An hour or so ago, I finished testifying about Common Core national education standards to the Arkansas legislature. It looks like Twitter may be obsessing a bit over the happenstance that I recited the Pledge of Allegiance for a mic check, since I testified by phone.
More importantly: You can find my testimony here, so I won’t reiterate but instead will mention what lawmakers asked me about in Q&A.
Some of my favorite questions had to do with people insisting that the world’s top-performing countries have national standards, so we need them, too. I mentioned that the world’s worst-performing countries also have national standards, and that U.S.-based research has shown high standards have no effect on student achievement. Also, while international comparisons are largely fair (most of our economic competitors also test all students, and academic performance IS correlated with economic growth), they are only in as far as they compare things we care about. For example, Asian countries perform at the top of international rankings, but they send delegations here to see how they can make their education systems more like the United States’, because many of their graduates can pass tests but not think outside the box.
Another lawmaker asked me to explain where the line is between using tests for basic accountability and using them as the center of an education system that consumes itself on test-prep. I responded that I do think states should test public school students, because it is only reasonable that taxpayers know if their $12,000 per year per student is producing kids who can read. But the question is, what kind of tests? Most parents and teachers agree we should see if kids have gotten basic knowledge in a year of school, but, as I explained, Common Core tests aim to do much more than that. They will require children to not just answer correctly, but also use the correct procedures, which gets away from testing for basic knowledge into curriculum and teaching method enforcement. That kind of testing also requires much more test prep, as kids have to memorize more test-based regurgitation patterns. And why do this when we know that basic, multiple choice tests are cheap, highly accurate, and proven by years of experience?
What I did not mention in responding to this question, and wish I did (although had discussed it earlier in response to a question about how Common Core impacts private and home schools) is that because testing necessarily affects instruction, especially private and home schools should have other options for proving their education value than the current model of “all roads lead to one test.” Perhaps some schools allow children who are not ready to read at 5 to wait a few more years. My younger brother and the son of a favorite college professor are not disabled or intellectually slow (both are actually rather bright), but simply could not learn to read until ages 7 and 10, respectively. While it’s reasonable to say most kids can learn to read earlier than that, it’s also reasonable to give families more ability to educate as meets their kids’ needs, and tests should not prevent this. In short, they are always a blunt instrument, but Common Core makes them more clublike.
Q&A is always my favorite part of speaking because it gives me a chance to hear what my audience cares most about. I also got several questions on securing student data and how Common Core exposes it further. Look for a new policy paper on that in the next two months. It was especially pleasant to speak with southerners today, because they’re so polite it’s surprising.