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Education reforms little more than the latest fads

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New York City’s education system, like the rest of America’s, has been hijacked by politicians who are eager to tout their success at making much-needed gains.

But since the political class is a transient one, as elected leaders come and go — except in Albany — due to term limits, we are constantly seeing new programs that are continuously depleting our ability to make progress and prepare all kinds of learners to become “educated citizens.”

Remember No Child Left Behind? That was the George W. Bush administration’s catchy title for revamping public education in America. That lasted about eight years and was replaced by Race to the Top, another peppy slogan invented by the Obama educrats. How did that work? Well, it got a number of states to commit to important reforms that got them a pot of federal money.

But has it made our overall education system better? Are our children better off today in the classroom than they were four, 12, 30 years ago?

No.

And now comes along another slickly named new idea: the Common Core Curriculum. I’m not sure more than 10 people in New York can give you a comprehensive explanation of what “Common Core” means, but it is now the talk of the town and has emerged as the new hot topic in the mayoral race.

In a nutshell, Common Core means that we are now shifting the way we assess student progress with a greater emphasis on critical thinking, higher reasoning and strong writing skills. These are worthy goals, and who could argue that this is a long-overdue reform in an ossified education system?

But the educrats who designed this system botched so many things, I don’t know where to start.

First, here’s an anecdote that sums up part of the problem. Last spring, my intelligent 13-year-old daughter came home and told me she took this hard statewide test.

“Daddy, I had to skip eight questions,” she said. “We didn’t even learn that stuff. Why would they test that?”

This from a student, who tested well enough to get into New York’s most prestigious public high schools.

It was one of those rare moments as a parent when words failed me and I couldn’t explain to her why she was being tested on material she had never seen before.

So my question is why wasn’t Common Core phased in? We’ve known about it since 2009, so why weren’t teachers prepared to teach it earlier? Our kids then wouldn’t be set up for a test everyone knew the majority would fail. Is making children and their parents frightened about the lack of “proficiency” a political policy to shock the system?

And what about that large segment of students who may not be well-suited for liberal arts education or high-end professional careers — shouldn’t we be preparing curriculums or tests that play to their relative strengths? Why in education do we always fall for the mistaken notion that one size fits all?

Tests are not a substitute for great teaching and real learning. They are a blunt tool that measures progress and proficiency, but we now live in an age where everything must be quantified so we can hold students, parents and teachers accountable.

I think I speak for many parents and a silent majority of concern education citizens when I say that we should slow down, focus on training great teachers and make sure our children learn effective communication and basic computational and reasoning skills.

But let us not lurch from one panacea to another — from No Child Left Behind to Race to the Top to Common Core, we are just packaging the latest fad in education reform and losing sight of the fundamentals of teaching and learning.

As one poor student named Albert Einstein once said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

How true.

Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at tallon@cityandstateny.com.

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sharon from queens says:
Its a waste of time to read this. No matter how many names are given, from No Child left Behind to the newest term, still nothing is changing with the Bd of ed. Its a disgrace how politicians have cut funding year after year for the Bd of ed. Oh!! I thought the USA was the best country in the world. I guess not. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. This country is a disgrace. No wonder people from around the world like the middle east, hate us. Great ole USA where racism still excists, where the poor die of hunger, citizens are homeless, crime is up, children being kidnapped, raped by teachers and other psychos, parents do not care for their children, where you can get drugs to guns from the corner bodega, prostitution, killings, rats, bedbug infestations in NY, and dirty streets, disaster zones, Katrina a national disgrace. Must I go on?
Aug. 23, 2013, 3:47 am

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