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.