CNBC: “How Common Core Broke U.S. Schools”

My YouTube feed today presented a video posted by CNBC titled “How Common Core Broke U.S. Schools.” The description for the video reads “First implemented in 2009, Common Core was an ambitious initiative to revolutionize the American education system. National leaders from Bill Gates to President Obama supported the idea and it cost an estimated $15.8 billion to implement. Years later, research showed the new curriculum had minimal impact on student performance. So why did Common Core fail? Can a common curriculum be successful for all students?”

Around 2010, my kids were in middle and high school. Race to Nowhere was making headlines with special screenings in communities and raised awareness about stress and anxiety in schools. I also recall two other programs with imagery-filled titles, “Race to the Top” and “No Child Left Behind,” that were adding fuel to an already burning problem. They were both huge funding efforts which by-passed Rory Sutherland’s fourth quadrant and the Ministry of Detail. Common Core apparently was also a product of this funding movement and, according to the CNBC report, failed to gain traction…ever.

The video reports on resistance to change (probably resulting from a poor elevator pitch) as well as crosswinds such as adoption of computers, e-textbooks, cultural shifts, and socioeconomic tides. This was the time when educators were discussing teaching framework alternatives that were working, but policymakers were fixated on testing, test scores and accountability. While Common Core didn’t really cause more damage to an already hurting K-12 educational program, it essentially helped the education industry grow at the expense of student learning…quasi-equilibrium so to speak. Entering college students were less well-prepared and colleges started having to offer more remedial catch-up courses (related to tuition increases?). Degree programs of study either got extended because instructors were stretched or terminated early because students couldn’t get past lower division courses. On top of this, government policy was driving increases in college enrollment and the value of an undergraduate degree declined (supply & demand, I guess).

The Common Core isn’t necessarily a bad idea. In fact, it’s a great idea. The issue may have been with the innovation & design thinking process. In YCISL-speak, the Common Core did not seem to possess emotional intelligence or intrinsic motivation. SAT/ACT, Subject tests and AP tests were the de-facto standards of achievement…and not interfaced with actual school learning. The knowledge gaps that Salman Khan had referred to were going to get worse.

Standards-based examination tied to school learning is in place almost everywhere in the world…except in the US. Standards-based education programs even have overseas influence (that is, outside the country where it is the national program). We also have the International Baccalaureate (IB) program which is standards-based and intentionally available by design for adoption internationally.

A greater disappointment lies in the poor outcome of the Common Core despite the sense and awareness that was sparked by Sir Ken Robinson’s TEDTalk “Schools Kill Creativity.” Maybe the next challenge should be Common Core 2.0 for 10% of the cost of the original Common Core. Some thriftiness might get some wiser moves.


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