Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Whether to Play Polkas

In the Robin Williams classic Good Morning, Vietnam, General Taylor (Noble Willingham) points out an obvious fact that Lt. Hauk (Bruno Kirby) fails to grasp.  He observes that it makes no difference "whether you play polkas or don't play polkas.  The men just like him better than they do you."

I thought of this line when I read an article on Common Core in the New York Daily News. Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY, writes, "Only 37% of New York State students graduated from high school prepared for college or a career. So while adults can argue about their narrow self-interests and political agendas, this is the only Common Core statistic that matters: Last year, we failed to meet our obligation to two-thirds of our kids."  She then states that adopting the Common Core State Standards is the solution.

To paraphrase the good general in the movie, this is not about whether Common Core is good or bad.  There is a much larger picture that is being missed.  If 63% of New York State students are not prepared for life after school, then what are New Yorkers doing wrong?  What are New York parents and community groups, churches and synagogues, doctors and sports teams and yes, schools, doing wrong?  It is absurd to claim that one group is uniquely responsible for such a vast problem.  Are the teachers the ones who are supposed to be teaching the children that 2+2=4?  Yes.  But short of telling them that 2+2=cats or speaking in Klingon, teachers alone cannot be the sole or even necessarily the primary cause of such failure.  Do some bad teachers contribute to the problem?  Undoubtedly they do.  As do poor administrators, a lack of resources, wretched home lives for the students, parents who hold their name only through biology, and additional social factors both great and small too numerous to list here.

And if there cannot be one cause for this massive problem, then there cannot be one solution like the adoption of Common Core.  Common Core may be the greatest educational innovation since John Dewey first sliced bread, but no set of standards is solely capable of righting such a complex wrong.

Sound Off  Pick one of the other contributing factors to student achievement and offer some concrete ideas for how to address them.  The comment box is open!

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