Common Core is a term that many parents do not even recognize as affecting their children’s education. Yet controversy is raging around the country as to the impact of a set of standards initially adopted by 45 states for the education of their children. The controversy comes from the political right, left, and middle. Something as critical as our children’s education is extremely important and should not be minimized. Prominent people and organizations are very concerned.
The Washington Post reported in November 2013 that the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten blasted the implementation of Common Core saying, “You think the Obamacare implementation is bad? The implementation of the Common Core is far worse.” The National Education Association’s President Dennis Van Roekel recently sent a letter to the Union’s members which said, “I am sure it won’t come as a surprise to hear that in far too many states, implementation has been completely botched. Seven of 10 teachers believe that implementation of the standards is going poorly in their schools.” Indiana has recently decided to reject Common Core after initially endorsing it. Massachusetts, Florida, Louisiana and a number of other states have decided to delay implementation or testing. Our local school administrators and school boards would do well to cease being defensive about Common Core criticism and engage in dialog about the implementation of these standards.
Why would the state of Maine embrace the Common Core State Standards? The answer lies in money. The federal government put a number of inducements in place to make adopting the CCSS attractive. The federal government:
- Offered more than $4.35 billion in “Race to the Top” grants.
- Directly financed the two national testing consortia developing the assessments to test whether students learn according to the standards.
- Offered waivers to states from the onerous provisions of the No Child Left Behind program in exchange for Common Core State Standards adoption.
At the time Maine adopted the CCSS, few if any legislators or the governor really knew any facts about Common Core. Maine received zero dollars out of these promises and yet the rush to obtain potential federal dollars blinded our state government to doing any meaningful research on the matter.
The list of those who are opposed to Common Core is lengthy and growing, but what are the problems? Dr. Sandra Stotsky has very credible credentials as Professor Emeritus at the University of Arkansas, former Senior Associate Commissioner for the Massachusetts Board of Education, and a member of the Common Core Validation Committee. Dr. Stotsky is a very vocal critic of Common Core.
As a member of the Validation Committee she found that while the scope of the Common Core State Standards was broad, the content was very deficient. In the English Language Arts area, major literary study was to be reduced and informational reading increased to 50 percent of content. Dr. Stotsky feels this reduces the ability to develop critical thinking by the students. Another criticism was that writing is emphasized at the expense of reading. She indicates that while improved writing is a worthy goal, good writing comes from reading quality literary works.
An associate on the Committee, Dr. James Milgram of Stanford University, analyzed the math content and found it so deficient that graduating seniors would have difficulty being accepted for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs at many universities. Dr. Stotsky and Dr. Milgram were the only two content experts on the Committee, which was mostly comprised of individuals from testing companies and educators who specialize in the teaching process. These two content experts were among the five, out of 25, committee members who voted against validating the CCSS.
Many critics of Common Core believe that these standards are taking local control away and nationalizing education programs. Yet on the surface it appears that each state had the opportunity to either adopt or reject Common Core. How then can Common Core be viewed as taking more of the educational process to Washington, D.C.? The proficiency testing for Common Core curriculum is being and has been funded by the U. S. Department of Education. Many believe that since students must pass the proficiency testing, the curriculum therefore must be designed to the test, and the content and methods must conform to students performing well on the tests. This leaves the local school district no choice but to make the curriculum conform to the testing.
What should be done about Common Core? Is it really a problem? How many times have we seen instances of folks not being able to construct a proper sentence? How many times have you been in a store and the person at the cash register could not make change without the register telling them what to do? Common Core State Standards may not solve the problem and in fact could make it worse. Content of education is extremely important. Students who do not receive a good foundation in fundamentals of math, science, and English language arts will never master critical thinking or abstract processes. Once again our local school administrators and school boards would do well to cease being defensive about Common Core criticism and engage in dialog to examine deficiencies in the content of the curriculum.
Our education system must prepare its students for real life beyond the door of the school. Real life might be college, a technical career, a business owner, or the most important job of all, a good American citizen capable of raising a family and making decisions that affect their community, state, and country. Local control will remain the best vehicle for striving for excellence and this cannot be accomplished with the federal and state governments controlling curriculum, financial grants, and teacher compensation through Common Core testing and evaluation. After all, consider what is at stake; the education of a generation or more of our children.