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Passing Tests, Failing Life

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Recently, a bold teacher in North Carolina publicly expressed her frustration with the Common Core system and published her Common Core manifesto. After 23 years of teaching, she had had enough of the bureaucracy, so she left her job. My mom, a teacher in public schools for 35 years, shares many of the same feelings. My best friend’s mother, also a long-time public school teacher, echoes the same frustrations. A September 2014 Gallup poll shows that these teachers are not alone. According to the poll, 65 percent of teachers surveyed were worried about the new common core initiatives and 62 percent felt frustrated. Resignation letters are not uncommon lately, and each one reflects similar frustrations.

Like many teachers, my mother is passionate about her students; she prays for them and is a light for Christ to them and to her coworkers. From the time she was a little girl, she knew she wanted to be a teacher, but what she signed up for years ago is not the school system of today. In the past, teachers were expected to use their professional discretion to evaluate their students and decide how and what to teach to reach learning goals. Teachers could work together on cross-curricular projects that encouraged excitement and creativity among students. Although this kind of cross-subject learning is crucial for application, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills required in upper-level education and in the job market, test-centered mandates leave little time for it.

In the past, students were required to make progress in order to advance through the grades. Now, if a student fails, the teacher is reprimanded. In addition to preparing lessons, teaching, and grading, many teachers must also prepare their own portfolios showing what they have taught and including examples of student work for their evaluations. Teachers must show that they have taught every standard, and they are expected to justify low scores or a child’s failure to reach a pre-set goal. Teachers whose students do not achieve desired test scores may be moved at the whim of an administrator, overloaded with needy or difficult students, moved to another school, or have extracurricular activities taken away, which could equate to loss of income.

Teachers are crying out for support, but in a sea of micromanagement, another administrative requirement is no life vest. No one would deny that families and children in our society are struggling with problems we could never have imagined just a few years ago. Single parents, absent fathers, drugs, learning disabilities, misuse of social media, and poverty often lead to serious behavior issues that conflict with learning. Theoretically, teachers have more help than ever, and teachers do what they can during the school day, but they cannot provide everything a child needs. Lack of parental involvement, a chaotic home life, or too much unsupervised time may result in a child unprepared or unable to give learning the attention it demands.

Currently, eight states have opted out of Common Core: Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, Virginia, Indiana, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Although my mom teaches in one of these eight states, the state standards of learning are still aligned with Common Core standards. The curriculum remains focused on testing. Schools are held to the same standards, whether their community is a wealthy suburb or a poor urban area, whether their population includes the exceptionally gifted or the newcomers who may not be able to speak or read English on their grade level, if they can even understand English at all. The school is held accountable for these children, and that equates to loss of funding when mandated standards are not met. Administrators are not left out of the bureaucratic cycle; they have their own meetings and standards and are often unavailable for school management, interaction with children, and working with teachers because they are tied up with testing, testing preparations, and meetings. If the students do not meet standards, schools can lose funding which comes down on the shoulders of the administrators as well.

School is about so much more than learning how to multiply or read. It is about becoming a complete person. It is about a place to learn the value of hard work, conflict resolution, compromise, and diversity not how to pass a standardized test. We have created a one-size-fits-all educational system, but we are not a one-size-fits-all society. Parents deserve choice; students deserve quality education, and teachers deserve a voice. Every student passes, and every student gets a trophy, but not every adult succeeds. The job market is unforgiving, and students who were given a perceived advantage are shocked when their bosses don’t hand them a gold star for completing a simple task. We must raise independent, free-thinking people, not government-dependent robots who are trained only to take tests. Teachers are dedicated, educated people, and they know what their students need more than an administrator and more than a testing company.