A Response: Top Ten Things Parents Hate About the Common Core

Posts will come less frequently over the next couple weeks. I have begun a ghostwriting project on the universal basic income. I will certainly have to share my findings when I am done, but it has turned out to be far more challenging a project than I had imagined.

Over the last few weeks, we have discussed the positives and negatives of the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS). From the reasonable amount of information I have gathered, the idea appears to be sound, and intentions appear to be beneficent. We have certainly seen some severe shortcomings in the implementation of the new standards, particularly in the area of assessments, but overall this appears to be a positive step in the reform of American education. I tend to be rather progressive in my politics, but there seems to be far more political upheaval over the transition than I believe is warranted. In my opinion, this is a result of conservative ideologues pushing misinformation about the program in order to confuse the public into maintaining the status quo. One of the most popular posts that has been circulating bullhorn circles has been the article, which I believe originated in September of 2014 on the blog The Federalist by managing editor Joy Pullman entitled “Top Ten Things Parents Hate About the Common Core.” I would like to address these points individually and evaluate their veracity and logic. 1. The Senseless, infuriating math. Right off the bat, I must address one of the greatest misconceptions about the CCSS. Critics like Pullman believe that the teaching methods popping up in class and the “infuriating” math problems are a result of the CCSS. This is FALSE. The CCSS are no more than they pretend to be: standards. The CCSS allows complete freedom for the states, localities, and schools to implement teaching methods and curricula as they see fit. Nowhere in the math standards is there reference to  confusing block diagrams, asinine number line tricks, or round-a-bout number transfer schemes. In one of the viral posts going around the net is the response of a father and his response to a math problem that confused both him and his son. The father points to his degree in electrical engineering to substantiate the difficulty of the problem, but it must have been a while since he has done any math because the problem took me about 14 seconds to answer. I will admit that it is a stupid question, but it is a product of a new curriculum (developed at a level below that of the federal government) trying to teach one of the core standards which reads, “Students understand multidigit number up to 1,000 written in base 10 notation recognizing that the digits in each place represent amounts of thousands, hundreds, tens, or ones.” (Common Core). Pullman only rants on the teaching method (already shown to have its origins beyond the CCSS), but she claims these are the “least efficient ways” to do math. There is no support for this claim other than the fact that the methods are different from those that she learned. Yes, the methods are difficult, and maybe they’re not the best, but if we can lay a foundation of logical reasoning for our children, we may raise a generation who can think for themselves instead of parroting illogical rants of apathetic pundits. 2. The Lies Pullman lists a handful of what she calls “half-truths.” Fully evaluating each of these claims would take far more time than I’m willing to employ, but I can provide some qualifying information. First half-truth: common core is internationally bench-marked. Please see my discussion on the subject in Proponents of the Common Core. Second half-truth: the common core is evidence-based. There is only one piece of evidence I need to justify an overhaul of the educational system: the United States spends more on public education per capita than any other country (even the ones that subsidize college) yet our students still score in the middle of the pack among developed nations (“U.S. Education”, 2013). Maybe the CCSS won’t work, but it’s probably going to be better than whatever we’re doing now. Third half-truth: the standards get students college- and career-ready. Pullman points to only one article to support the claim that students are only “community college ready.” This paper almost solely attacks the development of the standards, providing very few details about the final standards themselves. The only specifics the paper criticizes are the final points of the math standards, which they claim, do not get students to the point of college readiness (Milgrim & Stotsky, 2013). However, the claim that having students only studying algebra through high school will not have them ready for college is empirically false. One of the aims of the CCSS is to reduce the number of topics studied and increase the depth of knowledge in those topics, which will require the removal of some subjects. Granted this is anecdotal evidence, but my own experience with precalculus in high school (a main component the article asserts would have prepared students) did very little to help me as I began calculus. Not to mention, I went to college with many people who were launched directly into calculus courses without a precalculus prep course, and they did just fine. Calculus is essentially just a fancy way to add and subtract. I believe that I would have had a decided advantage if I had a better foundation in algebra. Fourth and final half-truth: the standards are rigorous. Pullman claims they are nothing more than rigid. I point back to my previous paragraph to answer this. The standards only provide objectives and some suggestions. How schools and teachers reach those objectives is completely their choice. I can’t imagine a way to implement standards that is less rigid.

