Despite all of the positive aspects of place-based education, proponents of PBE in publicly-funded schools must still deal with policies like Common Core that threaten to standardize education. Within each grade level and subject there are specific outcomes that are outlined by the Common Core, which the teacher is expected to help his or her students achieve by the end of the academic year. The Common Core aims to provide all students in all areas of the country with the same base level knowledge and skills. It claims to be open-ended and positive. According to the Common Core website, the standards “establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach.” This seems promising. There seems to be room for place-based education.
However there are some cases in which the Common Core may be restricting. The fact that the Common Core still revolves around testing should alert us to possible problems. Common Core prepares students for the PARCC test, or Smarter Balanced test. Though this test has not been in place long enough to study in depth, it seems to testify to the continued presence of high-stakes testing. The pressure it exerts on the classroom might not allow the teachers and students a lot of wiggle room to incorporate community and place specific issues or history into their curriculum.
Because we believe that it is important to be able to find a place for place-based education within the guidelines of the Common Core, we decided to give examples of how Place-Based Education might be implemented in a hypothetical classroom where Common Core standards exist. We know little about the PARCC test, so we will not incorporate the PARCC test into the sample curriculum. Therefore, the curriculum is imperfect.
It is also imperfect because we do not have access to student input. Place-based education should incorporate student input to maximize social-justice. PBE allows for social-justice because by focusing on the landscape that a student lives in, it lets students learn about issues that are relevant to their lives and cultural backgrounds. Therefore, there is room to discuss oppression as it appears in the immediate surroundings of the students, while also giving them the opportunity to make positive change in that arena. As Fenstermacher writes in his book Approaches to Teaching, in addition to simply studying social justice issues, students ought to “move on to praxis, to action grounded in high ideals and noble purpose” (55). This type of teaching, called emancipatory teaching, asks students to “learn by studying and acting on the problems of the world” (56). This seems to speak to place-based education in that it calls for students to step outside the classroom. In an ideal place-based education classroom, students have opportunities to practice praxis in their immediate world. They can combat inequality in the community most relevant to them, and then work outwards to the state, national, and global levels. So, not only does place- based education allow for topics that are not usually covered in standard textbooks to be discussed, and for voices that are often underrepresented or silenced to be heard, but it also allows students to actively participate and learn from their community.