Common Core is a state-led initiative that was created in 2009. Since the beginning of its entry into the national platform, it has been met with criticism and skepticism. Social media posts include videos of crazy, complicated, and new procedures on how to solve a math problem. These complaints come from both teachers and parents, but what exactly is Common Core and does it deserve such a bad rep? There are a lot of myths out there surrounding these newly implemented standards as well as some legitimate complaints. Here are just a couple of facts to help you understand the purpose behind Common Core and what it actually is so you can make your own opinions.
What is Common Core?
Common Core is a set of standards for writing and math that were adopted by states. Some states, like Utah, have set up their own standards based off of Common Core and have even added on to them. For example, you’ll find that Utah has standards for more subjects than just math and writing. The standards are available to anyone with an internet connection (see http://www.corestandards.org). A couple of examples of these standards include this third grade math standard:
“Use place value understanding to round to the nearest 10 or 100.”
Another example includes the English standard for second graders:
“Distinguish long and short vowels when reading regularly spelled one-syllable words.”
Any parent can pull up the website to see what learning goals their student is expected to achieve by the time they move to the next grade.
Common Core does not dictate how teachers need to teach; it just gives teachers a reference to what students should learn by the end of the year. Common Core was created by both teachers as well as standard experts from across the entire country. Many states were involved in its creation. They are based off of research surrounding expected skills upon entrance to college and trade schools and assessment data for college-ready performance. They are not arbitrary.
Common Core is not a national curriculum. It is state-led. This was a huge complaint from many who did not want education to be pushed to a federal level. Part of its efficacy comes from being implemented by ALL states, however, it isn’t nationally mandated or controlled. It comes state by state.
Purposes Behind Common Core
So why did we need new standards all of a sudden?
One of the main purposes behind the standards was to unify the education across the nation. There are two main benefits that come with this kind of unification. The first benefit stems from the fact that students who now find themselves moving in the middle of their adolescent, educational career will find themselves on par with other students at their new school. What does this mean in layman’s terms? It means that if you move from New Hampshire to New Mexico, your third grader will have learned the same things as every other third grader in their new school. They will be neither ahead nor behind if Common Core is implemented correctly.
On the flip side, prior to Common Core, your third grader might move to a new state in the middle of the school year. Even if both schools had high standards for their students, curriculum may differ greatly. In New Hampshire, your student might have learned place value in the first semester and fractions in the second semester. While in New Mexico, they may have learned fractions in the first semester, ensuring that your student completely misses out on an introduction to fractions. It just makes education more cohesive for students who are being uprooted.
Uplift schools that are falling behind
The second, and potentially more important, purpose behind Common Core surrounds those schools that are falling behind. It’s no secret that low income neighborhoods have fallen behind in college readiness when compared to other schools not suffering from the same economic disadvantages. This outcome stems from a myriad of things. However, one of the problems is that these students were not being held to the same standards as their counterparts. Having Common Core more readily assures that these students will be given a quality education and that teachers can know what’s expected of them.
The students in the low income neighborhoods are still as capable as their peers in other schools with healthy funding. They may come from harder situations which influences school performance, but having standards has been shown to improve outcomes. Anyone who has taught school has had to learn how to balance standards and understanding towards circumstances. However, standards for these low income neighborhoods have continually dropped over time. Common Core raises the bar once again to help these students raise their own vision. Having each student across the country meet the same educational standards (in an idyllic situation) means each student across the country will be able to adequately perform in a competitive job market.
Reference for Homeschooling Students
A third benefit, though not necessarily one of its purposes, can be applied to homeschooling students. If you want to make sure your student is keeping up with his or her peers, all you have to do is log on and pull up the standards that are expected of students attending public schools. A research-based set of standards is available for you to build your curriculum off of. It gives you a framework, a reference to start helping your student move towards college readiness at home at an appropriate pace.
Legitimate Concerns Surrounding Common Core
There will always be pros and cons to different approaches when we’re looking at influencing this many students. Though there are plenty of myths surrounding Common Core that elicit illegitimate frustrations, there are some concerns that have merit.
Accountability for Teachers
Some of these frustrations surround the teachers. There is a new level of accountability for teachers. While accountability is often seen as a positive thing, sometimes it can be misleading. Imagine being a teacher working at a school in inner city Chicago versus teaching at a suburban school in Vermont (ranked highest in education when compared with other states). It’s not a fair comparison. The standards may be equal, but the circumstances are not.
The burden that comes with implementing Common Core will fall heavily on teachers. Creating new curriculum and working with new methods to make the Common Core happen successfully is going to happen classroom by classroom and teacher by teacher. It won’t always negatively affect teachers as new teachers are continuously coming into the field without prior curriculum and methods. It only affects the teachers who have to implement it after years of having their classrooms and routines set up.
Many people are also struggling with the new standardized testing that comes with standards. Just like with the Common Core itself, there are pros and cons that come with standardized testing. With new and higher standards (higher in some schools), many students are going to be met with discouragement from falling behind what’s expected of them.
Lack of Trust
On top of the regular cons that come with standardized testing, many people found themselves very suspicious of the people who were getting behind the Common Core. Namely, many people found themselves suspicious of those who are going to be making a good amount of money of the tests and test prep materials that are now necessary. The assessments that were created to accompany the Common Core is significantly more expensive than previous standardized tests. As a quick disclaimer, it’s important to note that some states have just created their own tests instead of paying for the more expensive tests.
While the Common Core has good purposes behind it, there are some disadvantages that need to be considered. The biggest forms of opposition we’ve found come from people who already opposed standardized testing and from the politically far-right Tea Party who essentially opposed anything out of the Obama administration. Those who already opposed standardized testing have found a bigger enemy in Common Core because the tests are simply harder than the old tests. The opposition coming from the Tea Party has to be taken with a grain of salt because it’s politically charged.
A Personal Opinion
This is just some of the information about Common Core to help you start to form your own opinions. In theory, it all sounds really great. We’re setting up standards (state by state) that will allow for all students to be career-ready by the time they graduate high school. While implementation might not be as effective as theory, surely it will help to some degree.
Honestly, when it comes down to it, a really good education is going to happen in each individual classroom. We can mandate and incentivize and research, but in all my time I’ve spent working in classrooms, these programs didn’t make any difference. I was in classrooms with teachers who used programs but simply stood, read off slides, and then handed out a worksheet without so much as a glance at a child. Also, I was in other classrooms who avoided programs but spent hours upon hours writing grants and thinking about her kids and making accommodations for students who needed them.
I don’t mind programs like Common Core, but the huge programs really won’t change much in the classroom. I don’t think Common Core is going to bring down the educational system in America nor do I think it’ll make a huge difference in the lives of students. What makes the difference comes down to teachers and healthy home lives.