The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


May 9, 2013

Anson Burlingame, guest columnist: Pros and cons of Common Core

Much more remains to be revealed about whether to use Common Core standards in Missouri schools.

The major problem in public education, around the nation and here in Joplin, is that many students fail to graduate and many others who do graduate lack the skills to be productive members of a modern society.

I don’t need the results of some test to form that opinion. Rather, I just go around Joplin, watch workers, read items in the newspaper — particularly letters to the editor written by local folks — and rely on other direct observations.

Of course, as in any community I see the good, the bad and the ugly (meaning really bad intellectually, not physical appearance). I have lived in many other communities during my adult years and feel that I have some basis for comparison, not scientific but not just personal opinion based on a whim. Particularly with younger workers, today I see “less than” in terms of ability to function in the workplace with grace and competence.

So arguing over which tests to give does not address the real problem. No test will fix the situation. But that does not mean no tests should be given, either. Testing students for knowledge gained or not gained is a normal and routine matter in any educational system.

Don’t like Common Core standards? Fine, stay with Missouri’s older test program, one of the better ones in the nation, I am told by outsiders. Don’t like state tests of any sort? Fine, go with all students taking national tests, tests required for entrance into almost any college. If you don’t like any of those tests, then show me another choice that will measure consistently and accurately how much students learn (or fail to learn) in all grades everywhere in America.

The older Missouri state test only measures the level of knowledge within Missouri and provided no method of state-to-state comparison. Common Core will at least solve that issue. Are opponents of Common Core afraid to allow such comparisons? If so, why?

I know many believe that all matters related to public education are only local matters. Great, dumb down our schools or just test for knowledge needed locally and watch what happens when graduates struggle to find jobs and sustain the ability to work productively in a modern society outside of Joplin.

Do you really want to take that risk with your own child and his or her ability to succeed anywhere in America?

As for tests, anyone can concoct a test that anyone can pass or be evaluated as “proficient.” But what they’re proficient at is what counts for any kid or future employer. Would you not agree that all kids must be able to read, write and do business math? And do you agree that some kids in Joplin cannot do even that, though some of them graduate from high school?

I have no idea yet if Common Core is the right test to give to our kids. But I firmly believe some testing must be done and they should not just be locally concocted tests. I would expect any sane parent to want a comprehensive and impartial view of how well their kids are doing in achieving a good education. How else can that be provided without periodic and consistent evaluation — in other words, testing?

If Common Core improves that assessment — for the sake of the kids and the parents — well, more power to them. But if you find a better way to make such assessments, I am more than willing to listen.

Anson Burlingame lives in Joplin.

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