What do the Common Core Standards Really Say?

Annie TeichBoth North Carolina and Missouri are spending this week in review of the Common Core standards. The state governors have asked for recommendations from special panels of politically appointed task force members and public educators. The standards were approved by state departments of education and have been in place for several years in both states. However, enough controversy has arisen over the standards that the governors have hit the pause button to reconsider their adoption.

Meanwhile in Tennessee, where they have also been using the standards for several years, 56% of the 27,000 teachers now want to opt out compared to 35% last year.

So what is actually happening here? Are the facts about the Common Core clearly understood by parents and educators? Are politicians making legitimate claims against the standards? Or are they playing a cynical political game? Since this affects our students and the future of our country, we should be clear on what is happening.

It seems that at least part of the problem is a mischaracterization of the Common Core as a “curriculum.” In Wisconsin, another state whose governor is advocating pull-back from the standards, educator Kately Crabb spoke in defense of the Common Core last week.

“Simply put, they are just a list of skills students will need by the time they move on from each grade,” Crabb said. “They are not lesson plans or homework assignments. Those are curriculum programs or teacher-created aspects of education.”

Some parents and educators criticize the standards as unnecessarily tough. However, Fond du Lac superintendent Aaron Sadoff argues that although some of the goals of Common Core are challenging to students, it is important to raise the bar for student achievement.[1]

Perhaps this is a good place to remember that the reasons the standards were created in the first place by the National Governors’ Association was to improve the caliber of career-ready workers and to help the United States compete more equitably in a global economy.

In the same article, another Wisconsin educator, elementary special education teacher Nicole Schubert, notes that one of the positive changes in standards requires students to synthesize information instead of memorizing it.

“They [Common Core Standards] also roll over into life skills and post-secondary occupational skills that include perseverance, precision, reasoning abstractly and constructing arguments,” Schubert said.

Clearly, there are many educators who support the new standards.

It is likely that some of the bad press the standards are receiving is a result of a misunderstanding of their role as a list of skills to be achieved rather than a curriculum to be delivered. The choice of the actual curriculum is still left to school officials and educators, clearly refuting the charge that the Common Core is a federally mandated curriculum.

However, there is one area of legitimate concern and that in the area of testing, which is a legacy from the No Child Left Behind Legislation (NCLB). Although NCLB was successful in highlighting the inequity of learning outcomes in some schools, the standardized testing mania it created has been mostly ineffective and polarizing. The fear that the Common Core Standards will continue to support and promote a testing culture is well founded.

We will address the issues around the testing culture in the next article on Common Core.

Do you agree or disagree? Please share what you are seeing and hearing about the push back on Common Core.

You can find additional articles on Common Core here, here, and here.

[1] Roznik, Sharon. “Common Core Changes Approach to Education in NFDL,” FDL Reporter.com