This is part 5 of 5 regarding the popular editorial post Top Ten Things Parents Hate About the Common Core by Amy Pullman. I am providing opposing arguments and rationality in defense of the Common Core. I do not believe the new standards or their implementation have been anywhere near perfect, but we need to have legitimate debate if we’re going to improve them.
9. The Arrogance.
The argument here is essentially that the establishment is ridiculing those in opposition to the change. On this point, I concur that our legislators should not be making such condescending attacks against citizens. They are not helping forward the debate, and they are hurting the cause of education reform. However, I would like to address the last paragraph that Pullman uses to try to undermine the authority of experts supporting the CCSS. Pullman writes, “And then parents have to endure a litany of pompous, sickeningly well-paid experts all over the airwaves telling us it’s a) good for them that our babies are crying at the kitchen table or b) not really Common Core’s fault or 3) they don’t really get what’s going on because this newfangled way of adding 8 + 6 is so far above the average parent’s ability to understand.”
For her first point, she links to a Washington Post article that presents the opinion of a reading specialist and curriculum director, Russ Walsh. Walsh does not, in fact, support “babies crying at the kitchen table.” What Walsh supports is what the evidence supports: learning to read should include easy reading for enjoyment, on-level reading for refinement, and frustration reading for improvement. A healthy mix of these with continual support from teachers and parents leads to the best results. Yes, the CCSS suggests higher level reading comprehension at lower grades, but this does not mean that teachers should do away with all other readings. Our final point will address this further, but CCSS opponents complain that the standards are lower than they some current standards. If we want to raise standards, we need to raise difficulty. This only presents a greater challenge for parents and educators to bring children up to their full potential.
The second point we have discussed in detail over the past few posts, and Pullman does not provide any links.
The third point leads readers to a fantastic logical and argument for the new math standards. In this opinion piece by Boston College mathematics department chair, Solomon Friedberg, we get a run down of how the current system of teaching math depends on a complex system of rules to memorize and methods to try to keep straight. This system, as should be obvious to any adult who has recently tried long division, is not effective. Professor Friedberg supports the new standards, which require that students understand why we manipulate numbers in the way we do to solve problems. The combination of being able to compute with true comprehension of the reasons behind the computation, in Friedberg’s opinion, develops students who have the flexibility to use a variety of problem-solving methods. He emboldens his arguments with support from the heads of major mathematical societies. The standards are not just better, they are completely different. For this reason, Friedberg calls on parents to be there to support their children throughout the learning process, much as we discussed last post. Unfortunately, this leads right into Pullman’s point: the math is above what the average parent is going to understand. If we want to improve our educational system, the natural result is a generation that is smarter than their parents. It is a tragedy that we have found ourselves in a situation in which we have more than one generation of people who have not effectively learned mathematics, but children outpacing their parents is an inevitable consequence of making such a drastic change. The change is necessary though. Most parents will not understand what their children are learning at first glance. They will need to learn along with them. Perhaps this will be an opportunity for parents to bond with their children as they explore the new methods together. Perhaps they will need to find ways to depend on their community to ensure that their children are getting the help that they need. Perhaps, we can collectively face this challenge of becoming more mathematically literate.
10. The Collectivism.
In this final point, Pullman argues that the standards are lower than many of the state standards already in place. If this is in fact the case, this whole thing may be an unnecessary time of painful transition. Pullman fails to cite any research on the subject, but my own digging has not been heartening. James Milgram of Stanford University found that the standards are far and above 85 or 90 percent of previous standards, but a Fordham Institute study found that the standards only outpace both ELA and math in two-thirds of the states. Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute even admits that some states like Massachusetts should have passed on the CCSS because they were already doing so well with their current standards. Other studies find improvements in some areas and reductions in others. Many states (Virginia and Nebraska here) have commissioned studies to determine the differences, good or bad.
I’m not an expert in education, nor do I have the time to perform my own analysis, but in my opinion all of these “better” and “worse” findings are rather subjective. The question is whether or not they will prepare students for life beyond high school. Having uniformity throughout the country increases our ability to collaborate so that we may improve beyond where we are now. We can compare to the current standards, we can try to compare to international standards, and we should of course consider these things, but there are always factors that we cannot control. We will not know if the new standards are truly better until we give them a try. Hundreds of experts have weighed in on the development of the standards, and this is the knowledge that they believe our students need to succeed. I understand the desire for democratic control of processes and the independent heritage here in the United States. However, we are not a democracy. We are a republic. We elect people to speak for us in making decisions of public policy. A discussion on the state of the American republic is for another time, but for now, I want to trust the experts on these issues. From what I have seen, the CCSS pushes American public education in the right direction. Specious claims about federal takeover of curriculum, about corporate conversion of children, or of uninformed math curricula are unfounded calls to distract people from the issue at hand. The fact is that the United States is on the verge of losing its position at the top in many regards. Indeed, it has already slid to the middle of the pack by many measures. We will need to change if we expect our children’s generation to have a better nation than we did.
The Common Core is far from perfect, but it is only the first step in a long journey to improve ourselves as families, as a community, and as a nation.