My parents taught me that education was one of the most important factors for my future. In fact, my father told me that he was giving me my inheritance early by paying my way to a fine institution like prestigious Williams College. And I have continued his legacy with my own daughters.
I have made no secret about my belief that educational opportunities are essential to help people lift themselves out of poverty. And there is no question that not all schools are created equal. For example, in 2011, Montgomery County Public Schools here in Maryland had a graduation rate of 85.7%. Detroit Public Schools, by comparison, graduated just 62% of their seniors. All of us know anecdotally that students from top performing public schools are taking AP classes, while students at failing public schools are sitting in chaotic classrooms where the teachers may have to spend more time on discipline issues than the lesson plan. Upon finishing high school, the former group is prepared to enter top colleges, while the latter may not even be prepared for an entry level job.
This disparity is one of the reasons that the new Common Core State Standards Initiative had many education reformers excited. According to its website, “The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”
The theory behind Common Core is that if the same standards are imposed across the board, students in Detroit will be taught the same lessons as students in Montgomery County. Its creators believe this will take us several steps closer to giving all children equal opportunities to learn and achieve. But unfortunately, what a program is designed to do and what it actually accomplishes are two very different things. Common Core is undoubtedly changing education, but not necessarily in the way it intends.
Take for example the experience of New York English teacher Jeremiah Chaffee, who attempted to teach a Common Core lesson on the Gettysburg Address. He wrote:
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.