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Though Common Core test is unfairly difficult, still a better plan than no plan at all

Last week, some guy was arrested at a school board meeting. His name’s Robert Small. Small, a federal employee, attended the meeting to discuss the latest hoop our nation’s young-ish scholars are jumping through, a hoop some have deemed a mix between “a runaway freight train” and “Nazi propaganda.”

Small agreed. After speaking out of turn to a Maryland police officer, he was forcibly escorted from the Thursday night meeting. He shouts a bit during the exchange, calling the seated onlookers “cattle.”  He looks distressed. There’s a video on Youtube. It has a ton of views.

The source of Small’s consternation, along with a notably significant chunk of America’s elementary know-who, is a fairly recent testing equalizer dubbed the Common Core State Standard Initiatives. As a learning device, the Core’s chief purpose is to standardize education from coast to coast. It’s been implemented in curriculums from elementary to high schools, with an intended result of idealizing the country’s educational output. Upon its inception, it looked like a good idea, the sort of thing we should have started decades ago.

Now it’s just pissing people off. From New York to Virginia, from educators to councilmen, its means and ends have been met with derision — the sort of derision that appears completely unwarranted. Superintendents are complaining to The Washington Post. Soccer moms have taken to blogging on Slate.

And, until you’ve seen the test, it seems completely unwarranted. Every other day, some principal in whatever county takes to the local paper to list, in scathing detail, the demerits the new policy’s wrought. Carol Burris of South Side High School called it “amusing.” PBS’ John Merrow’s likened it to a “runaway freight train.”  And Robert Small, whose charges have been dropped, has spoken with Glenn Beck, decrying a landmark that the latter’s called “the last.”

Because the test is actually pretty hard. Like, really hard.

Kindergartners, most of whom have just been indoctrinated to a classroom, are required to bubble their answers in a quasi-Scantron format. One question illustrates five pennies, under which is written “I don’t know.” It sits next a couple with the number “6” above a boxed label titled “Whole.” Kids are asked to find the “missing part” from a selection of six numbers. It does not explain what it is that’s supposedly missing. It does not explain how pennies are part of a cup.

In an interview with “Take Part,” Villanova education professor Edward Fierros acknowledged the absurdity of the exam. He concedes that it’s tough. But he also knows what’s at stake.

“Many educational experts agree that the CCSS in and of themselves will have a limited impact on improving student learning outcomes. However, states that fail to adopt CCSS or similar lose their eligibility for federal Race to the Top funds or NCLB waivers. States are required to adopt college and career-ready standards, and the CCSS are one way to demonstrate this goal. What is unclear is if states lose their eligibility for federal Race to the Top funds or NCLB waivers if they have already received such funding or been granted an NCLB waiver.”

The problem with the Common Core isn’t the test itself, but the lack of a segue towards its widespread implementation. No preparation. No forewarning. There wasn’t a Common Core — or, really, anything even remotely resembling the stringency required to pass the exam — and then, all of a sudden, there was.

Which, if anything, is kind of a parable: on average, 16 other industrialized countries score above the States in science, and another 23 score above us in math. There’ve been motions to amend this in Houston alone, from merit-based teacher pay to the de-lateralization of national testing, but nothing’s really stuck.

Incidentally, Texas is one of the four states who’ve opted out of the exam. Rick Perry doesn’t believe in it. He says Texas’ standards “are not for sale.” And that’s an honorable position. But until Perry, Small and the detractors create an alternative, it’s starting to look like the one that we’ve got.

Senior staff columnist Bryan Washington is an English junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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