KINGSPORT — Common Core standards are "common sense," but U.S. public education is not the broken, under-performing system some portray it to be.
That's part of the message of national education consultant John Draper, a former education researcher, principal and teacher, who spoke at the 2014 Kingsport City Schools teachers' convocation Monday and at a luncheon with area education officials and other stakeholders.
"Common Core is common sense among educators," Draper said in response to a question at the luncheon. He was referencing a common set of academic standards that has become a political hot potato nationwide. It calls, for example, for all Algebra I students nationwide to learn the same basics about algebra.
"How about every state having their own money?" Draper asked. "How stupid is that?"
He also said the standards were developed by states, not the federal government, but opposition to them is the focus of anti-government groups, which decry federal incentives for their adoption.
"Will it survive? I don't know," said Draper, whose website is www.johndraper.org.
In Tennessee, Common Core remains but has been renamed Tennessee State Standards. However, the testing system for it, PARCC or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, has been delayed for at least a year.
Draper's luncheon presentation, called "The Inside Scoop on Public Schools," looked at the talk, truth and crucial conversation needed.
Among other issues, Draper said talk of SAT scores being down for decades is true for the average SAT score, but he said every subgroup of test takers has increased scores and that is the important indicator.
That's part of Simpson's Testing Paradox since the first SAT was taken by the top 10 percent of students, thus the average between 90 and 100 percent was 95 percent.
Fast forward to today, when about half of students take it and the new takers are from lower-performing groups, and the average is 75 percent or half way between 50 and 100 percent. He said SAT scores always will decline as long as lower-performing students are added to the test pool.
Also, he said that contrary to those who say U.S. graduation rates are horrible, the current rate was the highest ever in this country, even before special education students were included in the statistics in the 1970s. The Washington Post reported April 27 that the U.S. high school graduation rate was 80 percent, based on 2012 data, the latest available.
"We can't just fail them as a way to fix it," Draper said, emphasizing that early identification, embedded remediation, removing time constraints and multiple options for graduation are needed.
He said some students need three years to graduate high school, while others need five or six. He said no one thinks it a bad thing that a four-year college degree took U.S. House Speaker John Boehner seven years because he worked his way through school as a janitor.
In addition, Draper said talk about the achievement gap widening is mostly true because "poverty is the greatest common factor we see among lower-achieving students."
Draper said the issue is that every school year the gap lessens, but in the summer, the middle class and rich students continue learning through vacations, camp and reading, while poorer students don't as much.
He said more early childhood education, a longer school year and a longer school day or after-school programs are among the answers.
With families changing and churches struggling, he said schools are pulling a lot of the load these days for the nation's youth.
Draper said 21 million U.S. students receive free or reduced meals. He said public systems, despite fewer public prayers, are helping students who need it.
"Jesus was not real big on public prayer. He was big on public care," Draper said.