to be continued…

“Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.” Corestandards.org. The Common Core State Standards Initiative. Web. 31 Dec. 2014. <http://www.corestandards.org/wp-content/uploads/Math_Standards.pdf&gt;. Milgrim, R. James, and Sandra Stotsky. “Can This Country Survive Common Core’s College Readiness Level?” Stanford.edu. Stanfor University, 1 Sept. 2013. Web. 31 Dec. 2014. <ftp://math.stanford.edu/pub/papers/milgram/ZimbaMilgramStotskyFinal.pdf>. Pullman, Joy. “Top Ten Things Parents Hate About Common Core.” The Federalist. 24 Sept. 2014. Web. 31 Dec. 2014. <http://thefederalist.com/2014/09/24/top-ten-things-parents-hate-about-common-core/&gt;. “U.S. Education Spending Tops Global List, Study Shows.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 25 June 2013. Web. 31 Dec. 2014. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-education-spending-tops-global-list-study-shows/&gt;.

Common Core Testing

With 43 states still implementing at least part or some form of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), changes in testing are a national issue that is plaguing schools and politicians as they prepare for the end of year exams next spring. Although some states have yet to fully implement the new standards, this is the year that they will begin to be accountable for providing new testing data. This may turn out to be the biggest failure of the CCSS implementation.

Many states are still scrambling to develop tests independently or work with vendors to get a test that will accurately test the students’ knowledge of their new curriculum. This entire process, though, is plagued with issues.

First of all, fifteen states adopted the standards with modifications. This means that a single, normed test cannot be used across all state lines. Some states merely changed the name and a few minor details, while others (namely Minnesota) have only adopted part of the standards. This leads to a challenge for test-makers to accurately test each set of standards. While many vendors claim to have CCSS-compliant tests, educators and administrators are skeptical. A study in Iowa found weak alignment between their test standards and the CCSS. Unfortunately, there isn’t much time to verify these tests, and the real test (of the tests) will be its first iteration this spring.

Another major problem is that of the states that are using the CCSS (even the ones using them verbatim), many have not yet fully made the transition. Even those that have still have students who are struggling to adjust because they have been in an old system for many years. With so many students in the middle ground, the fairest way to write a test would be to the partially-implemented standards they have been working with. This hybrid test would not only be extremely difficult to make accurately, it would only be useful once. For all practical purposes, the students will need to take tests (designed to be) aligned with the fully-implemented standards. In New York (a state already using CCSS tests designed by Pearson), abysmal pass rates have had parents and educators alike up in arms over the transition. Educators and administrators point to major issues with the test (Burris & Tannis, 2014), but I believe much of the problem is that the students simply are not ready.

The implementation of the CCSS represents a dramatic shift in the material schools must teach and the way they will need to teach it. In many cases, it demands a complete change in the way our children think. Some of the logical reasoning in math and the complex reading in ELA demand things of our students that their parents never had to do. In a way, this is simply making the tests more difficult (possibly too difficult), but I think the problem is more that these are skills graduates of public education should have gained during their schooling. With so much education going on outside the classroom, students are learning the old ways of thinking and problem-solving. The new education system is trying to change that, but it will take time. Granted, there are many problems with the new assessments, as there are with any new assessment, but I think the biggest problem is that the children aren’t ready.

In my opinion, I think we should just do away with the testing entirely. We have explored the testing (or lack thereof) in Finland, and we have seen how well it has worked for them. Assessment can be done in the classroom. Yes, normalized data is good, but an assurance of student learning is better. Instead of stressing over a standardized test, let’s show our children what they should learn and, more importantly, why they should learn it. Let’s nurture the natural curiosity of our children, so that they will want to seek out knowledge instead of scaring them with high-stakes assessments. Let’s use tests to show children where they can improve instead of documenting their failure.

I support the Common Core, but I think the implementation has more than just wrinkles to be ironed out.

Burris, Carol, and Bianca Tannis. “Common Core Tests Fail Kids in New York Again. Here’s How.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 17 Aug. 2014. Web. 29 Dec. 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/08/17/a-painful-analysis-of-new-common-core-tests-and-the-n-y-results/&gt;.


