What’s hurting education the most?

Education, News, Politics

Many believe that America needs conservative education reform, and that control of our schools needs to return to the local level. Here are some of the arguments currently being made in favor of two primary conservative ideas on how to fix our education system: abolishing Common Core, and rethinking the use of tenure.

The cons of Common Core

Author Carolyn Carpeneti says a “definite pro” of Common Core is its ultimate goal: to introduce critical thinking and problem-solving skills that better prepare students for college and life. However, she also doesn’t believe the program addresses how a student learns best. “Until we figure that out,” says Carpeneti, who describes the standard as one-size-fits-all, “we will never see real education reform. It’s unfortunate that Common Core didn’t address this.”

In 2009, 42 states implemented Common Core with surprising haste. Why? Because significant federal funds were attached. “When Common Core came to be adopted, it was a very big overhaul of the education system in America,” says Bryan Wetzel, cofounder of Skubes, an online provider of educational materials. “It had changes to curriculum and came with extra federal funds, which meant that politicians were deciding what was being adopted in their state schools.”

And that’s where detractors say the biggest problem lies. Common Core is purportedly a “voluntary program,” and no federal pressure forces states to participate. But those irresistible federal dollars were too much for most commonwealths to refuse, and now local school districts are knee-deep in federal standards.

Despite that funding, the statistics say Common Core is not working. Due to disappointing test results, a number of committed states are preparing to step away from the new standards. This creates a vicious cycle, says Wetzel, who explains that every time the curriculum changes, states, counties, and localities are forced to spend millions on new materials and training, and “the constant curriculum carousel is hurting kids!”

Education and politics make strange bedfellows

Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, told U.S. News and World Report that Common Core assessments are failing because of the political controversies surrounding the standards themselves. He argues that the National Assessment of Educational Progress, used for decades as the nation’s report card, was a good common metric for cross-state comparisons.

Carpeneti agrees. “The fact that Common Core is a ‘national’ standard raises a bunch of concerns, again making it way too political.”

The tenure debate

Many teachers and educators are dedicated professionals, and tenure was put in place to protect good teachers from being fired for non-educational issues, such as personal beliefs or personality conflicts with school administrators or board members. However, some argue that tenure has become less of a tool to promote educational autonomy, and more of a crutch. “Tenure is problematic,” says Charles Krugel, a Chicago labor and employment lawyer. “It creates complacency.” A tenured teacher, said an anonymous Pennsylvania superintendent, “is almost impossible to fire.”

Tenure protects all teachers, and thus by extension acts as a shelter for those who are low-performing. “Maintenance of the lowest common denominator in teacher and student performance is usually the result of tenure,” says Krugel. It doesn’t matter whether the school district is good or bad. “The only impact that tenure appears to have is that it maintains the status quo.”

So should tenure be eliminated? “Eliminating tenure will increase competition among educators, and increased competition leads to increased performance and results,” says Krugel. “Poor performing schools will then have their best chance to improve because, ostensibly, eliminating tenure will make it easier to get rid of poor performing teachers.”