I am a pretty smart cookie. I always did well in school. Graduated with a 3.5 GPA and from K-12 got primarily A’s and B’s. I have always been an advanced reader, finishing my 1st Grade year reading at a 6th Grade level. Now, I am not saying that to brag but to make a point. Despite all of that, and an IQ hovering around 120, I was so woefully unprepared for college it is not even funny. Though I always loved lit and writing classes, and almost always received A’s, I was nowhere near prepared to do college level analysis and writing after graduating high school. I was lucky. I managed to pick up all the skills I was lacking and adapt to college life. Many do not.
I was an assistant to a professor in college. I saw the work of incoming students. Sad to say, incoming freshman weren’t getting better. They were getting worse. I have known graduates who could not write a complete sentence, did not know that Pearl Harbor was more than just a Ben Affleck movie, and could not add or subtract without using their fingers. I will admit, I am guilty of the last one.
Once upon a time the United States was number one in education; now that honor belongs to South Korea. Sadly, we don’t even fall into the top ten. In an effort to boost our nation’s education, which will help make us a stronger global competitor, a thing called Common Core has been enacted in the majority of the states. Naturally, it has its opponents. As per usual these opponents lead the charge with half-truths or outright lies to bolster fear and gain more supporters. Fact is, there is no logical reason to oppose Common Core education.
First of all, unlike many opponents claim, Common Core (CC) is not a curriculum. It is simply a set of standards to be met. Well, what does that mean exactly? It means that while CC sets the standard, teachers and districts still set the curriculum. For example, my son is going to be in the second grade. According to CC’s literary guidelines, by the end of the year my son should be able to: read and comprehend literature, including stories and poetry, in the grades 2–3 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. All CC does is tell schools that by the end of 2nd grade my son should not only be able to read but also understand texts meant for 2nd or 3rd graders. His teacher, school, and district will decide how to make sure that goal is met. Nowhere in the CC does it ever tell a teacher how they have to teach. Unfortunately, many are misled to believe otherwise.
Secondly, opponents take the fact that CC focuses more on critical thinking and less rote learning as dictating teaching methods. I find this objection to be hysterical. Partly because one of the objections is that CC is an indoctrination from the Federal level. Yes, teaching kids to think critically—giving them the skills to make up their own minds and form their own opinions—is indoctrination. Telling kids exactly what they have to remember—how they have to think—is not. Right. I also have this ocean front property in NW Iowa that I would like to sell you.
The CC website does nothing but give educators an idea as to where kids should be at the completion of a grade. Now, Iowa’s Literacy Standard does give examples of texts but does not, in any way, insist that these texts must be used. But, there are probably those who consider it offensive that one of the example texts is “The Black Stallion.” It’s not like I ever read that in grade school. How dare we require our graduating youth to: Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses)? My goodness, requiring teens to understand how their government works and how the law is applied is just un-American. And even suggesting that one of the texts applicable to seniors is Common Sense by Thomas Paine is just plain indoctrination and socialism. I mean, it’s not like the pamphlet was vital to our Revolution or anything. (Paine made the argument for self-government in January of 1776. Many historians believe that this helped gain support for the Revolution. It also laid the groundwork for the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.)
I get it. Federal government is bad. It shouldn’t tell us what to do. The states should decide what to teach. Except, CC was created, in part, by the National Governors Association. From the very beginning states were involved. States get to decide to follow the standards or not. They get to decide how to teach the standards, should they decide to follow them. They get to tweak the standards as they see fit. For example, while not included in the CC, Iowa’s literary standard involves being able to successfully debate a topic. Minnesota was free to make the decision to implement the literary standards while not implementing the math standards. No state is penalized for not following the CC 100%.
A few opponents claim that CC is a broad federal overreach. That the Federal government is using grant money as a bribe to implement these changes and cutting funding to states who don’t choose to implement CC. Not true. Yes, the competitive Race to the Top grants requires states to adopt standards. But what the detractors fail to mention is that states could choose to adopt CC or a different career and college readiness curriculum. So, basically, the only requirement is that you make sure all of your student’s graduate High School ready for the real world. What does amount to the Federal government using grant money as a bribe is No Child Left Behind. You know, the federal law that restricts funding for schools who perform poorly on yearly aptitude tests. I am certain that is the law you are thinking of. .
Many point to CC as being a failure already since the states of New York and Georgia have already begun testing on CC and both states experienced a significant drop in test scores as a result. Of course, few seem to realize that this was expected. See, when you test high school students who began their education under NCLB and switch to something like CC, which requires more from the students, these students are not going to score as well on the tests. There are a number of reasons for that. First, CC is based on the principal that a good foundation in knowing and understanding concepts is essential for education. Kids taking the tests now, who are in high school, have not had this foundational background. Instead, they had an education system based around arbitrary scores on a test. A test states were allowed to write. Many of these states, lowered the standards of these tests to make it appear as if the students knew more than they did. Students are scoring lower because the tests are harder. They needed to be harder. In a few years, when elementary and middle school students grow to take these high school tests the scores will be more reflective of how CC works.
