By now everyone interested in homeschooling has heard the uproar about the Common Core State Standards and has embraced either a pro or con opinion about state implementation of the program in public schools across the U.S. The important issue may not be whether Common Core is good or bad, but whether or not the “good/bad” decision is made based on an emotional reaction to something we may have read or heard about Common Core, or is based on the facts about what the Standards are and what they are not.
A good place to start – at least for informational purposes – might be the official definition of Common Core as provided by the official home of the Common Core State Standards at http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/ . Whether we agree with it or not, this is the definition upon which the standards were established:
“The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.”
The Common Core site goes on to say that “For years, the academic progress of our nation’s students has been stagnant, and we have lost ground to our international peers. Particularly in subjects such as math, college remediation rates have been high. One root cause has been an uneven patchwork of academic standards that vary from state to state and do not agree on what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.”
FORMATTING THE DEBATE
Now that we have the “just the facts” program definition out of the way, let’s look at what’s being said about Common Core on both sides of the discussion. This is not an easy task because discussions about the Common Core Standards are so polarized that it’s hard to get people who disagree with one another to conduct any semblance of a rational conversation about the topic. The debate has become a “my way or no way” fight over ideas from both sides that are often based on myths about the content and quality of the Common Core program.
Before we go on, it might be good to stop and consider who really “started” Common Core. Although the standards might seem “new” to many, the truth is that the concept goes back to at least 2008 to former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano who, as 2006-07 chair of the National Governors Association, wrote an education initiative (as does each NGA chair) that had a strong focus on improving math and science education. She concluded that America did not, at that time, have an internationally competitive education system. To address the problem, Napolitano created a task force including recognized higher education experts whose final report eventually became the “building blocks” of what is now known as the Common Core State Standards. (http://townhall.com/columnists/rachelalexander/2013/03/18/common-core-whats-hidden-behind-the-language-n1537017 .)
In response to teachers’ and educators’ concerns that the voices of those who will be responsible for making Common Core happen in our schools have not been heard, the National Education Association talked with education professionals from 46 states that have already adopted Common Core. Most of these professionals expressed anxiety in relation to what they termed as “a lot of unanswered questions,” including:
- how to best implement the standards,
- how to train more teachers to implement the standards,
- how to help students master the new course content, and
- how new testing standards will be developed.
Interestingly, the NEA reported that, despite anxiety, hesitation and unanswered questions, “the overwhelming consensus of the educators we heard from is that the Common Core will ultimately be good for students and education.” A list of six reasons why educators believe this can be found online at http://neatoday.org/2013/05/10/six-ways-the-common-core-is-good-for-students .
On the flip side of the argument, the Washington Policy Center (an independent non-profit 501(c)(3) think tank dedicated to promoting sound public policy and free market solutions) lists the following four reasons “Why the Common Core is Bad for America:”
- The Common Core is the basis for a national curriculum and national test.
- Three hundred prominent policymakers and education experts warn the Common Core will close the door on innovation.
- The Common Core standards are of insufficient quality.
- The cost of the Common Core is considerable, yet unknown.
If you’re interested in reading the full explanation of these four discussion points, go to: http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/publications/notes/why-common-core-bad-america .
On the far right side of the “con” discussion, conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck and his followers believe that “Common Core is a back-door means for the government to spy on citizens and indoctrinate children” in what Beck called “an extreme liberal ideology.” (Source: http://www.usnews.com/news/special-reports/a-guide-to-common-core/articles/2014/02/27/who-is-fighting-against-common-core .)
The flip-side of Mr. Beck’s statement comes from the Common Core State Standards site which states: “There are no data collection requirements for states adopting the standards. Implementing the Common Core State Standards does not require data collection. The means of assessing students and the use of the data that result from those assessments are up to the discretion of each state and are separate and unique from the Common Core.” (http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/ .)
More practically speaking, the conservative Christian Home Educating Family Association (HEDUA) clearly states that it’s not the educational skill set requirements of the Standards that are problematic to their organization, but a political concern with the specter of Government control that puts them on the “con” side of the argument.
“We don’t oppose the development of the skills described in the Common Core Standards. They’re common sense. Parents and traditional textbooks and Christian curricula and worldview education have always identified them and exceeded them. What we oppose is top-down federal control and the imposition of a national curriculum and national standards.”
In response to this concern, the Common Core website clearly states that the Standards do not “tell teachers what to teach” and asserts that “Teachers know best about what works in the classroom. That is why these standards establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards.” (http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/ .)
A CALL TO ACTION
Whatever the outcome of the Common Core Debate, it is crucially important that each and every person attempting to form a decision or take a political position on the subject takes the time to read the standards in full. The text is long and complex, but coming to a decision as to the value or non-value of the program without a factual review of the Standards themselves, is simply stoking the already contentious and sometimes uninformed fire of dissension about Common Core.
It’s difficult to decide who has correctly interpreted Common Core Standards. The best way to discover what’s true and what’s false is to take the time to read the standards and decide for yourself.
The full Common Core Standards text can be found at www.corestandards.org .
Global Student Network offers BOTH Common Core and “non-Common Core” options.