Under Common Core’s standards-based approach to education, the goal is make sure that all of the children are proficient in each of the subject areas. The state assessments are the instruments that are used to determine proficiency, and an achievement level is set by each state department of education to define proficiency. Teachers and schools are punished if the students do not all reach the proficiency level, but there is no incentive offered for going beyond that level.
So the goal of education is to have every child reach the standard needed to receive the label "proficient".
Is that a good idea?
Let’s imagine that we are at a school concert. The band director begins the concert by proudly announcing that every child in the band is proficient at his or her instrument. The director also informs that audience that the achievement level necessary for proficiency is 90% accuracy, which, he explains, is significantly higher than the achievement necessary to earn that label in any other school subject.
That sounds impressive.
We watch as the director raises his baton, and sit back to enjoy the performance. But instead of any recognizable melody, our ears are beset with a discordant cacophony of sound. At any given point, at least one child is playing a wrong note with the wrong timing. There is no uniformity to the "wrongness" – every child is making his or her errors differently from every other child. In the hodge-podge of sound, we cannot separate what is correct from what is wrong.
We silently endure the program, and when it is finally over, the director faces us once more.
"I just wanted to give you a practical demonstration of a program that focuses on proficiency instead of excellence," he says.
Then he raises his baton once more, and the children flawlessly perform the music they have learned. Each child strives for, and for the most part reaches, 100% accuracy in performance. The music is lovely, and we applaud thunderously at its conclusion.
The director turns back to us.
"And that is what…
a program focusing on excellence sounds like," he says.
It’s a shame that we can’t "hear" the results of aiming at proficiency in the other academic areas. But our inability to hear the results does not soften their effects. Effects that are even more devastating since proficiency has most often been defined by states at achievement levels of between 50% and 70%.
Would any of us fly with a pilot who successfully lands the plane 50-70% of the time? Or trust a surgeon who successfully operates on his patients at that level? Or allow an audit by an accountant who successfully balances our accounts at proficient levels? Or pay a plumber who fixed 50-70% of the leaks in our pipes?
Of course not.
Then why would we accept an educational system that tells our children that such performance levels are not only acceptable, but desired?
The answer is that we shouldn’t.
We keep hearing that Common Core is supposed to make our kids ready for careers. But there are no careers where doing the job correctly 50-70% of the time is even tolerated, much less given the label proficient.
Common Core advocates need to face the music – being "good enough" simply ISN’T good enough. And our children need to hear that melody.