Ethan Young is a student who addressed the school board of Knox County Schools in Tennessee at its regular meeting on Nov 6, and his speech was posted on YouTube, here. Several errors can be found in the transcript, so we have transcribed his very eloquent objections to standardization, the misuse of student standardized test data to evaluate teachers, and the Common Core State Standards.
As it is our policy for transcriptions of publicly available student speech, spoken in a public forum, we will not interject our own comments. The floor is theirs, in effect, for all the articles we post in our Vox ætatis category. However, since Mr Young says he hopes for these criticisms to be investigated, we have taken the liberty of investigating them and putting our own spin on our findings. We hope to stimulate fair and open debate, unlike that provided by school systems or the majority of Common Core critics we have encountered so far. Both sides are closing doors to communication, and we hope to open them. Engaging in honest, good-faith debate is, we think, absolutely required.
All the words below are Mr Young’s, while our responses or points of engagement are provided within the text through hyperlinks to external documents.
By ETHAN YOUNG
In a mere five minutes, I hope to provide insightful comments about a variety of educational topics. I sincerely hope you disprove the research I’ve compiled.
Here’s the history of the Common Core. In 2009, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers partnered with Achieve Inc, a nonprofit that received millions in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Thus the initiative seemed to spring from states, when in reality it was contrived by an insular group of educational testing executives with only two academic content specialists. Neither specialist approved the final standards, and the English consultant, Dr Sandra Stotsky, publicly stated she felt the standards left students with an empty skill set, lacking literary knowledge.
While educators and administrators were later included in the validation committee and feedback groups, they did not play a role in the actual drafting of the standards. The product is a, quote, rigorous preparation for career and college, yet many educators agree that “rigorous” is a buzzword. These standards aren’t rigorous, just different, designed for industrial model of school.
Nevertheless, Common Core emerged. Keep in mind, the specific standards were never voted upon by Congress, the Department of Education, state or local governments. Yet, their implementation was approved by 49 states and territories. The president essentially bribed states into implementation via Race to the Top, offering 4.35 billion taxpayer dollars to participating states, $500 million of which went to Tennessee. And much like No Child Left Behind, the program promises national testing and a one-size-fits-all education, because, hey, it worked really well the first time.
While I do admire some aspects of the core, such as fewer standards and an emphasis on application and writing, it’s not going to fix our academic deficit. If nothing else, these standards are a glowing conflict of interest. And they lack the research they allegedly received. And most importantly, the standards illustrate a mistrust of teachers, something I believe this county has already felt for a while.
I’ve been fortunate to have incredible educators that opened my eyes to the joy of learning, and I love them like my family. I respect them entirely, which is why it frustrates me to review the Team and Apex evaluation systems. These subjective anxiety-producers do more to damage a teacher’s self-esteem than you realize. Erroneous evaluation coupled with strategic compensation presents a punitive model that, as a student, is like watching your teacher jump through flaming hoops to earn a score. Have you forgotten the nature of a classroom? A teacher cannot be evaluated without his students, because as a craft, teaching is an interaction. Thus how can you expect to gauge a teacher’s success with no control for student participation or interest?
I stand before you because I care about education, but also because I want to support my teachers. And just as they fought for my academic achievement, so I want to fight for their ability to teach. This relationship is at the heart of instruction, yet there will never be a system by which it is accurately measured.
But I want to take a step back. We can argue the details ad infinitum. Yet I observe a much broader issue with education today. Standards-based education is ruining the way we teach and learn. Yes, I’ve already been told by legislators and administrators, Ethan, that’s just the way things work. But why? I’m going to answer that question. It’s bureaucratic convenience. It works with nuclear reactors, it works for business models, why can’t it work with students? I mean, how convenient calculating exactly who knows what and who needs what. I mean, why don’t we just manufacture robots instead of students? They last longer and they always do what they’re told.
But education is unlike every other bureaucratic institute in our government. The task of teaching is never quantifiable. If everything I learned in high school is a measurable objective, I haven’t learned anything. I’d like to repeat that. If everything I learned in high school is a measurable objective, I have not learned anything. Creativity, appreciation, inquisitiveness—these are impossible to scale, but they’re the purpose of education, why our teachers teach, and why I choose to learn.
And today we find ourselves in a nation that produces workers. Everything is career and college preparation. Somewhere our founding fathers are turning in their graves, pleading, screaming, and trying to say to us that we teach to free minds, we teach to inspire, we teach to equip. The careers will come naturally.
I know we’re just one city in a huge system that excitedly embraces numbers, but ask any of these teachers, ask any of my peers, and ask yourselves, Haven’t we gone too far with data?
I attended tonight’s meeting to share my critiques, but as Benjamin Franklin quipped, any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain, and most fools do. The problems I cite are very real. And I only ask that you hear them out, investigate them, and do not dismiss them as another fool’s criticisms. I’ll close with a quote of Jane L Stanford [ph] that Dr McIntyre [ph] shared in a recent speech: “You have my entire confidence in your ability to do conscientious work to the very best advantage to the students—that they be considered paramount to all and everything else. We’re capable of fixing education, and I commit myself to that task. But you cannot ignore me, my teachers, or the truth. We need change, but not Common Core, high-stakes evaluations, or more robots [unknown end of quotation]. Thank you.