I will return to the discussion of Common Core testing next time, but I would like to discuss another important issue in education, particularly in science.

Yesterday, I saw the new Christopher Nolan film Interstellar. First, let me say that I thought the film was fantastic. I’ll admit that the plot line and relationships were a bit weak, but the film made up for it with awesome nerdy action scenes and some good humor. The thing I want to discuss though is how much the film made me want to go back to science and engineering.

Interstellar begins in a dystopian future in which food shortages due to an unsustainable population have forced millions back onto farms and taken away  the desire for scientific (especially extraterrestrial) exploration. The main character, played by Matthew McConaughey, acts as the frustrated former NASA test pilot and farmer-engineer who is out to save the remaining whisps of scientific thought in a survivalist world. Although a few interactions seemed to force the point that current politics are leaning too far away from our roots in discovery and exploration, Nolan does an excellent job of showing what might be possible with continued focus in science and engineering.

The film is clearly a response to current U.S. trends, but how much of a problem is science education?

According to data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the proportion of undergraduate enrollment in science and engineering majors has continually risen, peaking at 38% in 2010 (“Science and Engineering”, 2012). Graduation numbers (for bachelors programs) have seen a steady increase, up about 25% over the past decade, but this growth does not constitute a significant increase in proportion of undergraduate degrees conferred (U.S. Dept. of Education). Based on this information, it appears that there is a growth in scientific interest, but the lack of proportional increase in science and engineering degrees leads me to believe that more students are leaving science and engineering majors midway through college.

My hypothesis is that these students are interested in the sciences, but they become disillusioned when they get into the depths of their studies.

A U.S. News and World Report survey found that less than one-third of graduating high school students were prepared for entry-level college science courses (Sheehy, 2012). Nothing ruins motivation like running into a brick wall. We have already discussed the struggles of college freshmen trying to catch up because their high schools did not properly prepare them, but this dearth of science readiness should be particularly shocking. With global technology competitors like China, India, Japan, and Korea on the rise, it is becoming even more imperative that our students are scientifically literate entering higher education and the workforce.

Students are not prepared now, but are we doing anything to change that?

From personal discussions I have had with educators and parents, many current primary and secondary curricula only address science as an afterthought. In the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), there are no science standards. The problem is real, but according to recent a recent Smithsonian poll (Monmaney, 2012), only 11% of Americans think science is the subject that most needs more attention in education. Another survey (O’Neill, 2014) found a disturbing amount of scientific illiteracy – e.g. over one-quarter of Americans don’t know that the Earth orbits the Sun. Although this is shocking, it should not be surprising when so little time is spent on science in primary and secondary education. Not only are we setting up interested students for failure when they get to college, we are allowing a culture of ignorance to persist.

What is to be done?

As someone who loves science and lives by the scientific method, I can sit here and pontificate on my rational arguments and toss around fistfuls of statistics, but as a human being, I recognize that this is not the way to change someone’s mind. People need to feel the need to make reform. They need to long for something they have been missing. They need to hunger for the knowledge that scientific inquiry brings. That is where Interstellar comes in.

Sitting through a three-hour film may not teach anyone much about science (even though Interstellar had some great depictions of relativity and the realities of space travel), but it can create the desire to know more. When I left the theater, I had the burning desire to go learn more about relativity, space travel, and atmospheric science. I know those with whom I saw the film felt the same thing. If there is to be reform in this country, there needs to be a massive movement of people who feel strongly about this issue. Science fiction shows us what is possible if we put our minds to it. Films and pop culture events have the potential to shape opinions in a very crucial way.

For a much more poetic version of what I’ve been trying to communicate, please watch “We Stopped Dreaming,” a short film taken from a speech by famed astrophysicist and Carl Sagan protoge, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Monmaney, Terence. “How Much Do Americans Know About Science?” Smithsonian. Smithsonian Magazine, 1 May 2012. Web. 28 Dec. 2014. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/how-much-do-americans-know-about-science-27747364/?no-ist&gt;.

