Common Core and What I Believe: An Open Letter to Our Education Department from a White Suburban Mom

Politicians are excellent at saying deeply stupid things. Recently, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was defending the much-hated Common Core when he said, "It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who-- all of a sudden-- their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary."

Hi, Arne. Thought I'd give you a little educating of your own.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I prayed what lots of people might consider a strange prayer: "Please let her be smart, but not too smart."

I was on the verge of "too smart" in early elementary school. I was the smartest in my class most of the time, and I did feel isolated and different. I didn't want that for her.

Now let me tell you what I got: a child who is far more gifted than I ever was.

She asked me to teach her to read when she was 2 and to teach her algebra when she was 4. Her preschool director told me that she needed to be skipped a grade. I refused. Didn't want her to be any more "different" than need be. Then her kindergarten principal called in reading and math specialists to do weeks of testing on her, and at the end of it, he sat me down and said, "I've never seen anything like this. The assistant superintendent has never seen anything like this. In all our years of education, she is the most gifted child we've ever seen and we're in uncharted territory trying to figure out how to educate her."

By 6 years old, she was reading at a 9th grade level, with 8th grade comprehension. I finally gave in and allowed her to move up a grade. She's doing just fine. Do I think she's going to cure cancer one day? Heck yes, I do.

I tell you all this, dear Arne, because I'd like to blow up your stupid perception of why we parents and teachers hate the Common Core and high stakes testing.

I'm a white suburban mom. Do you think "their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were" applies to me? Let's get it straight: You can throw any test you like at my daughter. She's going to do wonderfully. Her school is excellent. And I think you can stuff your Common Core where the sun don't shine.

I will be opting her out of the state tests.

Of course, Arne, you're not alone in your willful ignorance of the real issues. You have cronies like Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, who said, "While American parents are pulling their kids out of tests because the results make the kids feel bad, parents in other countries are looking at the results and asking themselves how they can help their children do better."

Let's deconstruct that in two parts.

First, again, I'm clearly not pulling my kid out of the tests because the results will make her feel bad. I'm pulling her because this curriculum and these tests are wrong for everybody, even the kids like mine who will do well on them.

Second, you're delusional if you think that people in other countries are looking at our test results and asking themselves how to help their children do better on a curriculum that is failing. Yes, it's clear: The curriculum is failing. You may want to say that our kids are failing, but when we're looking at only 30% passing grades, then it's obvious as anything that it's the Common Core-aligned new curriculum and the tests themselves at fault-- and you set them up for this intentionally, which is a crappy thing to do.

Open your ears and hear this, Arne and your ilk:

I don't believe that every second of every school day needs to be filled with dancing and laughter.

I do believe that young children should be allowed to be young children.


I don't believe in sheltering our children from every one of life's disappointments.

I do believe that they should not be made to feel like failures every day of their formative years before their self-concept is even formed.

I don't believe all testing is evil.

I do believe that the amount of testing you're now expecting is counterproductive and unhealthy. Children shouldn't be vomiting and wetting their pants and crying in class because they're in fear of these all-day tests.


I don't believe we need to bubble-wrap our kids.

I do believe that if you can read my previous statement about the kids vomiting and wetting their pants and then respond to it with any comment about how parents today just want to "bubble wrap," then you are a shitty person.


I don't believe that our education system was perfect before and didn't need some work.

I do believe it was irresponsible and negligent to unleash an entirely new curriculum on our children that had never been field-tested, was not approved by educators, without properly training teachers about how to implement it, and without first figuring out if the material was developmentally appropriate (hint: it isn't!).


I don't believe that teachers should not be held responsible for how well they teach.

I do believe that it's short-sighted to tie teacher's evaluation scores to how well their students do on standardized tests, which creates an environment where teachers may resent students who don't learn as quickly, even if they're trying their best.


I don't believe we should have low educational standards.

I do believe you're using a straw man argument to even pretend that American parents want lower standards. You know damn well that we want our kids to succeed, we want them to be as well-educated as possible, we want them to learn the value of hard work, and we want our country to measure up globally. We just know you're going about it entirely wrong, and then sticking your fingers in your ears when we tell you how it's affecting our kids and our teachers.


