Tom Torlakson, Superintendent of California public schools, recognizes that our educational system has failed. A 2013 Department of Education news release proclaimed a bill, AB 250, would eliminate many current standardized tests, especially the STAR, and emphasize conceptualization skills in the core curriculum. This same refrain is being sung in most of the states across the U.S.
The new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will shift “the focus of standardized testing in California to require students to think critically, solve problems, and show a greater depth of knowledge.” Sounds great. But there are three reasons I have my doubts public schools in most states, and especially California, will ever get back to producing great thinkers.
Critical Thinking Requires Broad Knowledge
For one thing, CCSS will only modify, not eliminate standardized tests. The goal of the College Prep system is to force every student to go to college, not provide the opportunity. “Standardized” means to make everything, including people, the same. The emphasis on core curriculum, rather than the previous strong blend of arts, crafts and metaphysics, rewards only children who do well in academic subjects. It discourages many children with other talents, partly because they cannot even explore those talents in most public schools. Although the SAT has added an essay portion, it still emphasizes structure above analysis.
Standardization Means Mediocrity
How is standardization achieved? By “dumbing down” even core subjects to try to guarantee each student passes. Well, people are different. Great thinkers achieve in spite of our school system, not because of it. Many great entrepreneurs dropped out of school because it was so limiting. This push to “egalitarianism” is stifling brilliant thinking, because we have few avenues to reward it. Although “tracking” used to be very biased ethnically or economically, our society is past that. We should try to reward children with special gifts in any subject with teachers and facilities who can nurture those exceptional talents.
Millions Devoted to Illegals
California in particular will only wallow deeper in mediocrity because we waste hundreds of millions of dollars accommodating illegal aliens. No other country in the world allows non-citizens into its public schools, let alone spends money on second language classes, special tests, equipment, and even food and health programs for them. As an Hispanic, I strongly support inclusion of all citizens, but I want my tax dollars to go to programs that enrich our own children’s education. Plus, as a teacher, it is extremely difficult to spend time on advanced students when so much effort must go into trying to help non-native speakers understand just the basics. So we short-change our own children’s educations in many ways.
Critical Thinking Begins at the Top
I applaud Mr. Torlakson’s worthy goals. However, given the current system in California and many other states, the politicians who control budget and policy have clearly not done enough critical thinking to be able to help our students.