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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Understanding Common Core and the Debate Surrounding It

Understanding Common Core and the Debate Surrounding It

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This post is meant to illuminate the debate around Common Core and its implementation. Add to it by sharing your perspective in the comments.

The world of American politics has never been afraid of intruding into the education system, but the debate about Common Core is heating up and making for some strange political bedfellows. Voices on the right fear losing local control, while some on the left are unhappy with the amount of testing involved. Common Core advocates say the new standards will improve student readiness and global competitiveness..

At the same time, a PDK/Gallup poll demonstrated that most Americans either don't know about the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or understand it.

What does it all mean and how will CCSS impact our classrooms? I hope to help answer these questions by pointing to key resources that explain the debate, clear up the persistent myths, and provide an opportunity for teachers, parents, and administrator to share their experiences implementing the new standards.

First the resources:

Now it's your turn. What's it been like implementing Common Core where you are? How are the students responding? Is there something you need that you're not getting? Share your experiences with us.

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Comments (26)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Diane Aoki's picture

In my experience teaching 5th grade math, I find that rote learning, rather than conceptual understanding and making math interesting, is valued in the Common Core. Forget about critical thinking, just do it. Don't ask why, just do it.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hi Diane- tell me more about your experience. I think I've seen a bunch of math curriculum that's very rigid for years and not very creative, but Common Core is about standards, not curriculum, so I'm interested in what's happening in your school.

Chris Van Arsdale's picture

Yes, I have read them. And I teach them every day. I am required to put a standard at the top of every lesson that I teach so the students know what I'm teaching them (don't tell my administrators that I don't do this every day). I also am required to, after I have graded my students' papers, convert their writing to a numerical assessment so that they can become a datapoint on a chart. I then discuss my data with other teachers so we can all decide what we all need to teach together in order to have all our data show growth. All this data gathering and growth must align with CCSS.

We are teaching to national standards and turning our children into fabulous test takers. All teachers have to do this the same way in every classroom, which further ensures that our students only see one way to learn and one way to think, the so-called "best practice". What does it do for my students' critical thinking, creativity, divergent thinking, and ability to challenge the status quo to see all the teachers doing the same things in the same classes across the nation?

I don't see that CCSS has changed us from a decade of testing protocols. We have found that NCLB and its tests did not work, and so we just upped the standards and the stakes and think this will be an improvement.

By the way, I teach in a very good suburban school district. Last year, I walked under a banner every day that said "Excellent with Distinction". So proud.

Diane Aoki's picture

[quote]Hi Diane- tell me more about your experience. I think I've seen a bunch of math curriculum that's very rigid for years and not very creative, but Common Core is about standards, not curriculum, so I'm interested in what's happening in your school.[/quote] Hawaii is a statewide school district and someone in power wanted all schools to have the same curriculum aligned to the common core. The idea was that we adopt statewide a curriculum that was also digital. Teachers who went to adoption meetings said that they did not like the digital curricula. But they had to rank them anyway. So we got one of the two that were "chosen." It's called GoMath. It's very textbook/worksheet oriented. The curriculum that we had before, investigations, was more hands-on and game-oriented to build conceptual understanding. GoMath gives token attention to conceptual understanding, but since the expectation is traditional algorithm, which is CC, rote learning it becomes. I really do think it's the CC that is driving this rote-oriented curriculum, because of the emphasis on the traditional algorithm.

Kristen Swanson's picture
Kristen Swanson
Teacher, Leader, Edcamper, Learner

Thanks everyone for sharing this dialogue. I think one thing that is really important to remember is the difference between standards and curriculum. Standards don't tell us how to teach, they simply give us a "floor by which to measure progress." Think of the standards as the building code. You can use building code to construct any number of amazing buildings.

chemtchr's picture

I've been interested in this discussion, because I'm curious to know what kinds of educators actually participate in Edutopia discussions. Several real teachers (like Diane) shared real experiences, and then CCSS promoters shared condescending boilerplate slogans, to dismiss those teachers' experience.

"Standards don't tell us how to teach, they simply give us a "floor by which to measure progress."

That must be an official corporate talking point, in exactly those words. In fact, the "assessment boundaries" that accompany the standards do tell us how to teach. Anybody coy enough to claim they "measure progress" is aware that their accompanying proprietary canned assessments control what is taught. They mandate subservience to them through very real threats of teacher firing, corporate take over of districts, and school closings.

Real teachers have seen the CCSS documents, and in fact have had them shoved down our throats repeatedly. The Emperor is naked. Listen to him describe his work, in his own words:

Diane Aoki's picture

Thank you, chemistry. The response about standards as building codes was very condescending, as if if you don't agree, you just don't understand. I would believe the pro CC more if they were honest about the testing, the travesty of which is exacerbated under the current admin. Sad to say, as I believed Obama could help us. The CC would be harmless if it weren't connected to high stakes. Because it is, our children, our reputations, our professions, are vulnerable. Organizations like Edutopia, nea, ASCD, etc have been paid big bucks to promote it. Is anyone untouched and can be honest? Only us ...

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

We have someone in our school district sitting on the committee working on the Common Core Standards, and so my information comes from her and from reading the standards, not from any lobbying group nor is this a paid or sponsored response.
Diane, I am starting to think the roll out is very different in different states, and this the experience isn't even across the Country. Here in PA, and in our District, there are new Keystone exams. We're not sure yet what the results will be as these are in the first year of implementation. Based on the Massachusettes experience, there was an initial score drop and then an incredible rise; in New York, the first rounds of tests showed a dip in scores, so we will have to see if there will be a rise in subsequent years.

I personally think we are testing kids too much, but moreover, aren't using the tests as being particularly diagnostic of an individual kid's abilities or difficulties and then helping them specifically in those areas. That should be the reason to test anyone- evaluation of progress and diagnostic of where they may have weak skills.

I guess I understand this is a big shift for some people, but I guess I don't understand the hostility and accusations of corruption by anyone who may not think the common core is evil. Isn't that a bit reductionist as well?

chemtchr's picture

You're in luck, Whitney. The "personalized learning" industry is growing rapidly, and making a hefty profit off the children in my district. It will get a big boost from the imposition of the CCSS tests. I don't know where you got your story about the "Massachusetts experience", though; the PARCC hasn't even rolled out here, yet.

The kids are already forced to sit in front of computers consuming proprietary programmed software, and there's nothing "personalized" about it. Arne Duncan's office has publicly proclaimed that the CCSS will create a uniform national market for automated delivery systems, so you appear to be well positioned on the technology committee of your Pennsylvania public school district.

Jeb Bush and his allies at ALEC have imposed virtual courses on unwilling children by legislated mandate, and of course they back the PARCC assessments (as well as other adaptive, personalized tools teachers and children don't want). The CC$$ is designed to hold us accountable to your business expansion, whether we want it or not. Can you see how that kind of aggression provokes mistrust among teachers?

I was hoping to find independent and creative hacker-type techies who hadn't bought into the CC$$ feeding frenzy, here on Edutopia. It looks more like a marketing association for your industry, though. You've gotten in on the ground floor of a new command economy.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

While I'm not currently in the classroom, I spend a lot of time listening to the teachers with whom I work. I can't say they represent the whole world of education- just a small piece of New Hampshire- but what I'm hearing from them is that CC is a relief from the mile- wide/ inch- deep standards we had before. Is it possible that there are really giant differences in the way CC is being rolled out from state to state and district to district? I'm confused because so many teachers I respect are coming down on different sides of this- and geography seems to be a factor in where they land.

I also wonder what folks think about this from Edweek? http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?DISPATCHED=true&cid=25983841&item=http%3A...

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