O’Neill, Ian. “1 in 4 Americans Don’t Know Earth Orbits the Sun. Yes, Really. : DNews.” DNews. Discovery Network, 14 Feb. 2014. Web. 28 Dec. 2014. <http://news.discovery.com/space/astronomy/1-in-4-americans-dont-know-earth-orbits-the-sun-yes-really-140214.htm&gt;.

“Science and Engineering Indicators 2012.” Nsf.gov. National Science Foundation, 1 Jan. 2012. Web. 28 Dec. 2014. <http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/c2/c2s2.htm&gt;.

Sheehy, Kelsey. “High School Students Not Prepared for College, Career.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 22 Aug. 2012. Web. 28 Dec. 2014. <http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/high-school-notes/2012/08/22/high-school-students-not-prepared-for-college-career&gt;.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2013). Digest of Education Statistics, 2012 (NCES 2014-015), Chapter 3.

Testing in China and Finland

I fear I may have led readers astray in yesterday’s post. Although textbooks and teacher readiness are both key factors in the transition to new curricula, one issue that has even the teachers up in arms is testing. Those in the anti-Common Core camp have used the low performance of students on CCSS exams as an argument against the change. I’ll save my rebuttal for later, but the data from which they take this assertion shows that the students and/or the exams are not ready for prime time.

In today’s post, I would like to take a step away from the American education system in order to examine what is going on around the world in this arena. The CCSS are supposed to have been heavily influenced by the practices of countries that have outperformed the U.S., so we should have an understanding of what these other countries have been doing.

To me, there are two ways to improve performance on standardized tests. The first is to increase rigor. Students are often learning very useful information, but they tend to forget much of it by the time they really need it. By drilling harder and studying more, we can increase retention. On the other end of the spectrum, though, we can dramatically change the way students learn. If we can optimize the channel for learning, students need not study more in order to achieve the same or greater benefit. China and Finland make excellent examples of the two approaches.

Those of us simply looking at the data of Chinese students performing extremely well on standardized test tend to assume that the Chinese are doing a great job with their education, but many students disagree. From the Chinese students I have taught, I have heard a common disdain for their educational system. They claim that it stifles creativity, focuses too heavily on tests, and (often most importantly) it steals their childhood. When Chinese students see how much freedom American children have to socialize outside of school or to go do things that we Americans tend to think of as child-like, they begin to resent how much of their time (often 12+ hours a day) have been spent in the classroom or doing schoolwork. From a good friend who is teaching in Chonqing this year, I have heard a corroborating story of stifled creativity. Beyond that, she has told me that Chinese schools will retest students multiple times to improve their scores. Students are often taking multiple “high-stakes” tests each week, upon which their grades are heavily based. In this very limited survey of opinions, it appears that the Chinese have taken the first route to improving education, increasing rigor.

This recounting of issues is not a slam on the Chinese educational system. Given the vast number of business and technology leaders coming out of China each year, they must be doing something right. However, I believe that the United States does not want to go down this road in order to improve our place in the educational rankings. As a country founded on personal liberty and with a culture of rural independence, the U.S. will probably not accept attempts to keep children in school longer.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Finns who have redefined education entirely. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has been accepted as the global standard in comparing students against their peers around the world. In the past four assessments (given every three years) Finnish students have come out #1 or #2 (Hendrickson, 2012). However, unlike many of the Asian countries that perform well on the PISA, the Finns do not simply rigorously test students in preparation for this exam. In contrast, the Finns use much more of what is known as “formative testing.” In contrast with “summative testing,” which merely aims to measure what the students know, formative testing exists for the primary purpose of showing students what they don’t know. If you think about this idea intuitively, you will probably start to wonder why more schools don’t use it. Think back to test you took on which you missed a few questions. Either you made a silly mistake or you completely forgot the information come test time. Which questions do you remember better, the ones you missed or the ones you got right? If you’re like me (and many others), you remember the ones you missed. Unfortunately, your class probably moved on, and you never got a chance to show your new knowledge. The Finns have recognized this, and they are exploiting it. With national standards as guidance, subject teachers in Finland examine students throughout their education based on the work they have done in the respective subject. Continual assessment encourages self-evaluation and reflection, which encourages students to take command of their education. Only the matriculation examination (right before moving on to college) is the kind of “high-stakes” summative testing that has become all too common in the U.S.

