As the epic struggle against Common Core rages on in school districts, towns, and states across the nation, a deeper, more insidious threat rests beneath the surface of national education standards that threatens to reverse decades of progress made by thousands of American charter schools.
Countless articles, testimonies, and videos now exist detailing the absurdity of various aspects of the Common Core national standards. In states that have made the mistake of taking federal dollars in exchange for adopting the standards, students will now be forced to navigate through a labyrinth of bewildering and illogical instructions in order to solve simple problems instead of the tried-and-true teaching practices that have worked for generations. This probably explains why getting ???the right answer??? in math no longer matters according to Common Core proponents.
Current Focus of the Debate
For many, the debate focuses on one of two issues. Either the need to eliminate Common Core comes from a utilitarian desire to have more effective teaching practices in place or because many view Common Core as a violation against the rights of parents, local school boards, and states to properly set educational standards as close to home as possible.
With either motivation, it???s not difficult to imagine why Common Core has become such a large target. The program is simply a disaster, and virtually the whole world already knows it.
Hidden deep within the debate, however, an even greater battle is being waged for the hearts and minds of America???s education system ??? a battle that could shape the future of the United States for generations to come.
The Real Battle
Common Core seeks to establish a national set of standards for what children ought to learn and how teachers should convey the material. In nearly every case where standards, of any sort, are nationalized, a select group of individuals end up creating unbending practices that reflect the ideology of a small, elitist band of academics who envision the whole of the nation operating in whatever manner the group sees fit.
Authors Joseph L. Bast and Herbert J. Walberg, Ph.D., explain in their upcoming book, Rewards: How to use rewards to help children learn ??? and why teachers don???t use them well,that one of the goals of the architects of Common Core is to eliminate free-market principles and the concept of rewards from education.
Bast and Walberg point out that the popular modern education theories promoted by America???s most influential education ???experts??? state, as Alfie Kohn did in a 1995 interview in Educational Leadership, that rewards in education are ???manipulating,??? ???counterproductive,??? and akin to ???control through seduction.???
For academics like Kohn, students shouldn???t be bribed with pizza parties, gold stars, high letter grades, or, God forbid, money. Students can only be motivated by an altruistic internal desire for success. These principles do not apply to students alone. Teachers, principals, and whole school districts should also be exclusively motivated by a sincere desire to teach and learn.
As Bast and Walberg conclusively prove in Rewards, however, providing external motivation is an extremely successful strategy for producing positive educational outcomes. A plethora of studies show that students who are rewarded with cash, grades, awards, and a variety of other motivational tools perform better than they otherwise would, and teachers and administrators who are rewarded based on performance are also far more likely to improve and adapt than teachers who don???t.
Common Core Aims to Eliminate Competition and Rewards
Essential to an effective rewards strategy is the ability to adapt to continuously changing circumstances, a skill Common Core actively discourages.
Common Core proponents want every school in America, including charter and voucher-funded schools, to adopt the same general educational guidelines, a position that, by its very nature, aims to make all schools, and by extension students, as similar to one another as possible. This philosophy directly undermines the very purpose of charter schools, which is to be unique, revolutionary, and free from government restraint.
If your local successful charter school becomes a curriculum clone of the local failing public school, the list of reasons for a parent to send his or her child to the charter school becomes much shorter.
The Slippery Slope
Even more dangerous, however, is what Common Core could become in the future; today???s standards are not an indication of the standards to come. If liberty-minded Americans have learned anything from the current presidential administration, it???s that government programs are never what the first seem, and Common Core is likely to be no different in this regard.
Because so many academics, including many of those who support Common Core, also reject the strategy of providing students, teachers, and school systems with rewards, it won???t be long before a prerequisite for receiving federal education dollars will be eliminating letter grades and other rewards from classrooms. After all, we can???t have ???winners??? and ???losers,??? can we?
Some may think it???s a rather large leap to make, but history has proven that rewards have been steadily disappearing from public schools for quite some time now. When my parents were attending school in the 1960s, it was laughable to think children should receive trophies for coming in last place. Today, participation trophies are the norm.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of education reformers, charter and voucher-funded schools are revolutionizing American education. But, if Common Core becomes a reality, the differences between charter schools and their ugly bureaucratic-nightmare cousins (public schools) will surely be reduced until none remain.
Justin Haskins (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor at The Heartland Institute, a leading free-market think tank based in Chicago, IL. Follow Justin on Twitter @TheNewRevere.