The Common Core: A Bizarre but Revealing Picture Tells a Thousand Words

June 5, 2013

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A couple of days ago a bizarre if not surreal poster appeared on the entranceway wall of the school in which I work. Issued by the New York City Department of Education, touting both the challenges and wonders of the highly dubious educational cure all Common Core State Standards, the poster is aimed at New York City parents. In large print are the words: “ This Spring We’re Aiming Higher.” It makes a point of warning parents, among lots of fluff, that on account of the rising standards of the Common Core, their childrens’ all revealing test scores will go down this year.

But not to worry, parents, the poster goes on to say, in the end, because of the Common Core, your kids will be prepared “for college and a career.”

Nothing new here. This kind of drivel about the wholly untested Common Core has been repeated with cast iron certainty ad nauseum from coast to coast.
But the words are accompanied by a photograph and it is here that things get interesting. The picture of what appears to be a 10 year old boy shooting a basketball at a basket that is not merely distant but ludicrously distant. The child appears to be almost beneath the opposite basket on the other side of the court. To tell this child making this shot is “a challenge” is to not understand the meaning of the word. Or, worse it is to understand the word. In either case the child has not a prayer of making the shot. It is an act of cruelty to propose that he can. Indeed, neither would many grown men make the shot — and if they did, it would be more luck than skill. But then again, most grown men would know what the little boy in the picture would not: there is only one scenario where one would even consider taking such a shot — a moment of absolute desperation when your team is behind at the buzzer and you fling the ball and hope you get lucky. And they would know something else: they would know that only an absolute fool or an absolute sadist would have you practice such a shot.

It is, to say the least, a curiously cruel choice of a metaphor, particularly considering the audience it is aimed at. If some gym teacher had my kid taking such shots I’d question not merely his or her competence, but his or her sanity. Indeed, only someone with no knowledge whatsoever of basketball or the fragility of a child’s psyche would ever request such a moronic task. It virtually insures failure. Yet, for all its absurdity it is completely consistent with the towering arrogance and self-righteous certainty of the promoters ( and owners and profiteers ) of the Common Core and indeed, all of the “education reformers.” After all, this is the same crew that under the No Child Left Behind Act insanely demand that every child in America be proficient in English and Math or they shut down their schools and fire their teachers.

That’ll show ’em.

All of this, of course, could be dismissed as making too much of a silly poster but for the fact that while musing over the image I could not help but recall Diane Ravitch’s prescient comments on a purloined copy of this years Common Core aligned fifth grade English Language Arts test: “ I read the passages and the questions based on them. My reaction was that the difficulty level of the passages and the questions was not age-appropriate. Based on test questions I had reviewed for seven years when I was a member of the NAEP ( National Assessment of Educational Progress ) board, it seemed to me that the test was pitched at an eighth grade level. The passages were very long, about twice as long as a typical passage on NAEP for eighth grade. The questions involved interpretation, inference, and required re-reading of the passage for each question.”

Ravitch’s conclusions on the actual (still secret, still hidden) test – that fifth graders were tested with eighth grade level work — could easily be seen as the intellectual equivalent of demanding that little kids shoot a basket from the opposite side of the court: could easily be seen, that is, as exposing either an imbecile’s idea of raising standards or as an integral part an extraordinarily cynical long term plot to set American children up to fail by the millions to create a rationale for privatizing public education.

I see the latter.

A photographic addendum:

The author taking up the Common Core challenge, readying himself for college or a career.

The author taking up the Common Core challenge, readying himself for college or a career.

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3 Responses to “The Common Core: A Bizarre but Revealing Picture Tells a Thousand Words”

  1. Cari P Says:

    Your last lines say it all – I, too, believe it is all an elaborate scheme to make public education look like a failure so there is a good reason for privatization. I actually like the CCSS – I just don’t like the methods they are using to introduce them into the system. You are also right: we are helpless. We have unity and we have voice. And we really care about education and our students.

  2. Ellen Labanowski Says:

    Patrick, This is your cousin, Ellen Thank you for blogging about this. I appreciate your insight and share your concerns. Very scary times for children and teachers. Hope you and your family are well! Ellen


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