Understanding the Common Core: It’s Not What You Think

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 Since the development of the standards, the Common Core has created much controversy. In fact, 45 states originally adopted the Common Core standards, but the number has now dwindled to 42 with some states currently under review of the Common Core.

 So, what if your state never adopted the Common Core standards, or what if your state reversed the policy? I can’t tell you whether it’s good or bad. However, in this article, I will tell you the facts of the Common Core standards and the facts of education before the standards.

 What are the Common Core Standards?

 The Common Core Standards are often misunderstood by parents and media outlets. There has been much outrage over certain “Common Core” practices in the news lately. I say Common Core with quotation marks because these are not actually Common Core practices, but instead the practices of the teacher, school, or district. The Common Core Standards do not tell teachers what to teach. Instead, the Common Core Standards are shared goals and expectations— it is NOT curriculum. Local teachers, principals, and superintendents make those decisions for their school districts.

 Before the Core

 Before the Common Core, each state developed their own set of reading and math standards. Just like the Common Core standards, these were general ideas of what students should know, not specific curriculum for the year. These standards were different from state-to-state. A student in one state could be required to learn something completely different than a student in another. This posed a few problems for teachers and students, and I will explain them to you. But first, pretend that you’re a 4th grade teacher for just a minute…

 It’s the beginning of the school year. You have a classroom full of students (let’s say 30). Chances are you have a couple of students who have moved to your school’s town from a different state. You try to welcome them and make them feel at home— it’s a traumatic experience for a student to move. On top of the personal issues, your new students may be feeling uneasy because your “review” week of fractions is not a review for these students— they’ve never seen fractions before. Now, you know the students who haven’t moved know fractions because they were taught by your friend down the hall. But, these students’ old states did not have a standard for fractions in 3rd grade, so they have never seen them before. As a result, these students are struggling to keep up with your review, which probably makes them feel a little inadequate.

 “Wouldn’t it be great to give these students who move an easier transition academically?” you think.They have enough personal issues when they move as it is.

 Next, let’s say you have a textbook for your mathematics class from a major textbook company. It’s a little bland, you think, and some lessons seem to be half-heartedly written. You’re definitely not impressed with the effort these companies put into making your textbook. Some standards aren’t even covered because the textbook’s newest edition hasn’t been released yet. But, think about the textbook company’s side of things— they have to make a textbook for every state’s curriculum. That’s 50 textbooks. It’s not a lucrative task to accomplish. So, they may cover too little or too many standards in the book, or they may slap on a label that says it follows your state’s curriculum. They haven’t put in the time and effort to create a great textbook for you and your students. It wouldn’t benefit them to do that.

 You grumble to yourself, “I wish textbook companies would make my state’s standards a priority!”

 Because of the bland textbooks, you go online to look up a fun activity for your students. Let’s say you’re still on fractions. You find a great idea from a fellow teacher and think about how fun it would be for your students. The problem? That teacher is from a different state— she has different standards to follow. So, even though you found a great resource, you still have to tweak it to fit your own needs. As busy as you are, you think,

 “Why shouldn’t teachers from all over the country be able to collaborate and unify ideas?”

 

Those three questions were answered by the Common Core. The Common Core offers a unified curriculum so that there are no disparities between students in different states, textbooks can easily sell books across state lines, and teachers all over the country can collaborate.

 The Common Core Controversy

 It seems that the words “Common Core” create controversy wherever they are. When they first were introduced, the Common Core standards were promising the people of America a miracle.

 But they didn’t receive a miracle. Teachers had to learn an entirely new set of standards; teacher who had been teaching the same lessons from the same textbooks had to scrap those plans. The Common Core standards, plain and simple, are harder to teach. Instead of focusing on facts and information (which, in this day and age, is unhelpful because Google is at your fingertips), the Common Core boasts its 21st Century standards, which include analyzing and applying knowledge instead of recalling it. Students had to learn to think flexibly by answering open-ended questions (questions that do not have a definite answer); teachers had to learn how to teach this flexibility (Have you ever asked a 9 year old to solve a problem anyway they see fit? They freeze because of the pressure to get to the “right” answer). So, the miracle didn’t happen the first year it was released, but I believe after time and practice of the Common Core, teachers and students will learn this flexibility. We will see the results we were all impatiently waiting for in the first year of the Common Core’s release.

 On top of it all, standardized testing increased dramatically. Reports have said that students sometime spend as much as 25 hours per year taking standardized tests. Though people point the finger at the Common Core, this is actually the result of the No Child Left Behind Act. As I explained in myEvery Student Succeeds article, states will have more flexibility on how and when they issue these standardized tests.

 So, most of the controversy in the Common Core comes from a misunderstanding of the implications.

 What If the Common Core Standards Were Not Adopted in my State?

 I cannot say for a fact that this is good or bad, but I do strongly encourage you to question your state’s decisions strongly, so you can have an informed opinion.

• What are the problems with Common Core that your state does not like? How do its own standards fix this problem?

• How are your state standards different than the Common Core? Do they fit into 21st Century learning (Are students required to analyze and evaluate information instead of memorizing facts)?

• What kind of support are your state’s teachers receiving? Are they provided sufficient textbooks, information, and conferences about these standards?

• How is your state going to prepare your student for the ACT and SAT which have changed to reflect the Common Core standards?

 In short, it’s important to question the education policies and stay up-to-date on changes. I suggest that you go to your state’s Department of Education website and look at the information it provides for parents. You can also talk to your teacher and attend your district’s community meetings. You can always visit our blog for important policy information, as we try to keep you updated on information that may affect your student’s education.

 How do you feel about Common Core—is it a positive or negative change?

 Author: Becky Adams, English Program Manager at MathWizard, Inc.

 

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