I love the NCAA basketball tournament. I'm not really all that much of a fan of college basketball during the year, but when the tournament comes around I, like so many Americans, get hooked. There's something about the whole spectacle that is captivating, but maybe what I like most is the variety of schools and programs that come to the "Big Dance". From all across America come teams with diverse programs, competing styles and innovative game plans all vying to see who can find the magic formula to take them all the way. If there is an example, in miniature, of what the whole American concept of competition is all about, this is it.
Now imagine it's March. Imagine the NCAA men's basketball tournament is about to begin. Sixty-four teams from all across the nation are set to play against each other for the national championship.
But now imagine that this championship will be conducted in a slightly different fashion from that to which you are accustomed. Instead of each team drawing up its own plays, formulating its own style and letting its own coach guide its play, now everything will be controlled by the NCAA directly. An office at the NCAA will write a playbook, and this playbook will be sent to each basketball team. Only plays that are in the playbook will be run.
But that is only the beginning.
The plays will be run in precisely the order established by the NCAA as well. Even substitutions will be run according to script. Each team will run exactly the same plays, in exactly the same order and in precisely the same fashion. No deviation will be tolerated. Every team in every game will do exactly the same thing.
Now ask yourself what you think the quality of play will be in this tournament. Do you believe that having all players and all the teams and all the coaches controlled by one single entity at the top of the tournament will result in increased quality of play? Do you believe this will bring everyone to some fantastic, previously undreamed of level of excellence? Or do you think that deprived of the ability to innovate and stripped of any necessity to strive for improvement that the overall quality of play will likely decline?
If you believe that the results of such a ridiculous experiment will be overall mediocrity, an end to innovation and the death of the NCAA tournament as we know it, then I would suggest you have some degree of common sense and at least a passing knowledge of basketball.
If you believe that somehow an office within the NCAA can substitute for the brainpower, imagination and creativity of all the coaches and assistant coaches and players on 64 different teams then I suppose you know very little about basketball and that you must also think that Common Core is a great idea.
Because ultimately this is what Common Core is all about. It is about replacing all of the creativity and imagination and energy contained in tens of thousands of school districts across the United States with the results of one committee's decision on what curriculum should be.
For those of you who have not followed this issue closely, let me digress for a moment. The so-called Common Core Standards are national standards for the performance of students in grades K-12. They were formulated by the National Governors Association, which is largely funded by the Gates Foundation. They were intended from the outset to circumvent federal restrictions on the imposition of a national curriculum.
While technically not mandatory, Common Core has been effectively imposed on the states by the equivalent of federal blackmail. A state, which does not adopt the standards, does not get federal grant money.
The Common Core Standards were written by academics and assessment experts. Many of these individuals had ties to testing companies, which stood to benefit financially from the adoption of the standards. They were adopted by the individuals who drafted them despite the fact that they were, in fact, not in use anywhere and had never been demonstrated to be superior to existing standards. Almost none of the individuals who drafted these standards were classroom teachers.
In fact, there were a total of only twenty-four individuals involved in actually drafting the Common Core Standards. Three of the fifteen individuals who wrote the Math Standards had at some point taught math. None of them were actually teaching in the classroom at the time they worked on the standards. Five of the fifteen individuals who wrote the English Standards had taught English at some time in the past. (There was some overlap between the groups that put together the Math and English Standards.) None of the former English teachers were still teaching at the time they worked on the English Standards.
The Common Core Standards do not specify precise curriculum or methodology per se, but they have begat a plethora of follow-on requirements. Curriculum based on the standards has now been created and is being prescribed. Mandatory tests linked to the standards have also been created.
I used the analogy earlier of the NCAA telling teams exactly how to run each play and when to run it when referring to Common Core. Maybe that sounded like hyperbole. I assure you it wasn't.
Here is a direct quote from New York State's curriculum, which it developed as part of the implementation of Common Core in its schools. These are instructions for an 8th grade teacher on how to have students look at pictures related to the Vietnam War on a wall.
"Gallery Walk/Inference (10 minutes)
-Display and distribute the Notice/Wonder note-catcher and explain the process for the Gallery Walk protocol.
- In a moment they will get to examine several photographs that are posted throughout the room (or along the hallway outside the classroom).
- At each photograph, they should pause and capture specific details that they notice (i.e. "Woman is crying," "They are holding on to the back of a helicopter", and the things they wonder about ("I wonder why they are sad?" "What are they getting away from?" "When was this?")
- They will have just a minute at each picture, and they might not get to all of the pictures. You might need to coach your students about your expectations for safe movement and for quiet voices during this work period. (Example: "As you move from photograph to photograph there is no need to engage in side conversations. I expect ?zero' voice levels during this time. Also, please move carefully taking care not to bump into one another."
- Ask them to begin. Use a timer set to 5 minutes to keep students focused on the gallery. As students complete this activity circulate to observe and support as needed?Once students have observed the gallery for 5 minutes, ask them to return to their seats."
That's one small piece of seven pages of instructions on how to present one class on one day. That does not include any of the actual substantive material to be presented or any tests.
The dreaded national school curriculum, which Congress wished to avoid, has arrived, but that is only the beginning. This is not just a one-size fits all curriculum, it is an entire regime that includes instructions for individual teachers in one ten minute segment of one class on one day on how to have student safely get out of their seats, look at pictures and retake their seats. One wonders what role remains for a teacher in this system, other than to read line-by-line instructions, repeat them to his or her students and then administer standardized tests.
The Department of Education has become the nation's school board, and all of the teachers and students in the country are apparently now drones expected to perform exactly the same tasks, in exactly the same way on exactly the same day.
All of this, of course, flies in the face of what grass roots supporters of school reform and improved academic performance want. All across America people are pushing for "school choice" by pushing charter schools, school vouchers and other similar measures. All across America people are clamoring for more local control over education not less.
The basic underlying principle is clear. The answer to underperforming schools is competition. Make schools compete for students. Give parents a choice. Allow them to send their kids to schools that do the best job of educating their children. Reward the good schools with increased enrollment and revenue. Punish the bad schools with declining enrollment and revenue and force them to either improve or close.
Turn loose the creativity, imagination and natural American competitive spirit that built this nation from the ground up. Turn loose the drive and determination that put a man on the Moon. Unleash the grit, work ethic and genius that ensures every year that the very best basketball team in the country wins the NCAA tournament.
We don't need a national committee to think for us. We are the American people. We won the Second World War, built the world's greatest economy and consigned the Soviet Union to the dustbin of history. We can think for ourselves. Get out of our way. Stop telling us what to do. The results will astound you.
I watched the Final Four with the rest of America and I enjoyed the spectacle and the matchups of opposing styles. I thank God that the NCAA has not imposed Common Core Standards on the play of basketball teams.
That would be real March Madness.