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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Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

A recent comment in this discussion treads awfully close to personal attack. While we encourage debate, the focus should be on what's being discussed, not the people involved.

chemtchr's picture

I agree the tone of my response was unnecessarily fierce, and I apologize. We are discussing aggressive business practices that attack and disenfranchise the community I serve, under the pretense of enforcing good educational practices on supposedly deficient public educators.

An entrepreneur asks, "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 ..."

Please understand, what I'm reaching for in this discussion is your own conscience, everybody. Dear God, that's Antioch up there; it was a beacon to me when I was a student myself. Am I wrong to believe it will remember itself, whether or not it is the recipient of a few million dollars from the Gates Foundation?

The Coalition of Essential Schools plays a mitigating role in the damage from test-based accountability, as far as I can see. Because some people are claiming that the Common Core will somehow promote constructivist learning environments, I am allowed to teach and share that rich legacy with my students and colleagues for a while. At the same time, the whole infrastructure that might support it is being swept away by the reality of the proprietary ThinkGate data portal and the oncoming PARCC assessments.

This is where the push-back has to be directed:
Common Core: Dollars and Data Mining, Part 2: Bill Gates

Chris Van Arsdale's picture

My experience after 24 years in the classroom says that the combination of national standards, high stakes testing, new teacher evaluation systems, and massive profits by the very corporations who villify public education and public educators has left me bitter and cynical. There is a huge conflict of interest when the people most responsible for national standards, testing both the students and the teachers, and providing the resources to pass the assessments are the ones making billions of dollars in profits from taxpayer money.

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; Elementary Library Media Specialist

"and the oncoming PARCC assessments."

Again, I think there's a big difference based on geography. New Hampshire is a Smarter Balance state- and a local control state. We have a HUGE amount of flexibility in the way we approach decisions about curriculum and instruction. I think that, perhaps, that's why teachers in our state find an opportunity for constructivist methods in the Common Core.

I wonder then, if those who are frustrated with what they perceive as poor use of data, over testing, a loss of control and a corporate agenda (and I'm not disputing that these things are real), need to focus their attention on the state and district policy makers and the testing companies rather than conflating it all into one heading of The Common Core. Might it not be more nuanced than just The Common Core is Bad?

In my work at Antioch, I do a lot of training around social change and activism. One thing we've learned (and that we teach) is that you have to have laser-like focus on the specific thing you want to change, but that you have to see the larger system at play. Focus on the things in your circle of influence- the things you can impact- rather than railing against unseen forces that are beyond your control. Push hard enough on the things within your circle of influence and the larger system will eventually shift as a result.

That being said, let's be clear about one thing: Edutopia doesn't take a stand on the good or bad of Common Core- or any educational policy. It's here as a clearinghouse for information and solutions for teachers who are looking to survive and thrive in the system as it currently is. If the system shifts and teachers start staying they need tools to deal with other issues, then Edutopia will meet that need as it emerges. I respect that the organization is working very hard to stay neutral on a topic that's so divisive.

chemtchr's picture

Laura, that's not a neutral reply. The CCSS is being imposed from above and outside, through political machinations. You characterize our opposition to it in EXACTLY the same words as the most openly oppressive corporate hacks:
"...rather than railing against unseen forces that are beyond your control."

No, the thing is, those forces aren't "beyond our control". Your claim that they are constitutes an endorsement of the coercive apparatus that is attacking public education.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

One more note from me: Please let's be clear that Edutopia doesn't take a position on the Common Core State Standards. We don't lobby for or against them. That's not our mission.

What we do is to support teachers, many of whom are in the position of having to implement the new standards. We help them find ways to improve education within whatever framework they are working at the moment. We choose not to neglect their needs (and those of their students) while the larger debate continues.

chemtchr's picture

Samer, Edutopia endorses the Common Core every single day, and you are supporting it in your own attempts to pretend you don't.

The "resources" you presented in your introduction are political propaganda arguments that all support the political imposition of the CCSS. The "Myths and Realities" deny historical reality, and are factually inaccurate and misleading. How is that neutral?

The teachers who ventured here to disagree with that position have been blandly dismissed and insulted (our objections constitute "railing"). Your endorsement of the coercive aspects of the CCSS imposition is the most troubling feature of your false neutrality.

The actual content available on the site includes "brain based" advice that we can help our students psychologically withstand the destructive coercion of the CCSS by imposing it more uniformly throughout their lessons.

The vendors who flock to your Common Core resources feature understand the reality of the Core they're marketing to. It isn't the idyllic deep-probing investigation Sawchuck paints in his Smithsonian fluff piece, but instead this helpful nightmare:

That's the discussion you're trying NOT to understand.

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

Chemtchr, That was a great article you posted, thank you. I was pretty dismayed by Duncan's last comment as well. Here's where I stand on the issue overall:
I found that the NCLB testing led to a LOT of teaching to the test, and an emphasis on giving kids "on the bubble" the equivalent of Stanley Kaplan coaching to boost numbers to make the adults in the District look good. There wasn't any more learning going on, just a lot of drill and kill and test strategies, and I think that's awful for kids and teachers alike.
Now that our district is looking at Common Core, my son has to do things like write an essay every marking period in Band. He thinks it's stupid. I kind of like the fact that he has a prompt like "explain your instrument to a space alien who has never seen it before, how it works, how it makes music, and why you like it and chose it over the other instruments." It makes him think, at least once in a while, that each subject matter is not isolated from one another, and that he considers things about his music that he might otherwise take for granted and never really process. Plus, he finally gets a prompt that is so much better than "What did you do this weekend?" and actually requires a little imagination.

There's a lot going on in schools that I'm not crazy about. That's part of the reason why I hang out here on Edutopia. Not only to find out what others are experiencing, but trying to make things just a little bit better by sharing ideas and taking the great ones back to our teachers and District to plant seeds that will hopefully bloom into something better.

I see our teachers feeling beaten up and beaten down with everything from the pressure of reduced budgets to new programs, and never feeling that they are appreciated on any side, by any body. Sure, the luncheons and breakfasts by PTOs and holiday gifts are okay, but what do we need to do, day to day, to make teacher's jobs a little better and a little less stressful, so they have the energy and interest in doing what's best for the kids in the classroom?
Beyond the common core debate, can you tell me what we as parents can do, other than making sure our kid is prepped and ready, to make your job easier and more enjoyable? I worry so much that we're sucking the joy out of teaching, and I've seen a lot more seasoned, great teachers start to retire because they just "cant take it anymore" and that worries me more than anything else. So how do we fix that very local problem, while not ignoring the bigger external issue about whether common core is dreadful or at least a step towards trying to find some common ground between states so if families move, we know that third graders all are learning the same skills, even if they are studying different books or topics?

Jude's picture

PARC assessment is simply a deal for HP to sell outdated hardware (only DESKTOPS allowed for PARC assessment in my school system) and book publishers to scoop up public funds for testing software ($35.00 per student). This is nothing new or innovative.

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