Sunday, October 5, 2014

ObamaCare and Common Core

For our own good and for the good of those who are unable to improve their own lives the government has taken on that role. The government, for example, is making sure that everyone has health insurance. That is good news for those truly can't afford health insurance and for those who can't find an insurance company that will insure them. It is bad news for those who for reasons of their own or because they can afford to pay for their health care would not choose to buy health insurance. But the problems do not end there. The Affordable Care Act will ultimately limit the health care available to many who now have excellent insurance and care.

It has already limited my options. I am on Medicare. Medicare sets limits on the amount it will pay health care providers. The result has been to reduce the number of doctors who will accept me as a patient. I am relatively healthy at the moment. So I don't need much in the way of health care. But the chances are that one day I will. The big question is whether I will be able to get the healthcare I will need. Right now getting through the system of primary providers to be able to see a specialist is so time consuming that any critical problem will likely not receive attention before it becomes too big to adequately treat.

The same is true of the Common Core State Standards for education. The CCSS as it is known attempts to establish standards for the English (ELA) and math curriculum and to make those standards the same across the United States. As with the Affordable Care Act, there is good news for some. In many schools the standards for English and math are low. Students are graduating from high school without the skills or knowledge base to succeed in college. And across the country standards vary so much that a student transferring from a school in New York probably will not be on the same page as the new school in Nebraska. The CCSS bring those schools into sync with one another.

The other benefit is there is a new emphasis on preparing teachers for the more rigorous environment of the CCSS classroom. Teacher training is light years ahead of where it was when I graduated from college. But there is bad news as well.

The bad news is that many excellent schools with creative curricula and high standards are being forced into a one-size-fits-all curriculum that is crippling the creativity of the teachers. But that is not the worst of the CCSS. Performance on the national standards are tied to federal funding for schools. That pressures schools to teach to the tests that are given to access performance. Since those tests are given in every grade and repeatedly throughout the year, almost all the instruction will be teaching to the tests. The cascading consequences are that school administrations, teachers, and students are living with continual stress, something that is similar to test anxiety. And after all that, fewer students are succeeding. The standards have been raised before the quality of instruction has adapted to the CCSS. That will result in fewer students succeeding rather than more.

So what has this to do with Christian worldview? Our worldview includes the conviction that every person is an individual and that every individual has personal responsibility for his or her life. ObamaCare and the CCSS make the government the caretaker and forces students and all of us, in regard to health care, into a system that promises maximum benefits at the lowest cost but which, in fact, reduces the benefits to those who are most likely to find a way to succeed on their own. And reduces the incentives to do so.

ObamaCare and the CCSS are socialist answers to problems that are best addressed by individual effort and enterprise. The better solution is to allow the government to subsidize health care for those who cannot afford it - as it has been doing - while allowing the free market to provide health care insurance on every level for those who wish to buy for themselves the level of insurance they want.

In the case of the CCSS, raising the level of student success is vital for our nation. But to do that by limiting the best students is counterproductive. One answer seems to be charter schools that provide creativity and flexibility free from the burden of standardized tests and set students free to rise to their potential. There are schools like that. They are schools where teachers and administration believe in students and allow them opportunity to explore and grow rather than forcing them into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

It is amazing what a student can accomplish when she is set free. However well intentioned, CCSS will not do that. I think it is a mistake turn in American education just as I think Obamacare is a mistaken turn in healthcare.

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