I would like to write more on the Finnish education system later, but for now, the big take away is that continually pushing students through standardized tests is the hard way of getting them better at it. I believe that the best way for American students to regain their position at the top of the international ladder is to revolutionize the education system so that students spend less time testing and more time learning. The CCSS appear to be laying the groundwork for the standards that will be needed for this change. However, the implementation of more standardized testing is more of the same in a system that clearly needs an overhaul.

Hendrickson, Katie. “Assessment in Finland: A Scholarl Y Reflection on One Country’s Use of Formative, Summative, and Evaluative Practices.” Mid-Western Educational Researcher 25.1/2 (2012): 33-43. Print.

Image credit: Andreas Meichsner/Verstas

Teachers and the Common Core

On a grand scale, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been highly controversial. Legislators and parents alike are firmly split on the issue. Although the debate will rage for months – maybe even years – to come, I want to know what is happening at the forefront of the change: in the classrooms. We have already explored issues that are frustrating parents (particularly a new method of teaching mathematics), and many have taken drastic measures to remove their children from the new classrooms. However, we should pay close attention to what the teachers have to say about the CCSS and how they are being expected to provide instruction. Regardless of what you think about the standards themselves, there appear to be two main issues plaguing their implementation.

As any teacher knows, a well-organized class will utilize an effective textbook. Especially for new teachers or teachers with large workloads, a good textbook provides guidance and structure for teacher and student alike. Among the greatest challenges teachers face in communicating the new standards to their students is the lack of updated textbooks. The phrase “common-core aligned” has made its way onto hundreds of textbooks coming off the presses, but a recent study of approximately 700 books (those being distributed to about 60% of the public school population) found that the stamp carries little weight (Herold & Molnar, 2014). Even though the CCSS are dramatically different from many of the old standards, some of the new textbooks are exactly the same. Even those with changes are often over 60% identical to pre-CCSS editions. The failure to update to the new standards puts teachers in a bind. By using outdated textbooks, teachers must determine what to cut and what to keep in order to transition to a new system they may not fully understand.

That leads us to our next issue: teacher preparation. The overall readiness of teachers is for another post, but the lack of confidence in teachers will likely have an impact on the experience of the students. With drastic changes (especially in mathematics), teachers will need to be well versed in the new systems in order to properly explain them to children who have likely never seen methods like the ones they will encounter in class. In a 2013 Education Week study, only 16% of surveyed teachers felt “very prepared” to teach the new standards to their students (“Findings from a National Survey”, 2012). Only another 32% felt moderately prepared. The transition has been rapid, but more recent studies have found much more positive results. In a 2013 surver that followed up on a survey from the year prior, 79% of teachers feel prepared to teach in accordance with the CCSS (up 8%), and 81% of the teachers who have been working with the standards for a over a year are enthusiastic about the new system (“How do teachers feel”, 2014). Just as many teachers find the transition challenging, but the abundance of teacher support gives hope for a successful transition to the CCSS.

With all of the uncertainty, we must recognize that we are still in the early phases of the transition. Not all schools in states that have adopted the CCSS have yet fully implemented them. Regardless of how you feel about the new program, where it comes from, or how it has come to your school, we must recognize that the process continues to march on and the best thing we can do for our students is support the teachers. Ensure the best tools and preparation for teachers will make this transition as smooth as possible.

“Findings from a National Survey of Teacher Perspectives on the Common Core.” EPE Research Center, 2013.

Herold, Benjamin, and Michele Molnar. “Research Questions Common-Core Claims by Publishers.” Education Week. 3 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 Dec. 2014. <http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/03/05/23textbooks_ep.h33.html&gt;.

“How Do Teachers Feel (Now) About the Common Core?” Blog: The Educated Reporter. Education Writers Association, 6 Oct. 2014. Web. 26 Dec. 2014. <http://www.ewa.org/blog-educated-reporter/how-do-teachers-feel-now-about-common-core&gt;.

Proponents of the Common Core

In a 2013 TED presentation, education activist Sir Ken Robinson quipped that he thought Americans didn’t get irony until he heard about No Child Left Behind because “millions of children left behind” was much less attractive. Although humorous in the talk, the fact that millions of American students are dropping out of high school should alert any caring citizen to the fact that American schools need radical and immediate reform. Proponents of the Common Core State Standards recognize this, and they believe that these new standards will push America in the right direction on this issue.

