In defense of *a* Common Core

Yesterday, March 24, 2014, it was announced that the State of Indiana withdrew from the Common Core standards, as Governor Mike Pence signed a bill to withdraw the state from participation. The reasons for the bill included that the government feel education should be determined on a more local (state) level.

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Indiana’s state education professionals have until July 1 to complete a new state-approved standards for K-12 education. (Find out more here.)

In many ways, I’m pleased to see that Indiana stood up and said “no, the Common Core isn’t what we’re looking for.” The Common Core was developed to help education in our country succeed. In a way, it was developed to support No Child Left Behind, with the idea that you can’t test children on concepts they haven’t been taught and, therefore, the government needs to make sure that all students are being taught the same.

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I’m not a proponent of No Child Left Behind. It failed our students for several reasons, two of the biggest being that not every child can or should learn to the same abilities at the same time–every one is different. The second being that when we focus too much on a test, we lose the opportunity to help our children grow.

[This is a nutshell of history of the Common Core. Read History of Common Core State Standards for more specific details.]

No Child Left Behind was left behind and replaced by many states adopting tests to ensure their students are learning and the teachers are teaching and everyone is reaching a point of success within the state. Sadly, the problems of No Child Left Behind continue to exist as teachers are still forced to teach to the test and expectations for every child are the same–there’s no room for children to be “different.” We’re forcing a life not unlike those who live in Madeleine L’Engle’s Camazotz, under the control of a single mind.

Assessments and evaluations are important parts of education. However, depending on just one evaluation to determine the effectiveness of a teacher or school or how a child is doing is a fault in the system. A single assessment isn’t taking into consideration the testing environment, the children’s personal health, or their individual needs and learning capabilities of the individual child. Basing individual success on one single assessment is like looking at snowflakes under a microscope and expecting them to be identical.

It was found that national assessments weren’t possible without all of the schools having identical, or at least similar, curriculum, based on the same academic standards. Therefore, about 6 years ago, an the Common Core Standards Initiative was created to help all schools in our country follow standards that keep our children in line, learning with similar goals (sub-standards.)

in defense of a common core

Written and confounded appropriately, having a Common Core for our country isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not the concept of a Common Core that’s failing us, it’s the implementation.

In the “old” way, each school system developed their own curriculum, based on the standards they felt were appropriate for their students. Oftentimes, the districts or counties adopted standards, goals or expectations from other authorities — state Departments of Education had written them, as well as private institutions. It’s not like when we were in school, teachers just taught whatever they liked and felt their class needed. Teachers had to follow a list of goals listed in the curriculum to make sure their students were progressing and learning in the appropriate direction.

Many states developed State Standards, similar to the Common Core, to ensure that all public schools in their state followed similar curricula, so that any student graduating from a public school in that state had the same basic education.

Essentially, the Common Core is created to ensure that all students in America graduate with the same basic education. This ensures that everyone in our country is minimally prepared for the real-world. It guarantees everyone comes out of school ready to go with minimum Language Arts and Mathematics requirements.

This isn’t a bad thing.

It’s not bad or wrong to expect that everyone who has a Diploma from a public school in the United States of America has achieved a certain minimal level of education. It’s a good thing, actually. It’s a guarantee that our peers across our country are similarly educated. If you have a Certificate of Graduation and you’re hired to work a job, your employer has a guarantee that you know basic algebra and can read and write to a certain degree, as specified in the Common Core. This is a good thing.

What’s wrong or bad is when the lessons to ensure our students reach that minimal level of education are taught and taught and over-taught so that they’re the only thing that’s taught. It’s bad when the people writing and approving the Common Core standards don’t have the background in education to understand that some standards must come before others. (For the record, many of the Common Core developers do have educational backgrounds.) It’s bad when the expectations in the Common Core are dumbed-down so much that we’re no longer worried about our students being left behind, we’re concerned about whether they’ll get ahead. It’s wrong when developing lessons to ensure our children pass tests takes the time of our teachers away from developing lessons that will ensure our children learn to reach above and beyond their abilities.

Indiana has joined Virginia, Texas, Alaska and Nebraska in not adopting the Common Core, while other states have not fully implemented and, still others have only adopted English, not Math. There are problems with the Common Core as they’re written, many of them, and even more problems with assessment. But Common Core will help our country to meet minimums.

