Column

How Common Core serves white folks a sliver of the black experience

Photo of Andre Perry

Degree of  Interest

In this Feb. 12, 2015 photo, Marquez Allen, age 12, reads test questions on a laptop computer during in a trial run of a new state assessment test at Annapolis Middle School in Annapolis, Md. The new test, which is scheduled to go into use March 2, 2015, is linked to the Common Core standards, which Maryland adopted in 2010 under the federal No Child Left Behind law, and serves as criteria for students in math and reading.

In this Feb. 12, 2015 photo, Marquez Allen, age 12, reads test questions on a laptop computer during in a trial run of a new state assessment test at Annapolis Middle School in Annapolis, Md. The new test, which is scheduled to go into use March 2, 2015, is linked to the Common Core standards, which Maryland adopted in 2010 under the federal No Child Left Behind law, and serves as criteria for students in math and reading.

The sky hasn’t fallen and the Constitution is still in place, even though most children are taking Common Core tests.

But it’s not a moment to celebrate either.

In Louisiana, administering the first phase of tests aligned with the new state standards to 99 percent of eligible students isn’t exactly like the Freedmen’s Bureau coming to save formerly enslaved blacks. It’s not even saving students from the Tea Party (they’re still complaining about the tests).

Relax. Take it from black and brown children who are used to being tested. Students will overcome. However, privileged adults who aren’t used to being tested may never stop crying.

Related: What this spring’s common core tests promised, and what they will actually deliver

This curriculum debate will soon taper off, chiefly because Common Core isn’t what’s failing students or teachers. Standards do not threaten the Constitution. However, something radical is happening. Common Core is serving white folks a sliver of the black experience.

I simply can’t manufacture the passion for or against curricula reboots or changes that eventually must happen. I’m sure there’s someone still lobbying for Home Economics as a required course, but gladly most have progressed. The researcher in me can’t argue against wanting a better means to measure educational performance nationwide. However, having the ability to compare performances among groups hasn’t brought educational justice to black and brown students. Still, I know that kids overcome.

I didn’t like how the usual suspects profited politically and financially from the development of the tests – someone other than poor folk usually do. I got a bigger chuckle from ideas of a federal overreach than money-grab claims – but only slightly bigger. I’m trying to remember a time when a cabal of individuals and companies didn’t profit from education reform.

Related: How compatible are Common Core and technology?

Reporting on the backlash against Common Core seems to be more dramatic than the resistance and rollout, which has been tepid. Hechinger reported, “[o] f the original 26 states that signed up for [Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers], just 11 plus Washington, D.C. are giving the test. Of the original 31 signed up for Smarter Balanced, only 18 are still on board.”

I support Common Core, but like many I’m so over it. I do believe the overselling and politicization already mitigated whatever impact it could have. Common Core tests were supposed to be immune to test prep, but kids are prepping anyway. I give a closed grin for Common Core as a passive aggressive mock against those who apparently want to return to 1950’s styled curriculum. But I must admit that I crack a wide smile for Common Core because it’s giving many an ounce of the black experience.

Conservatives and liberals alike are calling for a Common Core ouster because it’s making their children weep.

For example, parent Jimmie Richard wrote of her daughter in an email published by the Breitbart Report, “She now spends hours each night crying, hiding and begging to not have to go back to school.” Comedian Louis C.K. tweeted “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!” There’s even a Facebook Page titled Common Core Children Hate School, which shows kids in tears.

Related: Common Core tests were supposed to be immune to test prep, so why are kids spending weeks preparing anyway?

Remember when Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that white suburban moms resisted Common Core because “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.”

Could it be that Common Core is privilege proof? I’m sure that poor black children are crying somewhere, but Common Core tests won’t burden black and brown students any more than criterion referenced statewide exams, norm-referenced tests like the ACT or SAT or other culturally biased exams taken by generations past. Opting out of an academic test hasn’t been a luxury we’ve enjoyed.

I doubt the river of tears is coming from black communities. An aside – Where’s that book about grit when you need it?

Any black person with at least one gray hair has heard the adage “you have to be twice as smart and twice as good” or some derivation of it. An assumption in the advice is the group not in power is always placed in a position of having to prove themselves.

Yes, all people must prove themselves.

This is not to say activists against the exams should give up their fight. However, the common core exam shouldn’t incite tears. Moreover, Common Core isn’t the thing worth fighting over.

Related: Can the new tests quell anger over Common Core?

Black, brown and poor people take tests every single day. Confrontations with police, hunger, unemployment and biased teachers overshadow the feelings of taking computerized tests. Low expectations, a lack of inclusion, a leaky teacher pipeline for communities of color, and punishing disciplinary policies all threaten authentic learning and teaching more than PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests ever will.

For good reason, people in the ’hood have always been more worried with how test results are used.

Consequently, the battle around accountability is real and extremely complex. But it’s easier to shout down Common Core than battle for a viable solution to our accountability problem.

As Sen. Lamar Alexander-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. rewrite No Child Left Behind, they must consider giving teachers the freedom to teach while providing consequences to those districts and schools that don’t provide the education all students deserve.

Hopefully, Sens. Alexander and Murray can wipe away privilege from the bill the way Common Core did.

Andre Perry, founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich., is the author of  The GardenPath: The Miseducation of a City (2011).

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more columns by Andre Perry.

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Andre Perry

Dr. Andre Perry, a contributing writer, is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow at The Brookings Institution. Perry was the founding dean of urban education at… See Archive

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