Professor Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Common Core


Like all other students across many states, our students last year had to take the Common Core High Stakes Test. Being alternative high school students, a few had the audacity to read up on their rights (we will have to get the web filter to take care of that – next thing we know they will be able to practice free speech) and figure out that they could opt out of the test. My sales attempts were futile to try to entice them to take it…..

Student: “Why should I take the test?”

Me: “You need to pass a test or work sample in order to graduate, in Math, Reading and Writing”

Student: “How many hours will this take me?”

Me: “Both tests maybe 6 to 8”

Student: “I have read they are supposed to be really hard, and they are projecting that only 1/3rd of all kids will pass – so do they intend to take the scores and make sure only 1/3rd of kids pass”

Me: “I have heard it will be difficult, but you are capable of doing well on it”

Student: “Will this help me get a job, I mean, any more than a work sample or passing the Compass Test?”

Me: “No.”

Student: “So you want me to waste 8 hours of my life taking a test I will likely fail, when I could spend my time completing work samples I will likely pass? Here is my opt out letter.”

Our students, if put into a blender and an average “Love and Trust of Government and Authority” score could be gleaned, may come out a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the woman from the movie “The Reader”, and a 1 being V from Vendetta. When the first figured out that they had a right to opt out, they wanted to share the word with their friends. I felt compelled, as an agent of the state, to try to thwart their efforts, as the state pays my check. However, I realized that they had learned a much more valuable lesson that any test could ever provide. They had found out what their rights were, they advocated for themselves professionally with a school principal in a logical manner, and they had reached a very logical conclusion and taken action. Had I attempted to thwart their efforts, I would have taught them something very damaging:

  • You have rights, but they exist at the pleasure of government officials
  • If you attempt to exercise your rights, the state will punish you
  • I am not really there for them first, but for the federal government first, and them so long as they comply with my interpretation of their rights.

I do not feel that the Common Core is evil – I believe that a bunch of well intentioned folks came up with some really high standards (a good thing) for student learning. It has kept in the limelight the fact that American Schools historically have not done so great a job with kids who are not white middle and upper class (the other 97%). We incorporate the standards into our lessons and learning every day – by tying them into projects that engage students serving their community. I do find it curious that it is a national emergency that my students need to all be doing pre-calculus and writing like college professors before we can let them into the workplace. My hunch is that if we were to go around town, all of the employers who employ 18 year-olds who can do Pre-Calc and write as well as Hemingway are not sitting on huge piles of cash waiting to create family wage jobs for my students if they pass the Common Core Test. I would also wager that all of the other employers (the other 97%) do not have a fall-back plan for when all of the high school students in our town graduate with college level skills and take jobs that use those skills, leaving nobody to do the jobs like take away our trash, power our homes, nurse our ailments, etc. Somewhere, the implied logic behind CCSS and the national standards movement is a bit flawed – if one were to look at the constants, variables, inputs and outputs over time – a model.


In math we have been learning by modelling – not like Paris Runway – by having students learn system dynamics. Trying to stay a step ahead of my students, I have been reviving my own modelling career, modelling my models for them. One that has been knocking around in my mind is that of student learning. But that, my friends, is a tale for another day…….


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