Connecticut knows about circuses, after all, P.T. Barnum is our native son. In an ironic choice of metaphors, David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times posted an opinion piece (4/17/14) on the Common Core State Standards titled, “When the Circus Descends” . His objective was to present how much of a media circus has been created by those on the right (Glenn Beck) and those on the left, “progressives, and increasingly from teachers’ unions,” in opposing the Common Core. Brooks intended the metaphor to reflect negatively on those opposed to the standards, but the metaphor of a circus captures the standards themselves. The standards are an illusion, as all good circus tricks are. There is no evidence that they are the solution to improving education in Connecticut.
There is an enormous cost to the set of uniform standards Brooks touts. In Connecticut, bringing the technology to schools to implement the computer testing has a cost. Implementing the tests has a cost. Professional development for teachers to implement Common Core has a cost. There are districts that will purchase aligned curriculum at a cost. These standards are an exorbitantly high-priced show that requires audience participation.
Another problem is that student success with standardized tests is tied to teacher evaluations, a point not considered in Brooks’s observation that “teachers are being forced into some top-down straitjacket that they detest.” Connecticut is wrestling, district by district, how to use the results of SBAC testing to measure teacher performance.
Finally, there is no mechanism for modifying standards that may be developmentally inappropriate unless the State Department of Education rewrites the standards for Connecticut schoolchildren. That will also have a cost.
Connecticut’s P.T Barnum got his start when he promoted an elderly black woman, Joice Heth, as George Washington’s 161-year old nurse. Barnum’s side show of the “Feejee mermaid” featured the mummified torso and head of a juvenile monkey sewn to the bottom of a fish. Both were false advertisements, and the people who paid to see these frauds lost the small price of admission to his tents. They may have left chagrined but a little wiser.
The circus has descended on Connecticut, but Connecticut can be more skeptical than David Brooks. After all, we claim rights to the politician, showman, and founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Brooks should familiarize himself with P.T.Barnum, and consider his maxim, “The bigger the humbug, the better people will like it.”