Coddled kids vs. high standards

Common Core’s critics — “right-wing alarmists” and “left-wing paranoiacs” — have been joined by parents who think higher standards are too stressful, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Are Kids Too Coddled? he asks.

Stress is “an acceptable byproduct of reaching higher and digging deeper,” writes Bruni. And school isn’t going to be fun all the time.

Higher standards are traumatizing children, according to New Yorkers at the state’s Common Core hearings.

One father said that while his 8-year-old son was “not the most book-smart kid,” he was nonetheless “extremely bright.” With the new instruction, however, too many kids were “being made to feel dumb.” There was “no room for imagination or play,” the father groused. “All the kids are stressed out.”

A social worker testified that she’d been receiving calls and referrals regarding elementary-school students on the psychological skids. “They said they felt ‘stupid’ and school was ‘too hard,’ ” she related. “They were throwing tantrums, begging to stay home and upset even to the point of vomiting.” Additional cases included insomnia, suicidal thoughts and self-mutilation, she said, and she wondered aloud if this could all be attributed to the Common Core.

A teacher on Long Island did more than wonder, speaking out at a forum two weeks ago about what she called the Common Core Syndrome, a darkly blooming anxiety among students that’s “directly related to work that they do in the classroom.”

“If that’s not child abuse, I don’t know what is,” she thundered, to wild applause.

If children really are falling apart, writes Bruno, maybe it’s because they’ve been protected from blows to their egos. They’ve won trophies for participation. They’ve made “bloated honor rolls.”

“Our students have an inflated sense of their academic prowess,” wrote Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, in Education Week. “They don’t expect to spend much time studying, but they confidently expect good grades and marketable degrees.” Our global competitors are tougher.  “While American parents are pulling their kids out of tests because the results make the kids feel bad, parents in other countries are looking at the results and asking themselves how they can help their children do better.”

It’s those white suburban moms.

About Joanne


  1. Ann in L.A. says:

    I think it’s more that education has devolved to such a degree that when faced with the facts that our kids really don’t know very much and can’t do very much, people panic and blame the messenger.

  2. Perhaps they should advocate a tracked system track for students who want to learn and are highly capable, one for those who need more time on topic, and one for those who aren’t interested. The one size fits all clearly is not working for their special snowflakes.

    • This is how the countries that people brag are doing so well in education behave. They have a track for the impaired, a vocational track and a college prep track. Kids are tested at the middle school level, and in most places not allowed to take the college prep track if they score too low.

      We will never be allowed to do that here because of the unpleasant demographic realities that would result.

    • Grouping students by ability has pretty much fallen by the wayside in the U.S. of A. due to lawsuits and self-esteem issues.

      We had it back in the 70’s and early 80’s and it actually helped all students (slow, average, advanced).


      • I don’t agree. Tom Loveless of Brookings examined this question in his book The Tracking Wars.

        He refuted the claim of de-trackers (Jeannie Oakes of UCLA), that tracking hurts achievement.

        But he wouldn’t sign on to your claim either, that tracking helps all students. He found a mixed bag in real life, something close to no effect on achievement.

  3. The problem isn’t that the standards are too high…it’s that the standards are largely meaningless and the tools meant to evaluate those standards are horribly designed.
    I’m all for a rigorous curriculum that effectively separates the wheat from the chaff, but the Common Core isn’t it.
    So far the standards we’ve seen are edulingo gobbledygook that do little to guide instruction and just cause confusion. That leaves the true standards to be set by testmakers like Pearson, who are infinitely more concerned about the sales of their test-prep products than the welfare of the nation’s students. Anyone who sees a multiple-hour long testing session as a fair measure of an elementary student’s capabilities is sociopathic.

    • “I’m all for a rigorous curriculum that effectively separates the wheat from the chaff”

      Silly rabbit…our system is designed precisely to prevent this!

    • The CC standards are impossible and utterly ridiculous for the “impaired”, too high and too inappropriate for the “vocational” and only minimally OK for the true “college prep” – to use the terms in the comment above. . The latter is because there’s no path leading to AP calc BC and other second-level (honors prerequisites) AP classes, which are necessary for consideration at highly competitive colleges and STEM programs. Just has happened with NCLB, school treat what should be floors as ceilings, for the top academic kids, and fail to challenge this group – despite the fact that our country’s economic future depends on them. One-size-fits-all does not work

  4. Or maybe it’s because we are teaching them at too young an age developmentally. I read at four. It doesn’t mean I’m a brain surgeon now. Other children are more naturally ready at six or seven and are NO LESS intelligent. Pushing these kids too early just sets them up for problems later.

    • For kids of average ability who don’t have learning disabilities etc, I don’t buy the “too early”, as a rule. It can be “too early” or “next-to-impossible” for them to discover phonics, grammar, spelling, basic math facts and algorithms etc, on their own, but I believe that they can be successful with direct instruction. Englemann’s research and the Project Follow Through data show success, even with very disadvantaged kids. The fact that that method flies in the face of all of the ed world’s most cherished theories apparently trumps results.

      • Ann in L.A. says:

        That depends on what the kids are being asked to do. Manual dexterity comes at different times for different kids, as does the ability to sit still and focus for a significant block of time. Asking kids who can barely hold a fat crayon to write their letters is dooming them to failure.

        • Deirdre Mundy says:

          The other thing is that, for most kids, going easy doesn’t have a huge lifetime effect.

          I can spend 2 years forcing the kids to learn phonics in Pre-K and K, and maybe have them reading by first grade. Or I can go easy until first grade… and by the end of the year, they’re still reading on a 3rd or 4th grade level….. When you wait a bit, the TEACHING gets easier because instead of pounding it into their skulls, you just have to introduce it and let their more mature brains put it together.,.

  5. Stacy in NJ says:

    The solution is not standardization; it’s allowing variation. Parents, students, and communities should be able to select schools based upon their needs and values and the school’s stated mission and measured performance.

    We are past the Horace Mann factory model of public education. Different people value different things. Let’s allow folks (within measurable variation) to select school models that fit their needs.

    CC as one model among many was a promising idea. As one-size-its-all is awful. Return education policy to the states, stop using federal dollars to coerce and bribe, demand rational basic measurements to ensure accountability. A partial answer lies in charter schools of varying models (some will fail and some succeed), voucher programs, on line ed, and homeschooling with or without cooperatives and supports.

  6. I just commented on Joanne’s later post, “Are core test written for robo-readers?” I defy anyone to defend the test item reproduced in that post as representing a “higher standard.”

    It would be possible to score highly on such test items, but know nothing of any value; it would be possible to score poorly on such test items, but be well-educated. In other words, not every test is a valid measure of a student’s ability or knowledge. It’s possible to write stupid tests, and it’s possible to create useless curriculums.

    If parents are moved to show up to meetings to protest the Common Core, those in charge of the Common Core should take note. Parents don’t usually show up to such meetings. Control of curriculum has been moved out of local hands–that doesn’t make the curriculum perfect.