It’s Never a Great Idea’s Fault
It’s usually never the fault of a great idea in education. All the education programs we’ve either loved or hated, at some point, held some education merit, right? But as with many possibly great ideas, sometimes the initial idea thinkers lose control of the great idea—somewhere along the line. That happens for different reasons, and usually none of them educationally rational. We could be witnessing that happening now with Common Core. Does what we’re getting with Common Core match up with the original vision?
If I said that I had this great idea to have students do project-based learning, research, develop, and support their answers, and to leverage today’s tools to do it—namely technology, you’d most likely say, “That’s a good idea.” You might say, “Well, that sounds like great teaching.” Imagine doing that throughout all grades, levels, and disciplines of instruction. Now, there’s the vision.
I once argued in front of a school board the need to keep class sizes small. At that time, one of the board members said in defense of larger classes, “When I went to school I had 40 kids in my class, and I did fine!” It was televised. I feel there might be some of this in the Common Core debate. Like the board member, who considered himself an education expert, because he had once attended school and survived. Politicians seem to also be enjoying the Common Core debate; they are education experts as well. Some have even changed points of view, so it’s difficult to tell which point of view will be next. That’s fair, we all do it. But if it’s like a soccer game without jerseys, with more than one team on the pitch, we get nowhere—other than publicity results. And we know that news airtime loves any Common Core story. I can’t help wonder, though, if Common Core is an example of a good education idea lost to leadership that thought the same simple things that failed in the No Child Left Behind decade, would work, if re-purposed to fit for this new idea, now and for the decade.
I don’t know this for sure, but I think the perception of what began as a great learning idea, could have been repackaged in some of the old NCLB wrappings. Moving the curriculum around from grade to grade, repositioning, without matching wonderful lessons and teaching with great authentic assessment makes it easy to feast on what’s wrong with Common Core. It becomes more difficult to go back and talk about what’s right, too.
There have been so many education programs we’ve tried, whether government backed or not, and so many more in our memories—tried and failed. Most educators, in their teaching careers, have ridden the pendulum too far in every direction, and have certainly spoken up about it, when given a chance. It seems this Common Core pendulum ride seems in danger of failing before it begins. If it does, please remember that having students do project-based learning, research, develop, and support their answers, as well as leverage today’s tools to do it—namely technology, is a good idea no matter what you call it.
While there is no pleasing everyone in anything, ever, it is more difficult to please in education, where everyone has a different opinion on everything. We are all experts. Unfortunately, we as experts seem not to be able to put together a successfully consistent program, where the education/learning idea for teaching children well, matches the excitement necessary, with the final outcome for doing it. When the assessment part is unauthentic, even to those who are not experts, we must think of it as a poor attempt. We should be able to figure this out. In education, as in world struggles and politics, too, learning from history happens rarely. We end up repeating things, and hoping they’ll work—maybe this time. The bottom line for me is that I hate to see good ideas lost, so let’s edit and repair the parts that are educationally wrong, and fortify the parts that are educationally right and necessary. Get those original idea and concept thinkers to help do it. When that happens, excuses and debate will take a backseat to action.
Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology experience, as well as a blogger on all things education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.