In developing the new standards, proponents aim to improve the quality of education in the U.S. to compete with other countries that have jumped ahead in recent decades. The primary method for improving standards has been to look outside our borders. With students in over a dozen countries outperforming American students, there should be plenty of guidance out there. In development of the standards, writers looked to the top performing countries like China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Finland. The new math standards place heavy emphasis on problems solving and logic, and the English language arts (ELA) standards heavily focus on creativity and critical thinking. Although going over the standards individually would be far beyond the scope of this blog, a 2012 study found high correlation between the standards of the Common Core and the standards of the highest performing countries (Schmidt & Houang, 2012). The study also concluded that poor performing states within the U.S. had very low correlation with these standards. Therefore, the new standards should be great improvement for most of the country.

The most important issue that proponents of the Common Core will contend is that by meeting the new standards, students will be better prepared for the college and the real world. One of the key complaints among college administrators is that many students arrive with very poor writing skills and shallow scientific understanding. A recent longitudinal survey of Illinois students starting college found that only a quarter of those were considered “college ready” (maintaining at least average grades in core courses) (Rado, 2014). Results from the 2014 ACTs doesn’t give any promise of improvement this year. With so many students showing up on campus unprepared, colleges must adapt their curriculum to get their student body up to speed, slowing down those who were fortunate enough to have had an adequate high school education. An earlier study found that 95% of students had done most or all of their high school work, pointing the blame at the educators not the students (Perkins-Gough, 2008). In my own experience at what is heralded as one of the country’s finest post secondary institutions, the core curricula in physics, social studies, and government were basically repeats of what I had done in high school (even less rigorous in the case of government). I was grateful for the earlier preparation, but many of my classmates struggled to get caught up. Based on this evidence, it appears that there is a large gap in quality between elementary-secondary education and college. The Common Core’s focus on logic-based mathematics and critical thinking in ELA should help to close that gap.

Although the problem with American education is obvious to most, the solution is much more unclear. Proponents of the Common Core herald this reform as the next step toward the reemergence of the United States as a leader in education. Whether or not this most recent shift in policy will help our future students will probably be undecided for years to come, there are many issues in the implementation of this new strategy. Next time, I will dig into how the Common Core shows its face in American schools and what wrinkles need to be ironed out.

Perkins-Gough, Deborah. “Special Report / Unprepared for College.” Educational Leadership 66.3 (2008): 88-89. ASCD. Educational Leadership. Web. 25 Dec. 2014.

Rado, Diane. “Most Public School Students Aren’t Prepared for College Work, Data Show.” Chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune, 31 Oct. 2014. Web. 26 Dec. 2014.

Schmidt, W. H., and R. T. Houang. “Curricular Coherence and the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.” Educational Researcher (2012): 294-308. Sage Journals. Sage Publications. Web. 26 Dec. 2014.

Why Parents Hate the Common Core

Welcome back. If you were wondering what I have been doing over the past week, please head on over to my travel blog Cast Off, Set Sail to see the beginnings of my travel writing, which most recently chronicled my road trip across the country.

Back to the Common Core. Today I would like to discuss a couple reasons that this initiative has been so contentious. First of all, we should establish to whom these issues are so contentious. At risk of being trite, I argue that the opinions of the parents are the most important in the debate over school curricula. Parents fill the role of voter, activist, legislator, and educator. Most parents take great interest in their child’s education, and they are going to be the ones who are most vocal about problems in the system. It should be obvious that in order for education reform to be successful, legislators and educators must win the favor of the parents.

On that note, I will jump to the example of a concerned parent I spoke with not too long ago about her son’s Common Core experience. She became quite livid when I broached the subject, and she immediately launched into a critical review of some of her son’s most recent math homework. The revolutionary way that the teachers were showing the students made little sense to her and less sense to her son. Unable to spend hundreds of dollars a month for the only Common Core tutor in the area, this single mother has done her best to find extracurricular help and get herself up to speed on the new methods.

