5. Does the Common Core provide for individualized education?

The Department of Education has praised the Common Core for its focus on “computer adaptive testing” to supply teachers with data so that they can adjust their teaching styles and provide their students with individualized instruction.1 Individualized instruction is widely regarded as an ideal way to teach. But in practice, the Common Core’s rigid and technology-laden approach to learning makes individualized education almost impossible.

The Common Core standards require students to master a checklist of skills every year. While state education departments may add a limited number of learning objectives, classroom teachers are required to teach to these composite standards as the prime goal of their instruction.2 Teachers must teach from the prescribed list and at the prescribed pace. This one-size-fits-all approach will supposedly makes children “college- and career-ready,” but it will undoubtedly produce a generation that has been trained to think about the same things in the same way as all of their peers. Moreover, it is reasonable to question whether a regimented approach to learning will produce young men and women capable of careers that call for genuinely independent analysis and creative problem solving. In May 2013, a 15-year teaching veteran from Chicago expressed her frustration in a YouTube video, lamenting that “raising students’ test scores on standardized tests is now the only goal, and in order to achieve it, the creativity, flexibility, and spontaneity…have been eliminated.”3

Proponents of the Common Core respond that the combination of the new assessment techniques and the growing stockpile of educational data will enable computers and teachers to tailor lessons and tests to suit the learning needs of individual students. The use of computers, however, does not mitigate the rigid standards that refuse to bend to the needs of individual students.

The development of standardized curricula further destroys the chance for individualization. Supporters say that the Common Core individualizes education, but they seek to have every child in American read the same books, learn at the same rate, and be ready to assimilate into similar colleges and careers. The Common Core is the antithesis of an individualized approach; it is a uniform education for the 59 million schoolchildren in the United States.

The imposition of fixed standards and curricula are only the first blows to individualized education. Increasing emphasis on computer-assisted learning further eliminates the possibility for individualization. The Common Core’s required expansion of statewide longitudinal data systems to include assessment and homework scores necessitates that students spend more time using computer-assisted learning programs and less time interacting with their teachers. The diminution of human interaction is accelerated by teachers using printed-off data analyses to make pedagogical decisions.

Individualized education comes from a teacher identifying a child’s strengths and weaknesses and helping him learn in light of these. It does not come from computers that are programmed to change questions based on certain inputs, because the computer will never know that a child may have decided to simply click “C” no matter how many ways the test question is asked. Individualized education is not fostered when a teacher receives a dismal report about her students’ progress, but she is given no time to help struggling students. Instead, she must rush to the next concept in order to cover this year’s prescribed standards.

The rigid, dehumanized method necessitated by the Common Core’s requirements also threatens quality of education. Whether incidentally or by design, the Common Core endangers the idea of a liberal education and jeopardizes the goal of preparing children to be good citizens by sacrificing the pursuits of literacy, future curiosity, and loving what is objectively true on the altar of “college- and career-readiness.” Aiming to teach “what students need to know and be able to do to be successful in college and careers” mass-produces humans who will obediently serve in the workforce.4

The beauty of a decentralized approach to education is that if teachers have to opportunity to teach small-enough classes, they are able to know when they should introduce particular concepts and where they should focus based on the interests of their students. Then students can be taught as individual human beings—not machines that can be analyzed and responded to by a computer program. But tragically, there is no room for this kind individualized education in the unbending, computerized Common Core.

Document updated July 23, 2013

1 Arne Duncan, “Beyond the Bubble Tests: The Next Generation of Assessments,” Department of Education , September 2, 2010, accessed June 11, 2013, http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/beyond-bubble-tests-next-generation-assessments-secretary-arne-duncans-remarks-state-l .

2 States may supplement the entirety of the Common Core with 15 percent of their own standards. See Federal Register 74 no. 221(November 18, 2009): 59836, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2009-11-18/pdf/E9-27427.pdf .

3 “Teacher Resigns in Video, Targets Standardized Education: ‘Everything I Love about Teaching Extinct’” (video), May 26, 2013, accessed June 13, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66K4e8qjRmY .

4 “Frequently Asked Questions,” Common Core State Standards Initiative, accessed June 13, 2013, http://www.corestandards.org/resources/frequently-asked-questions .