Behind the ruckus over Common Core standards lies fear. Behind the rage against a state plan to store student information in "the cloud" lies a similar anxiety. Behind the rallies, the angry email chains and the decision to keep grade-school children from taking their standardized tests, there is terror.
But exactly what is everyone so worried about?
Some parents, particularly on Long Island, are experiencing a level of trepidation that's deeper than seems warranted by the issues that provoke it. It's the fear that the fundamental promises of American society are eroding, that the next generation will not be better off.
Long Island was the epicenter of the post-World War II American dream. Work hard, buy the suburban house with the great schools, send the kids to college, and they would enjoy a similar life, or surpass it. There was good money to be made, not just for lawyers and doctors, but for machinists and plumbers. And if the tax bill kept increasing, well, so did the home equity and the paychecks.
But success doesn't feel like such a foregone conclusion, or even an attainable goal, anymore. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans describing themselves as middle class has declined from 53 percent in 2008 to 44 percent today. The percentage who see themselves as lower-middle or lower class has increased from 25 percent to 40 percent.
This perceived erosion of opportunity is daunting. In the case of education issues, it's being exacerbated by politicians looking for slogans and teachers unions looking to stymie performance evaluations. The result is too many parents trying desperately to secure their children's futures by heading down the wrong path.
The state's "cloud" plan, using a vendor named inBloom to store student information, was killed for at least a year. But what was proposed wasn't much different from the way districts store information now. Attendance, grades and all kinds of other data are handled by third-party vendors hired by the districts. Having this contracted at the state level rather than district level wouldn't increase the amount of data on children being stored and would likely make it easier to secure. But the "cloud" concept played perfectly into the worry that every disobedient act, attendance issue, grade, test score and teacher comment would become part of our children's unprotected and public record, keeping them out of the right college or job.
This week's Common Core opt-out frenzy was partly inflamed by people like Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who made a show of keeping his kids from taking the standardized tests. Astorino, seeking the Republican nomination for governor, came to Long Island last week and told a crowd that Common Core would send property taxes "through the roof," an assertion with no basis in fact. Worse, he trumpeted the untrue but widely held claim that, "Not one K-through-12 teacher in the nation was involved in writing these standards."
The Common Core program is not perfect. Student privacy is a legitimate concern. But the kids and parents who triumph over the real challenges facing the next generation aren't going to be the ones who opt out. They will be the ones who double down on effort, overcoming harder curricula and tests. That much, at least, hasn't changed.