I don't believe the entire academic day should be freewheeling and unscheduled.

I do believe my child's teacher's exasperation when she tells me that she is unable to teach the class about what Veteran's Day is because there is no time in the curriculum for that, now that every minute of her day is taken up by the new requirements.


I don't believe we need to dumb down tests so every kid will pass.

I do believe that when I fail a test, I know it either means that I didn't work hard enough, or I wasn't smart enough. If I worked very hard, then I can eliminate that option. Luckily, I'm in my late 30s with a successful career and a lot of evidence that says I am capable and intelligent even if I fail in some ways. Children have no such evidence to fall back on. When they work hard and fail repeatedly, they get the message that they're stupid. And that's the message they will grow up believing. They won't know that it's the curriculum that's stupid. Then you've reared a nation of kids who will stop trying, because trying doesn't get them anywhere. You've intentionally set them up to fail with the strange notion that this will somehow make them smarter. Good job, Education Department!


I don't believe in "Race to the Top."

I do believe you're wasting valuable class time and eating into our budgets with all the time and money we now have to spend getting ready for these tests, buying all new materials, and implementing the tests. I don't want one more minute stolen from my daughter's education when I know that her teacher has more to teach-- and WANTS to teach more. Your high-stakes testing is stealing from what matters in the classroom.


I don't believe Bill and Melinda Gates intended for this to happen.

I do believe they're wonderful, charitable people who have done terrific things with their money, and I believe they had the best of intentions when they awarded this tremendous grant to develop the Common Core. My heart breaks when I think about all the ways that money could have been better spent.


I don't believe homework should be simple.

I do believe that I, as a college graduate, should be able to understand my 2nd grader's homework instructions. What I'm seeing are math dittos that seem to deliberately make things ten times harder than they should be, with Byzantine instructions and questionable objectives.


I don't believe we should let our kids be lazy.

I do believe that the experiences I remember from my own school days have little to do with parts of speech, advanced physics, or calculus (the latter two of which I have never used again) and everything to do with field trips (we even had a high school French teacher who took us TO FRANCE), exercises where we got to learn more about our classmates' cultures and lives, celebrating birthdays, getting chosen to take the class pet home for vacation, and making up songs about the multiplication tables. Our kids spend so much of their lives in school that it's unrealistic to expect it to strictly be about academic achievement. School is and should also be a place for great social growth-- to learn how to work with other people, how to listen and talk in public, how to help someone who is struggling, how to be a decent person and how to stand up for yourself if you encounter someone who is not a decent person.

There are a million things to learn in school that you won't find in a textbook, and Common Core standards steal away the time they have for any kind of real growth and development. You know what lesson from kindergarten has made the biggest difference in my life? How to be a good friend. Where is the room for that in the Common Core?


I don't believe all teachers are effective.

I do believe that this system mostly hurts the ones who are. I believe that when you turn teachers into robots and take away their ability to teach properly, it's the ones who actually care who are going to leave the profession and find a different way to use their talents.


I don't believe my child will fail, no matter what you do to her.

I do believe that many of her classmates will. We've already heard from social workers and school psychologists that there is an increase in suicidal thoughts and self-mutilation among high schoolers, and this program is brand new. Kids who go through the Common Core their whole academic careers are going to have lower self-worth and higher depression rates. I don't want to think about kids committing suicide because you were too stubborn to change a failing curriculum.

In case you think I'm overreacting, a middle-schooler in my area jumped out a window to her death on day 1 of the 3-day ELA test.

I don't want my child attending classmates' funerals because you thought kids "shouldn't be coddled" and instead should be stressed out of their minds so that failure becomes their norm. And I stand in solidarity with every parent whose children are not doing well with this curriculum, because that's what decent people do. We don't let grownups abuse our kids.

It goes back to that thing I learned in kindergarten: When our friends are hurting, we stand by them and stand up for them. Well, Education Department, our friends are hurting and we're not going to sit around and watch it continue.


I don't believe the Education Department is listening.

I do believe you've underestimated us. We aren't going away, but the Common Core will. Get rid of this convoluted mess of a program of yours.


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