The only constant in K-12 education is change

By Bill Crawford

The only constant in K-12 education is change. It is hard to imagine that ever-changing curricula, standards, performance assessments, and expectations work to the betterment of both students and teachers. But, here we go again.
You may have heard that Mississippi is moving to the “common core.” What is that? It’s a “state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers” to put in place common core curriculum standards that were developed “in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce.”
That’s a lofty goal … perhaps too lofty for the many children still left behind. Reality today is that too many students enter school unready to learn, too many drop out, and too many that do graduate need extensive remedial education before entering regular college classes or workforce training classes.
That’s why many who have reviewed the Common Core standards say they are too ambitious and insufficiently relevant to real life. Consider the math standards. Students are expected to master algebra in the eighth grade.
“Today, American high schools offer a sequence of algebra, geometry, more algebra, pre-calculus and calculus,” write Sol Garfunkel, executive director of the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications, and David Mumford, emeritus professor of mathematics at Brown. “This has been codified by the Common Core State Standards, recently adopted by more than 40 states. This highly abstract curriculum is simply not the best way to prepare a vast majority of high school students for life.”
To prepare workers for real-life jobs at Toyota, Itawamba Community College developed classes in “machine tool mathematics.” The class teaches students practical usage of measures, fractions, decimals, and basic algebra not mastered in high school.
Grounding high school math in real life applications “has long undergirded German apprenticeship programs,” wrote Andrew Hacker in a New York Times piece entitled “Is Algebra Necessary?” Hacker is co-author of “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It.”
He writes that higher level, abstract math is not needed in the general workforce and keeps too many talented students out of college:
“A definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above;” and “It’s not easy to see why potential poets and philosophers face a lofty mathematics bar. Demanding (college) algebra across the board actually skews a student body, not necessarily for the better.”
Here we go changing again, adopting “standards” that may be beyond students’ reach as well as their needs.
Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.