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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The furor over the Common Core

The furor over the Common Core

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During the depths of the North East winter in February 2014, I had a chance to attend one of the three forums on the Common Core Standards organized by New York State senator Greg Ball's office at the Lakeland Copper Beach middle school in Yorktown Heights. I was quite astonished at the turnout. Nearly 100 students and parents showed up. The event was organized primarily to get student inputs on the new Common Core standards that were in varying stages of implementation in New York. Senator Ball has also launched a petition to stop Common Core in NYS on his Senate website that now has over 7,000 signatures. In early February, the State Board of Regents of New York voted to delay the implementation of the Common Core Standards until 2022. And, that is just the state of New York. Politicians, Educators & Public Policy officials across the country have been up in arms over the Common Core standards. It is hard to imagine any other public policy initiative aimed at K-12 Education in recent past that has generated so much controversy.

Although the states across the U.S. adopted the Common Core standards, their implementation across the country has been choppy - to say the least. The Common Core Inc. - A non-profit organization that was started to help schools design curriculum plans has not been effective in rolling out the implementation of the Common Core standards. There has been much wrangling among educators as to whether the standards are strong enough to prepare students for STEM careers. According to a report published by the Pioneer Institute in October 2013 - (“Lowering the Bar - How Common Core Math Fails to Prepare High School Students for STEM”), co-authors James Milgram (Professor of Mathematics Emeritus, Stanford University and Sandra Stotsky (Professor of Education Emerita, University of Arkansas) argue that the Common Core deliberately leaves out major topics in pre-calculus and trigonometry. According to them, this leaves students at major disadvantage when they start their undergraduate work in support of a bachelor’s degree in a STEM area. In contrast, parents, students & even lawmakers have been voicing their anger and frustration over the homework & testing regimen mandated by the Common Core standards. In April 2013, the New York Times reported the complaints from parents and students in the New York area school districts with respect to the level of difficulty with the tests. According to the Times, the complaints were plentiful: the tests were too long; students were demoralized to the point of tears; teachers were not adequately prepared. Some parents, long skeptical of the emphasis on standardized testing, forbade their children from participating.

All of the above begs the question: how is a parent, a student, a teacher or a school administrator supposed to prepare oneself in the state of confusion, uncertainty and the lack of resources that exists within schools today in meeting the challenges posed by the choppy adoption of the Common Core standards? Fortunately, the technology industry has a few answers for us. By leveraging online self-directed resources such as Khan Academy or assisted resources such as online tutoring firms (in the spirit of full disclosure – the poster serves on the Board of Advisors of an online tutoring firm) , both parents and students have the tools to help them navigate the challenges posed by the Common Core standards. Firms such as Renaissance Learning are working on integrated teaching, learning & assessment solutions that make it easier to deploy the Common Core standards.

Any thoughts/suggestions?

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Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

I appreciate your summary of what you saw, but don't think I agree with your conclusion. If the standards can't be met in current school environments, either the standards, the structure of school, or both, need to be changed in some way to make sure they match up.

(1)
Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator

I agree. While I'm certainly beginning to understand that the CCSS are being implemented (and impacting students, teachers and schools) in VASTLY different ways, and while I can see that there are issues and problems that are going to require our attention and our best creative efforts, I think that ultimately they are going to have to be resolved within the public school setting if they're going to achieve their goal. (Though I think that many of the problems surfaced by the CCSS have little to do with the standards and much to do with inequities and biases in our schools- but that's another post for another day.)

Jessica B.'s picture

As a new educator, I do not have any qualms about the common core standards. I absolutely love the idea of having a common baseline everywhere. However, what most schools (in my experience) aren't willing to do is add to those base standards. The CC standards are a minimum. There are many gaps in the standards which only emphasizes the need for each school to fill them with what they see as important. That is the freedom part that everyone seems to believe doesn't exist. If your school wants to hold the students to a higher standard than CC (and most schools do), it is that school's responsibility to fill in those gaps. The CC standards were meant to be simply a baseline because there are states that weren't even meeting those minimums. I have taught in one of those states, and something like the CC is challenging because they need to step up their curriculum just to meet those base standards. Once all states are at that base, then it is up to the schools to launch their own campaign with standards of their own with a higher level of rigor (if they so choose).

I am getting tired of hearing people say "I don't want to federal government telling me what to do!" The thing is when we left it up to each state, not every state was able to maintain a high level of learning. Some schools saw that freedom as a chance to give our students less education and more "fun" games. The bottom line is, the U.S. has astonishingly low test scores. We need to be able to compete within our global market. The CC standards are one way to help us as a nation get there.

(1)
Jessica B.'s picture

As a new educator, I do not have any qualms about the common core standards. I absolutely love the idea of having a common baseline everywhere. However, what most schools (in my experience) aren't willing to do is add to those base standards. The CC standards are a minimum. There are many gaps in the standards which only emphasizes the need for each school to fill them with what they see as important. That is the freedom part that everyone seems to believe doesn't exist. If your school wants to hold the students to a higher standard than CC (and most schools do), it is that school's responsibility to fill in those gaps. The CC standards were meant to be simply a baseline because there are states that weren't even meeting those minimums. I have taught in one of those states, and something like the CC is challenging because they need to step up their curriculum just to meet those base standards. Once all states are at that base, then it is up to the schools to launch their own campaign with standards of their own with a higher level of rigor (if they so choose).

I am getting tired of hearing people say "I don't want to federal government telling me what to do!" The thing is when we left it up to each state, not every state was able to maintain a high level of learning. Some schools saw that freedom as a chance to give our students less education and more "fun" games. The bottom line is, the U.S. has astonishingly low test scores. We need to be able to compete within our global market. The CC standards are one way to help us as a nation get there.

(1)
Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

I appreciate your summary of what you saw, but don't think I agree with your conclusion. If the standards can't be met in current school environments, either the standards, the structure of school, or both, need to be changed in some way to make sure they match up.

(1)

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