Does the Common Core implicate school choice? The answer might be important one way or another in the national effort to empower lower-income families to decide for their own children. Much of the effect of the reform could depend, first, upon disparate reactions of individual states; second, upon potentially conflicting responses to any such diversity by college admission authorities; third, upon probable effects of proposed new tests on the manner and even the objective of schooling itself.
Common Core aims to remake pedagogy indirectly by the adoption of new forms of high-stakes student testing that will strongly encourage two basic reforms in the classroom: (1) Elevation of the intellectual content of the curriculum; (2) a form of instruction—often called “critical thinking”—that requires the student to solve problems more than to memorize material.
The payoff of the new-style instruction for both child and teacher would come with new—ideally national—tests in which the typical question would require the student to engage in sequential steps of reasoning from a given set of facts to a series of logical conclusions entailed by those facts. Feats of memory are to be less valued; analytical thinking is the thing. Both teacher and student would need a bit of intellectual refitting. So I understand the scheme.
Many states have at some earlier point committed themselves to the new regimen that Common Core will entail for both teacher and student. A few have since reneged; others have said no from the beginning, and have done so despite financial carrots offered by the feds. What individual states decide could be important to the whole project and indirectly to the future of subsidized parental choice.
Consider one example of the potential effects of this discord. If one state rejects the new test while another cooperates, how will admission policies of colleges adapt to the mixed scene? How will they judge applicants with such various forms of credentials: One will have taken some test required by the individual state—but not the Common Core; another will have taken the Common Core test but never been exposed to the grooming it presupposes; still another will, for 13 years, have gotten the full dose of critical thinking, presumably giving him an advantage on the test. Should the college treat all three uniformly—and what exactly could that mean?
And what of the private school graduate? His state may or may not require private schools to administer the Common Core test as a condition of certification—and/or of their right to accept and cash state scholarships. Though I would expect most private school graduates in general to do better than average on such a test, I am less confident about those who have attended off-beat or experimental schools focused on art, music or religious content, or who were taught at home. Will their chances for admission to a favored college be diminished by lower test scores? I don’t know the answer, but I can imagine that any responsible parent would weigh that question in assessing a school where teaching style and content may not prepare specifically for the test; and, of course, the school itself might be excluded from cashing parental subsidies.
Another implication troubles me even more and explains my title. Continue Reading →