The problem now is that many of these kids began with a dumbed down overly simplistic form of education and are now required to undergo a more intense education. You know, one that actually teaches them stuff. Just stop and think for a moment. If our education system was fine, if our students were learning what they should be learning, the harder tests shouldn’t have been a problem. This is stuff they should already know. Stuff kids all around the world already know. We have fallen behind and it is time to catch up. After NCLB, Missouri’s test scores improved but they admitted that they lowered standards. What does this teach our children? That the test is so important we will make it easier so you can pass instead of actually teaching you what you need to know.
Some have accused the CC to be a form of data mining. Here’s the thing, the data is already being collected and has been collected for a while. See, this is another thing NCLB did. Schools needed to report test scores, progress reports, and teacher qualifications. These things impacted school funding. The school, itself, was made responsible for how an individual child performed on a test. Many have accused CC of being a one size fits all approach, yet Iowa guidelines clearly give plenty of flexibility regarding differently abled students. Students who are disabled in some way are not held to the exact same requirements as an average child. Teachers are allowed to read test questions and communicate with disabled students during testing as is most beneficial to the child’s individual needs. CC does not eliminate or effect the Individualized Education Plan. Once again, you must be thinking of NCLB.
No Child Left Behind, an actual law whereas Common Core is just a suggestion, mandated that all students be proficient at grade level. That was a one size fits all approach if there ever was one. The reason I say that is because by all students they really meant all students. I was a TA in a room for level 3 special education. For those not familiar with the codification, that means my students were severely to profoundly mentally disabled. The average mental age of my students was around 2 years of age though the average physical age was around 15. Despite this, my students were required, by law, to be taught grade level math, science and reading. That means we were required to essentially teach a 2yo, eighth grade level science. More importantly, if such students failed to perform funding to the schools was cut. So if you want to talk about a stupid, one size fits all, education program it should be this one. NCLB left no room for Special Education to be Special Education. Students in Special Ed have to take the same tests, the same way, in the same amount of time as average children. Teachers were not allowed to read questions out loud to blind students nor give differently abled students the help they needed to complete the tests. Common Core corrects this grossly discriminatory mistake. NCLB assumed that 100% proficiency could be attained because all students had the capability of being proficient. What NCLB failed to realize was that if this is true then there would be no need for Special Education. I cannot speak for all the states because I have only read the requirements for mine, but Iowa’s Common Core Standards address and fix this problem that NCLB left behind.
Those who care about their child’s education and the fate of this nation should support Common Core. The reason? Because a child going to school in rural Iowa should have the same education as a child in Manhattan. Now, I am not saying all the same opportunities (Iowa students would have a hard time taking AP courses through Columbia), nor the same technology (no way is a school in NW Iowa going to have cable internet) but what each child should have is a basic understanding of core principles. Right now, this is not happening. Though we compare states to education every year we are not giving an accurate picture because none of the standards are the same. If standards are different across state lines, county lines or district lines how do we know which schools are really performing and which ones are not? I actually, figured this out once. If I had gone to school in a nearby district I would have graduated High School with a 3.8 GPA. But it wouldn’t have been because I learned more. It would have been because the grading scale was more lenient. All those 90%s that I had received that were B’s in my High School were A’s in the other one. I still got the same percentage, learned the same amount…yet in one district I got a better grade.
We have become a global society. In order for the US to compete globally for future generations our education system must change. Right now, among 34 industrialized nations, we are 14th in literacy, 17th in science and 25th in math. Where we once had the number one spot in the world with the percentage of young people with degrees we are now number 10. Common Core standards are based on the standards of other nations. Thus, they are harder. As it sits Poland outperforms the US in education. Thus, turning all those ‘dumb Pollack’ jokes into ‘dumb American’ jokes. Doesn’t feel so hot, does it? Common Core challenges our students. It makes them work harder and gives them the potential to learn what they need to compete in a global market. There is nothing evil about making our children work harder in school. In fact, it benefits them in the long run as they will be able to find better jobs. This, in turn, helps our economy. Plus, we really should want to be number 1 again.
The loudest argument being indoctrination I feel the need to cover it again. In no way is CC indoctrination. Let me say that again, CC IS NOT INDOCTRIATION. How do I know that? Because CC teaches kids to think critically. You can’t indoctrinate the youth and teach them to think for themselves. Doesn’t work. Soviet Russia had an indoctrination form of education. There, students were not only told what they should know (much of it being outright lies) but also what they should think about what they should know. CC does not tell you what to think it teaches you how. Big difference. Indoctrination would be more like requiring Science classes around the nation to teach that evolution is merely a theory made up by atheist scientists and that God really created the earth in just 7, 24 hour, days. Yeah, see what I did there. If CC dictated what was to be taught and how it was to be taught the opponents would have a point. As it stands, they do not. CC is nothing more than a set of standards saying a child should be able to do this by the end of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. Grade. How that goal is met is left entirely up to the states, districts and individual teachers. It sets a national standard that evens the playing field of education across the 50 states. It helps to guarantee that Iowa can be just as competitive as New York when it comes to education. It gives all children the opportunity for the same education as everyone else. What the hell is wrong with that?