OPINION: Teaching to Greatness

Since moving to Syracuse from the Boston area in 2012, I have been captivated by the impassioned public push back here in Central New York on state-mandated accountability testing – high stakes testing that is lately driven by an approach to elementary and secondary education known as the Common Core Standards.

The stated goals of the Common Core are admirable and worthy – to ensure that students graduating from high school have acquired the requisite skills and knowledge in English language arts and mathematics to enable them to succeed academically in college course work or in workforce training programs. That said, there is a growing number of educational scholars who have questioned the Common Core because of its “one size fits all” approach that seems targeted to mediocrity.

One such scholar is Yong Zhao, the associate dean for global education in the College of Education at the University of Oregon, and an internationally recognized expert on the implications of globalization and technology on education.

I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Dr. Zhao speak about education at a conference for New York heads of independent schools in November 2013. Zhao noted that America’s schools are falling behind their international peers because the majority of our schools teach to “Good Enoughness” rather than “Greatness.” Zhao specifically referenced the potential dangers the Common Core has in becoming that new standard.

Citing author Daniel Coyle and The New York Times bestseller “The Talent Code,” Zhao noted that there are three essential elements that lead to cultivating greatness - time, passion and feedback. By way of example, he described the despair his newly-licensed teenage daughter expressed when she executed a less-than-perfect turn on her way home from getting her driver’s license. How could one so new to the art of driving expect to be great at it without more practice, he observed. And practice, he emphasized, takes time. Time to do a thing and do it again until it is done to perfection.

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