Just a few days ago, Bill Gates told the annual assembly of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards that the Common Core standards were “the key to creativity,” and likened their development to the standardized electrical plug. I am not sure I see the analogy, but I guess he meant that with a standardized electrical plug, we could all have electric lights and do better work in the light. Or something. But if he meant that standardization was a formula for creative teaching and learning, I doug that many of the National Board Certified Teachers in his audience were convinced.

David Greene certainly does not agree. He is an experienced teacher trainer and mentor who recently published an article in U.S. News & World Report about how the Common Core standards kill creative teaching, precisely because they attempt to standardize what teachers do.


He writes:

To try to live up to the new demands and ensure better test scores, states, districts and schools have purchased resources, materials and scripted curricular modules solely developed for test success. Being lost is the practical wisdom and planned spontaneity necessary to work with 20 to 35 individuals in a classroom. Academic creativity has been drained from degraded and overworked experienced teachers. Uniformity has sucked the life out of teaching and learning.

Good and great teachers leave and are replaced by new and cheap workers more willing to follow fool-proof, factory-like, prescribed lesson plans. In fact, the average teaching tenure has dropped from approximately 15 years of service in 1990 to less than five in 2013.

Imagine your brain surgeon having to “follow the book” while operating on you or lose his job. While you are on the table, he discovers an unforeseen problem that, because of his experience and practical wisdom, calls for a spontaneous change of plan, yet he can’t do what he knows will work. You die on the table. So have students. He retires early, frustrated with conditions. So have the best teachers.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman coined the term “Carlson’s law” to describe Dr. Curtis Carlson’s take on autocracy in the workplace: “Innovation that happens from the bottom up tends to be chaotic but smart. Innovation that happens from the top down tends to be orderly but dumb.”

Top down innovation is what Common Core and other efforts to homogenize education are bringing us. So the only real question left is: Why have President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, Bill Gates and Achieve Inc. chosen to be orderly but dumb, especially when the opportunity cost is children?

David Greene’s recently published book is called Doing the Right Thing: A Teacher Speaks. Unlike the technocrats, bureaucrats, and Beltway insiders who wrote the Common Core standards, David Greene is a teacher with long experience and deep knowledge of the classroom and of students.