Even the left is growing alarmed at a growing achievement gap.
We reported a while back on the growing “achievement gap” between black and white students in Kentucky, which was the first state to hop on board the Common Core Express and therefore the bellwether for the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of the national standards. Now even the Hechinger Report, a propaganda outlet known best for its pro-Common Core exposés and its funding by foundations that embrace Common Core and all things progressive, has noticed the problem in Kentucky. Not surprisingly, Hechinger draws different conclusions — or at least avoids asking the obvious questions.
The results of the 2014-2015 Kentucky testing, Hechinger reports, showed that in the elementary grades, black students lagged behind whites by 25 percentage points in reading proficiency and by 21 percentage points in math. And as Hechinger noted, those gaps have widened since the implementation of Common Core five years ago. Something’s wrong.
But don’t expect Hechinger to challenge the sacred cows of progressive education. It repeats without question the debunked Common Core talking points that the standards have “ramped up academic expectations,” that they are “tougher,” that they require a “deeper level of inquiry.” It quotes approvingly the Kentucky educators who say minority students are especially challenged by these supposedly tougher standards because they more likely come from less privileged backgrounds and so start the academic race behind their white peers. These are the reasons, say the educrats quoted by Hechinger, that black students aren’t keeping up.
So what does the Kentucky education establishment plan to do about it? According to Hechinger, exactly what one would expect them to do when their treasured experiment isn’t working — double down. They will give minority students “extra attention.” They’ll implement programs to “help teachers become more sensitive and culturally attuned to the level of diversity in their classrooms.” With the assistance of private funding, they’ll invest in “kindergarten preparedness.” They’ll pull black kids out of the regular class for more drilling with Common Core methodology.
Regarding this latter point, Hechinger focuses on problems that black students may have with Common Core math. And some of the statements it either makes or repeats about the now-notorious math standards are almost laughable.
Hechinger solemnly reports that the Common Core math standards focus on “cutting out the fluff that bogged down old standards in many states, and focusing instead on learning concepts in a progression that will teach kids what they need to know to master algebra in high school.” Thousands of irate parents might suggest that if Common Core’s requirement that students work math problems with rectangles and lattices isn’t “fluff,” then they don’t know what is. And as for students’ learning algebra in high school, note that high-achieving countries have kids learning algebra in middle school rather than waiting until high school.
The standards were “also intended to add a deeper level of inquiry to math class: making the ability to describe how you arrived at a solution as important as memorizing facts. Teachers are supposed to make children partners in the acquisition of knowledge, helping them to see that math isn’t only — or even mainly — about right answers, it’s about exploration and discovery, and the sort of critical thinking and problem-solving they’ll do in college someday.” This, supposedly, is what makes the math standards “tougher.”
But it apparently never occurs to the “experts” cited by Hechinger that all this “deeper level of inquiry” and “discovery math” nonsense is wrong-headed from the beginning — that this pedagogy actually obstructs students’ development of long-term working memory that would enable the “deeper learning” the experts claim to want.
And as we pointed out in our last piece, Common Core’s progressive pedagogy is especially harmful to disadvantaged students, who start out with less of the academic and cultural resources that form the foundation without which “discovery learning” is dead in the water. This was proven by Project Follow Through, the most extensive government education study in history, which followed 79,000 Head Start participants for years and discovered that they achieved much more, academically, with direct instruction rather than Common Core-type discovery learning.
Another factor that harms disadvantaged students vis-à-vis their wealthier classmates is that, as we’ve shown repeatedly, Common Core math locks students into a slowed-down progression that will leave them unprepared for higher education. Middle- or upper-class families can work around this problem by paying for tutors or supplemental courses. Disadvantaged kids are stuck. The result? An expanding achievement gap.
Until the media and the education establishment, in Kentucky and across the country, begin to examine their pedagogical holy writ and ask some hard questions, public education will continue to decline. And minority kids will continue to suffer the most.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in Louisville in 2015/Flickr-Creative Commons