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Common Core: As Untested as the U.S. Speed Skating Suits

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In the wake of disappointing results from the U.S. speed skating team at the Sochi Olympics — no U.S. skater finished higher than 7th place —  skaters, coaches and experts associated with the sport are looking for answers. Some quickly rushed to blame the untested, high-tech suits, designed specifically for the team by Under Armour. The Washington Post reported:

Had the Americans trained hard enough? Had they overlooked something the medal-gorging Dutch had figured out? And what about the Mach 39, devised in collaboration with aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, no less? What had happened to the propulsive blast it promised to deliver?

Reporters wanted to know. And some U.S. speedskaters started having doubts.

Delivered by Under Armour to the team on Jan. 1, as contracted, the Mach 39 had never been worn in competition before the Sochi Games. So how could the U.S. skaters know for sure that the air vents down the spine translated to speed? Where was the experiential proof that the relocated zippers and high-tech fibers helped their performance more than hurt it?

“The reasoning behind that was we wanted to keep the suit a secret in case other people found out about it, and they had enough time to switch their technology,” explained U.S. speedskater Brian Hansen, 23, of Evanston, Ill., asked why the athletes hadn’t competed in the suit before Sochi, given prototypes to train in instead.

The team hastily voted to switch back to the Under Armour suits they had worn in the World Cup races, with no better results. Sensing a potential rift with a major sponsor and a lot of money at stake, the U.S. skaters quickly began to shift the focus away from the suits and the U.S. Olympic Committee jumped to extend its contract with Under Armour through the 2022 Games.

Now that all the Olympic excitement is winding down, it’s worth thinking about the extent to which our children, under the new Common Core Standards, have become lab rats in an experiment much bigger than the one the U.S. speed skating team participated in during the Sochi Olympics.

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While some are understandably surprised that the U.S. speed skating team would use the new suits when they had no “experiential proof” that the skaters’ performance would improve, it turns out that our legislators, state and local boards of education, and education experts have done the same thing with a high-tech — and very expensive — new education experiment called Common Core.

Terrence O. Moore, in The Story-Killers: A Common-Sense Case Against the Common Core, explains:

No one — no legislator, no education department official, no district administrator, no teacher, no alleged school reformer who supports the program — can say what the Common Core is exactly. No one can point to a Common Core school. No one can show what the effects of this program have been on actual students. No one can say with precision whether the Common Core, which we are told is only a set of “standards,” is a change in philosophy from current educational practices, and if so, whether it is a good change in philosophy.

Moore asks what will be the visible differences between today’s schools and those laboring under the Common Core. What will schools and lessons look like? “That these questions are not answered in [the official Common Core] documents — and they were never even asked by state legislatures — we should find appalling.”

While many of us are rightly concerned about the incoherent and sometimes disturbing lessons coming home in backpacks now that schools have begun rolling out their various iterations of state Common Core Standards, these individual lessons are not the most troublesome aspect of what’s happening in schools across the country. What is most alarming is that the “experts” don’t really seem to have any qualms about imposing these completely untested standards on nearly every school in the country. Instead of testing them in a few schools or a few district, we are assured that a consensus of [insert long list of experts, foundations, sponsors, and the National Governor’s Association] agrees that this is the formula for returning the United States to the top of the world academic podium. They offer plenty of promises but no proof that the new standards will make education better.

The financial stakes are exponentially higher for Common Core than for Under Armour's sponsorship of the U.S. speed skating team. States and corporations across the country are heavily invested in the Common Core product and like the skaters who very quickly hushed their criticism of the new suits when sponsorship dollars were at stake, politicians and those who profit from the business of education are reluctant to let the flow of cash dry up.

Someday our kids are going to walk out onto the world stage wearing these untested Common Core Standards. Will their minds and hearts be ready to live and thrive as critically-thinking, self-governing individuals? No one can say because our education leaders have substituted promises and predictions for experiential proof.