How to make Common Core better

I’d like to see some of the educational power given back to the states. I’d like to see a very basic Common Core adapted for our country, something that states that, at a minimum, all students will be able to do X, Y and Z before graduation (or commencement to the next grade.) I’d like to see notations for opportunities where students can apply for waivers based on their specific needs, or adaptations for their needs.

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I want the Common Core to be less extensive. I’d like to see it be a series of expectations and then allow the states and the local governments to expand into the standards and sub-standards that meet the needs of their communities.

Additionally, I’d like to see the government recognize that creativity and higher level thinking are areas to be expanded upon. Perhaps a less common core–a series of guidelines for students to achieve above and beyond, so that once a student is succeeding, he can move away from the time spent focusing on the Common Core basics, and into extensions. I’m not certain the best way to do this, but it’s currently needed in our schools.

I’d like to see an acknowledgement from the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) (the sponsors of the Common Core Standards Initiative) that agrees that one assessment does not stand for the end of the line. I’d like to see powerful people in education acknowledge that students learn and express themselves differently and that one single evaluation should never be used as a determination for student placement, student achievement, school achievement and other areas. I’d like to see our education system become more open minded.

Finally, in regards to assessments, rather than requiring schools to administer tests year after year, I’d like to see states adopt a system where the students take state assessments every few years, provided the school consistently passes the tests. A school achieving 90% or higher on a test shouldn’t need to prove itself year after year, it’s unlikely that a school will suddenly fail out of no where. If a school achieves a 90% or higher on an assessment, they should be excused from that test for a minimum of two years (or more.) This allows more educational time for all teachers and students to focus on real education, and less on preparing for and taking tests.

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© 2014, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.

About Julie Meyers Pron

Julie Meyers Pron has written 1504 post at Julieverse.

mom of 3 and wife, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse and VlogMom, columnist for Rusty & Rosy, Home Made Simple and P&G Everyday, the Social Media and Child Development Specialist at PlayWow, and a team member of Splash Creative Media. Julie is a PTOer, volunteer, elementary educator and that's just the beginning of the list. A marketing strategist and freelance writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, cooking and exercise.

Comments

  1. says

    Julie, thanks for this post! I agree the implementation has been hard. I believe it should have been roled up in a much slower fashion. Taking kids who have been trained in this “teach to the test” era and then telling them, “this year you have to think for yourself” is a big part of why we’ve had so much push back.

    I agree with your sentiment on assessment! I love the idea of intermittent assessment years!

  2. says

    Your take on this whole matter sounds sensible. I will always opt for smaller govt, and more power in the hands of the states, and this is a prime example. I wish/hope/pray that whoever it is in charge of this mess will come to their senses and figure out a way to make the common core work for everyone. And I wish i still lived in VIrginia! LOL.

    • says

      I am paying so much attention to the educational plans of the Gubernatorial candidates in PA this spring. It’s definitely going to be the number one reason for my vote. I think things are going to be very different in PA with the next gov. And, really it can only get better.

  3. says

    It’s a shame that so many of these programs get implemented before they have even been fully fleshed out by qualified individuals. We won’t be entering the public school system for a few reasons, but front and center is the current implementation of Common Core. I will say that involved parents make all the difference, no matter what type of school our kids are in. Yours are lucky to have you in their corner.

    • says

      involved parents make a HUGE difference. Not everyone can be there all the time, so it’s always important to ask how you can be involved, even from home. The more involved a parent, the more influence the parent has at the school, and the better understanding of what is really going on.

  4. says

    Hoping some sense starts making its way to our local schools soon as well! I pity the kids in school that have been trying to get an education while politics has been using them to experiment policies on.

  5. says

    So well written, thank you. This does overflow on to homeschoolers so I’m trying to stay aware of what is going on. I agree with what you wrote and think that you have good ideas on how to make it work better.

    • says

      Thanks Jendi. I’m often curious how Homeschoolers work with the Common Core and if they (you) find yourself having to shift they’re (you’re) goals and curriculum program. Have things changed for you as CC has been implemented (though semi-implemented and officially on hold in PA)?

  6. says

    Julie, I love this! You have a fair assessment of what’s wrong with today’s Common Core. I wish we wouldn’t spend so much time trying to make all of America’s children the same and start to celebrate their unique potential and diversity!

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