If insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results, then South Carolina is about to join much of the nation in education policy that can only be called insanity.

The current accountability era was spurred by A Nation at Risk, and despite that report being flawed and a political tool, most states, including SC, jumped on the standards/testing bandwagon. Since the early 1980s, SC has produced multiple versions of standards (from Frameworks to our current commitment to Common Core) and state tests (from BSAP to PACT to PASS and to the yet-to-be named increased testing associated with Common Core).

What has been the result here in SC and across the nation to fifty varied and revised experiments with accountability tied to standards and testing? Universal claims that schools are still failing and reform is needed.

And that brings us to the current insanity that SC appears committed to embrace.

Standards as Insanity

Beyond the redundancy of these solutions, the insanity also stems from a complete failure to start with what our educational problems are. In SC, the most pronounced problem is social inequity since our state is the ninth most impoverished state in the country. As well, SC is a high-minority state, including one of the fastest growing populations of English language learners.

Socioeconomic status, race, and second language acquisition are powerful correlations with both the greatest challenges facing public education and the populations of students who are most likely to be mis-served by high-stakes, standardized tests—the central tool of the insane reforms now being tied to the Common Core standards.

Plans for implementing Common Core standards include increased testing and implementing those tests by computers, insuring that this newest incarnation of the same solution will be an even greater failure than the past three decades.

Implementing new tests always produces lower scores in the first years of use, but more troubling is that high-poverty and ELL students tend to score even lower on computer-based testing than on the same paper tests.

New tests also create hidden and recurring costs despite claims that computer-based testing will save printing and scoring costs of traditional testing. Those hidden costs include both additional funds (such as insuring all schools have the technology to test all students) and most importantly costs in time. Teachers must be trained directly and spend time learning the standards themselves while a tremendous amount of instructional time will be replaced by yet more teaching to the test and, with the new regime of testing, more testing days throughout the entire school year.

SC public education is not now and has never been failing due to a lack of quality standards or high-quality tests. Curriculum (standards), instruction, and testing are the elements within the teaching process, but they are not learning. And not one of these elements should be confused for learning.

Learning is stifled in SC because too many of the state’s children live in poverty, and as a result, too many of those children are denied access to rich literacy experiences before entering school (through no fault of the children and most often no fault of their parents).

Learning is also stifled in SC by the inequitable and often deplorable teaching and learning conditions in many schools, schools that are themselves deeply inequitable because public schools tend to reflect the community in which they are placed.

SC’s children deserve universal access to health and eye care, food security, and parents with stable and adequate pay. And then those children, regardless of where they live or who their parents are, deserve to walk into schools each day across the state that are nearly indistinguishable from each other.

Schools that are in good repair, hallways that are safe, classrooms led by experienced and qualified teachers, and learning experiences that are rich, engaging, and equal to all.

Common Core standards and computer-based testing address none of these problems or needs.

Weighing a pig doesn’t make it fatter. Neither does building a new scale every few years.

Any farmer who weighed and weighed his livestock and failed to consider what he was feeding them, and then built a new scale to address the problem would be considered insane.

The impending commitment in SC as well as across the nation to Common Core standards and yet more new tests is just as irrational—except this insanity impacts the lives of our children.


• A version of this commentary has been submitted to The State (Columbia, SC) and The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC).

• Common Core standards are poised to be the foundation for many corporate education reforms set to dismantle, not improve, public education.

• See Susan Ohanian’s examination of NCTE’s failure to reject CCS.