U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan caused a furor by referring dismissively earlier this month to "white suburban moms" who opposed the Common Core tests in New York because, he said, it exposed their children as merely average.
It was the racial tinge to Duncan's comment, however, that brought the heat.
Others are noting that the troubling implications of low success rates in New York's test results reach beyond predominantly white suburbs. Test results put the new regime very much in question, they said. Critics included eight prominent school principals who wrote a letter of objection.
"We know that many children cried during or after testing," the New York principals wrote, "and others vomited or lost control of their bowels or bladders. Others simply gave up. One teacher reported that a student kept banging his head on the desk, and wrote, 'This is too hard,' and 'I can’t do this,' throughout his test booklet."
“You think the Obamacare implementation is bad?" asked Randi Weingarten, the former head of the American Federation of Teachers at the National Education Writers Association conference at George Washington University, Capital New York reported. "The implementation of the Common Core is far worse.”
Weingarten is a staunch Common Core supporter.
The problem, argues Diane Ravitch in a CNN op-ed, is that a "one size fits all" approach has been imposed without field testing the model or any knowledge of long-term effects. Ravitch is an education reform scholar who once was an outspoken conservative on educational issues, but has since become a fierce defender of public education.
States were pressured by the federal government, Ravitch wrote, because critical federal funding incentives were tied to participation in "college-and-career-ready standards," and that the Common Core tests were the only such game in town. The federal government was thus prevented by law from imposing the standards, but accomplished the same objective indirectly, she continued.
"Some states adopted them without seeing a finished draft," Ravitch wrote, referring to the testing on Common Core standards. "The standards, unfortunately, were never field-tested. No one knew in advance whether they would improve achievement or depress it, whether they would widen or narrow the achievement gap among children of different races. It is hard to imagine a major corporation releasing a new product nationwide without first testing it among consumers to see if it is successful. But that is what happened with the Common Core standards."
Ravitch continues, "Experts in early childhood education say the standards for young children are developmentally inappropriate. Field-testing would have ironed out many of the bugs, but promoters of the standards insisted on fast implementation."
Dana Goldstein at Slate also challenged the uniformity of the new system, arguing that it's not just suburban whites who are flummoxed, but also young minorities trying to carve a career path through rigid rules not written for their circumstances.
"Other countries don’t work this way," Goldstein wrote. "They allow older teenagers to make decisions about their likely next steps, and to gear their last few years of high school accordingly.
“What we need is a much richer, less panicked debate about the curriculum and the tests connected to it — one that acknowledges the need for rigor and relevancy, but defines rigor much more broadly, and lets older students make choices about their own future," said Goldstein.