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Local Editorials

Iowa Core Curriculum defective

A significant change to No Child Left Behind allows states to come up with their own curriculum rather than using the one provided by NCLB.  The proviso is that the state curriculum cannot be worse than the national one. 

Since the focus of NCLB is reading and math, let’s begin by looking at the Iowa reading program, finally approved eight years after the start of NCLB. Keep in mind that the Iowa program was developed by a provably dysfunctional education system that removed concepts more than 50 years ago, blamed students for failing to achieve in the absence of concepts, and routinely dumbed down the standardized tests, thus inflating the results, to hide the fact students were failing to achieve in the absence of concepts. 

The failure to achieve became more obvious through the grades and then into jobs. 

First, let’s examine the difference between a concept-based system and a system of memorization.  An analogy would be the difference between engaging in a rigorous exercise program that actually develops the body (which concepts do with the brain when effectively taught) versus faking it by watching someone exercise (which is what memorization is all about).

To what extent can you fake it?  When you have to actually demonstrate applied critical thinking and problem-solving skills, reality sets in. 

The business sector has been complaining for decades about the lack of suitable potential employees with critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and now Iowa’s education system is demonstrating they also lack these skills.

While the Iowa Common Core does include a concept-based phonics program that covers the rules for sounding out individual letters and various combinations of letters, it then adds:  “Read common high-frequency words by sight (e. g. , the, of, to, you,  she, my,  is, are, do, does).” 

Correctly being able to sound out words using phonics decoding is a critical thinking and problem-solving  exercise that can always be maintained and even improved with frequent use.   If you need to do this quickly, then exercise more.

Once memorizing enters the picture, then you are faking learning because critical thinking and problem-solving go out the window. Victims of the “fake-it-and-call-it-good” education system fail to understand this.

Dumbing down the standardized tests when 50 percent of the students cannot pass them should be an indication that something is wrong with the curriculum and teaching (as the rest of the world knows), but the “fake-it-and-call-it-good” education system sees nothing wrong with it.

To show how badly the test scores have been inflated by the periodic dumbing down since 1960 (with the last time in 2011), the 2012 statewide fourth-grade reading score of 73.36 proficiency is really more in the ballpark of 39.65 — and that is using the 41st national percentile as the proficiency standard.

The 2012 eighth-grade statewide average reading score of 64.92 is really more in the ballpark of 35.09; the 2012 11th grade statewide average reading score of 82.57 proficiency is really more in the ballpark of 44.63.  If the state has better numbers in adjusting for inflation, then please make them public for all to see.

There is a reason the National Assessment of Educational Progress scores remain flat — they are not dumbing down the tests, and the fake-it-and-call-it-good approach to education can only produce a limited improvement even with all-out effort.  Reality is setting in and the fake-it-and-call-it good approach is an obvious failure. Any “research-based” reports rationalizing support for continued faking it are fraudulent.

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