Ready, Fire, Aim

The “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) act gave the US twelve years to achieve an unprecedented mass apotheosis by 2014. In comparison, putting a man on the moon involved one man and one moon. The man was already highly proficient, and the moon was obligingly predictable. The thousands of engineers and scientists that were mustered to help this one highly proficient man meet his objective contrast to the teachers and their drivers mustered to help millions of less-than-proficient children achieve a proficiency that they do not have, often do not want, and sometimes simply cannot manage. Now, a year from that wildly improbable deadline, we are nowhere near achieving the goal—as any sensible person could have predicted.

But sense is not part of the cutting edge of education. Hence “RAce to the Top” (RAT), thanks to which music teachers’ skill at instruction is being evaluated according to their students’ scores on English tests. Sometimes it is evaluated according to the scores of children who are not their students. It is only a matter of time before the RAT goes belly up as well.

Anyone with a sense of the history of misbegotten educational movements in the U.S. must be wondering what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards the schoolhouse to be born. My candidate for Beast of the Year is the Common Core. Its goal is “to create the next generation of K–12 standards in order to help ensure that all students are college and career ready no later than the end of high school.” Any educationist material referring to a “next generation” strongly tempts me to take out my Baloney Bingo board, but let it pass for now: we have a more ominous target to take aim at. What did we learn from NCLB’s promising universal proficiency in twelve years? Not what we should have if CC promises universal college and career readiness by the end of high school. And it does so by requiring that all 12th-grade students, some of whom now use study guides over a period of weeks to get through Of Mice and Men, will in twelve years be able to read Thomas Paine and G. K. Chesterton unaided[1].

Did I say twelve years? Sorry: that was NCLB. New York is already testing its students on the Common Core, which has not yet been implemented in its schools. Students report being nervous, which shows they have more sense than their state’s education administrators. I wonder how the teachers feel. At least New York’s teachers don’t receive bad ratings if the students in their music classes can’t pass an English test, but that is cold comfort. Will they receive bad ratings if their students do not succeed in a curriculum that has not been implemented?

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