Deconstructing the confusion surrounding the Common Core State Standards
Thursday, August 07, 2014
Across the country, children, parents and teachers of applicable states are spending their summers dreading the return of the controversial Common Core State Standards Initiative. If recent poll results are any indication, the fervor of last spring’s backlash against the standards hasn’t died down.
Explaining Common Core
Regardless of the name, the Common Core standards can be defined as, “a set of clear college- and career-ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics,” according to the national standards’ website.
State education chiefs and governors in 48 states came together to develop the Common Core. As of today, 43 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity have voluntarily adopted and worked toward implementing the standards.
To be clear, the standards aren’t federally implemented, and they aren’t mandatory. States have to opt-in, and once a state does, it alone is responsible for how it decides to implement the standards.
In many states unfortunately, the rollout hasn’t gone so well.
Last spring, New York-based comedian Louis CK went on his now infamous Common Core Standards rant.
He was not alone in his outrage and protest. According to the latest Siena Research Institute poll, nearly half of New York state voters want the implementation of Common Core standards to be stopped.
One size doesn’t fit all
The Common Core standards were created because some educators did not feel that American kids were allowed enough time to grasp the information they were being presented. They wanted children to be able to manipulate numbers and concepts in their minds, rather than simply regurgitate answers. They wanted kids to be problem solvers.
“My first exposure wasn’t until [recently],” said Crystal Ghee, a Maryland public school teacher. “I like that there’s a common thread between jurisdictions and that there’s a common language. That’s a plus.”
Some teachers aren’t as positive about the possible repercussions to students’ education. Another Maryland public school teacher, who asked to be referred to as Lisa, expressed a decent amount of pessimism.
“For me, the standards’ success depends on the subject. I love the math, and I love what they’re doing with that part of the standards. But the verbal,” expectations, are too high, Lisa lamented. “The [standards] are asking children to do things that I didn’t do until I was in high school.”
Some of these expectations include requiring third grade to master research-based writing. This includes finding facts and information, citing sources and then taking those facts and putting them into their own words.
“To me it’s ridiculous,” Lisa began. “[I have] kids in my class with disabilities. Different children have different learning barriers. It’s hard to teach Common Core in a way that meets everyone’s needs. You will drive yourself crazy trying to.”
In a perfect situation, the standards could work, she explained. But everyone would have to speak English; no one could be special education.
Unfortunately, that’s not possible. The standards don’t fit every child, and all of the stress ends up on the shoulders of teachers.
Expectations of teachers
According to Maryland’s website for its College and Career-Ready Standards, “Educational standards provide the foundation for a curriculum — establishing what students need to learn, but not dictating how those standards should be taught.” This is a sore spot for some teachers who feel the Common Core’s vagueness leaves them out in the cold when it comes to meeting expectations.
A lot of the school materials aren’t written to the new standards. Nor are there any corresponding materials, paperwork or worksheets. There’s nothing to send home. In the end, many teachers are being asked to create the materials themselves.
The anxiety doesn’t end there. There are some instances where teacher ratings by be tied to test scores.
According to a poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Public Mind, there is a general skepticism among the more than 800 residents about the new national Common Core State Standards and whether it is fair to use standards-driven tests when considering a New Jersey teacher’s rating.
Approximately 74 percent of those polled were against the use of standardized testing results as a reason to penalize teachers. Only half of those polled supported using results as a reason to reward them.
Several states have gone as far as to appeal their adoption of the Common Core standards. Some education groups, many led by teachers as well as parents, feel that the standards were implemented without the proper feedback of educators.
According to one lawsuit filed that includes six educators and parents as plaintiffs, the Utah school board violated state law by adopting standards without input from parents and educators.
Missouri actually went through with a repeal. Recently, Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill to replace the national Common Core education mandates with Missouri’s own set of criteria.
If it’s hard for teachers, it may be doubly as hard for parents, many of whom are having a tough time catching up with the new teaching methods.
Louis CK may be the most famous parent going through the struggle, but he is not alone by far.
For parents, who have been taught what is – in their minds at least – perfectly good techniques to find correct answers, this new process-based style of education can be catastrophically confusing. This is especially true when it comes to math.
As it turns out, many parents are clueless to what their kids are being asked to do.
Many school systems address this problem by posting as much information as possible about the Common Core standards on their websites. Maryland, for example, provides rudimentary information about the standards, as well as information about how the change in education standards will affect them and what will now be required of them.
Whether similar responses by the state will help turn the tide of negativity surrounding the standards’ rollout remains to be seen.
What is certain is that the states that chose to opt-in may now have to answer questions they may not have anticipated. Currently, there is a growing number of parents, teachers and educational organizations who are beginning to question whether adopting the standards was the right choice to make for the future of our nation’s students, as well as the sanity of its teachers and parents.
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