Frustration with the convolution of simple mathematics appears to be a common issue. A New York Times article from the summer follows a Louisiana family who ultimately resorted to homeschooling because the parents saw the new methods as so tedious and confusing that their children were understanding fewer mathematical concepts than they would have under a traditional approach (Rich, 2014). Incidents like these make many wonder why anyone would want to implement such regressive standards. Isn’t the goal to help our children understand more, not less?

The math standards have taken quite a beating and cast a dark shadow on the rest of the program, but parents have found myriad other reasons why the Common Core is not the right direction for education. The list would be far too long for this forum, but one aspect of the whole idea that seems to be infuriating parents is the imposition of radical ideas and standards by the federal government, which is too far removed from the children. Although the Common Core website (corestandards.org) claims that the standards arose out of the informed work of teachers and field experts, parents seem to have been left out of the loop. For autonomy-loving Americans, this is extremely frustrating. To exacerbate the problem, some of the standards induce such a radical shift the method of learning that the parents are further cut out of the process because they are unable to help their struggling children. A FOX News columnist explained his confusion when, as an A student during his schooling years, he was unable to help with elementary mathematics problems. He points out that this was only frustrating to him, but for parents who do not have time to learn the new methods, it can be devastating (Erickson, 2014).

I sympathize with these compassionate parents who want nothing more than to see their child succeed yet can only sit idly by while their children struggle through foreign problems. However, I think there has been great misunderstanding surrounding the Common Core initiative, and if done properly, I think it may be just the kind of radical shift in American education that we need.

Have a very merry Christmas! We’ll discuss the other side of the issue next time.

Erickson, Erick. “Why Parents like Me Are Angry about Common Core.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 6 May 2014. Web. 24 Dec. 2014.

Rich, Motoko. “Math Under Common Core Has Even Parents Stumbling.” The New York Times. The New York Times. 29 June 2014. Web. 24 Dec. 2014.

On the road…

For those of you who do not know, I will be traveling home over the next 5 days. Along my cross-country adventure, I will meet up with some old and friends and make some new ones. I will be recounting these experiences as my first entries on my travel blog Cast Off, Set Sail (linked to the right). I will get back to the writings on education next Wednesday.

Introduction to the Common Core

Parents and students have been fretting the recent changes to our K-12 educational system taking place across the country. Whether an equalizing force in bringing American children up to speed with the rest of the developed world or a malicious power grab by the federal government to brainwash our students, the Common Core State Standards have thousands up in arms over the changes. In order to fully understand what the Common Core is and what is means for American education, we need to look at how it came to be.

To see the development of the Common Core, let’s begin with the program that the Common Core is effectively replacing. Under the guidance of the Bush administration, the No Child Left Behind Act became law in January of 2002. An extension of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), No Child Left Behind provided federal funding to schools in an attempt to bolster the budgets of low-income schools. In order for schools to continue receiving this funding, all schools must report the progress of students as measured by standardized testing. Although the testing itself is a debate for another post, the implementation of NCLB has been extremely contentious throughout the Bush and Obama administrations. Despite the controversy, research has shown that student performance under NCLB has seen modest improvement [1], but American students continue to rank in the middle of the pack among OECD countries [2].

In an effort to continue pushing students toward academic success, The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) began work in 2009 on a set of standards designed to ensure that American students are career and college ready by high school graduation. Taking information from current state standards, teachers, and subject matter experts, the group produced a set of standards for mathematics and for English language arts that would set goals for each year of education from kindergarten through twelfth grade. By 2011, state legislatures were reviewing and ratifying the standards. At the end of 2013, 45 states along with Washington, D.C., Guam, Norther Marianas Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands had adopted the standards, but two would drop  the standards (Indiana and Oklahoma) within the year.

Initial results have been contentious at best. Next time, we will discuss the debate over the implementation of the standards.

[1] Dee, T.S. & Jacob, B. (2011). “The impact of no Child Left Behind on student achievement,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 30(3), pages 418-446, Summer.

[2] OECD (2013), Lessons from PISA 2012 for the United States, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education, OECD Publishing.

Yes, I know that wasn’t 500 words. Part of my challenge here is to produce these articles within 30 minutes. Between research and writing, this is going to be quite a challenge to get to 500 words.

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