attitude to back up their claims. The challenge is always twofold: first, tell us exactly what’s wrong with the standards, and second, “control” over the curriculum is handled locally, allowing for parent involvement and teacher discretion, so what’s the problem? Anyone who has spent more than five minutes dealing with the current education machine knows all too well what the problem is, and why CC is rapidly becoming yet another doomed, self-fulfilling academic prophecy.
“Every generation thinks it has ‘cracked the code,’” said Steutermann. “They are experimenting with ten years of my child’s education and it’s not worth it.”
Common Core has abandoned all common sense, and thus pointing out exactly what’s wrong quickly devolves into a who’s-on-first routine. For example, math standard 3.0A.B reads: Understand properties of multiplication and the relationship between multiplication and division. Sounds good, right? Except that if that students are taught those properties and relationships in the abstract, they skip over the fundamentals and then attempt to apply principles they have yet to master to higher order problems. In short, if one doesn’t know his or her times tables, how can one grasp the relationships factors, multiples, dividends and quotients have with one another? And when the weakness of the standard is pointed out with actual examples of absurd, ambiguous homework problems, the response is always that the standard covers appropriate academic criteria and—wait for it—the teachers are free to teach it as they see fit.
This brings us to what’s-on-second: that “freedom” the teachers possess. “They all say the world is the teacher’s oyster,” said Steutermann, “and they can use what they want. But first, they have to go through SBDM if they want to go ‘off list’ with something. There is paperwork where they have to justify
why they want to do something else. Then it has to be signed by the principal, then the superintendent, and then it goes to the state textbook committee. If teachers have this freedom at the local level, then why is it so complicated?” Also, the crux of Common Core is standardization. In testing, curriculum,
textbooks, methods, etc., the CC advocates have to maintain a blind adherence to across-the-board “standards” or the entire thing falls apart. There is no allowance for teacher discretion or veering off the pre-set academic path.
Not surprisingly, this lands us squarely on I-don’t-know third base. (“I don’t know” being the operative term and the de facto motto of Common Core.) Students are being exposed to untested and unproven methods that are designed with a one-size-fits-all mentality. Basic skill sets that were
ubiquitous 30 years ago are being abandoned under the guise of “critical thinking,” which, as Steutermann points out, is merely an administrative sleight of hand. “Common Core is curriculum. It is simply a method for getting that curriculum into the schools.” Adding, “It is a fraud, born of ignorance, arrogance and hubris. The superintendents, principals and Kentucky Department of Education say they want ‘involved’ parents. But what they really want is compliant parents.”
Hoping to reverse this course and push past the rhetoric, Steutermann is bringing together a non-political, leave-your-ideology-at-the-door assemblage of concerned parents and citizens to address the issue the head-on. “I am taking a group to Frankfort to meet with the Department of Education,” he
said. “And the ground rules are no politics, no Right, no Left.” One can only hope that those pushing the standards are as willing to put personal views aside and do what’s best for our kids.