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April 24, 2014

Standards and Common Core

Patricia A. Kelly

I recently attended to a gripping presentation on “Common Core,” the new, nearly nation-wide system of educational standards being implemented across America. Common Core was decried by the presenter as a federal takeover of the education system, as well as a dumbing-down of American education, not to mention unconstitutional.


The presenter asserted that the standards were developed by a private company at the behest of the federal government. He stated that support was provided by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and that their reward would be access to extensive data collected on every child in America from age four through 12th grade.


Negative views of Common Core come from both sides of the political spectrum. On the Left, people complain about a rigid curriculum designed only to create good workers who will add to the economy. Children’s goal, they say, should be to become their own best selves. Children should have time to explore their own humanity, and their own dreams. They say the course work is too hard, denying, especially young children, the opportunity to be children.


Most educators appear to like the new standards, and look forward to implementing them. Some express concerns that the many course components for each year will be too difficult to complete in the time available with students.


Some conservatives join liberals in objecting to implementation of the standards. Their stand appears to be that states should develop their own educational programs and tests. In conservative minds, there is a question about federal standards violating the constitution.


Another concern expressed is that the program is a conspiracy intended to make money for businesses that provide books and curriculum.


In one un-randomized poll of 10,000 people, including parents and educators, most favored the standards. Concerns were expressed about subjects such as geography not getting enough attention, and about the difficulty of K-3 coursework. It was also said that our educational system will have difficulty with implementation.


Most sources indicate that Common Core arose out of an attempt by the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to put together standards for the country as a whole, in light of the perception that the American education system is not performing well, and that American students are ill-prepared for college or work.


The American system rates 27th in the world, although all children are included in the testing, including the challenged and English learners. Common Core standards are higher than in 37 states in English, and 33 states in both English and math.


Although there is testing and assessment associated with the standards, there is no required curriculum, only some core reading assignments, and suggestions for other reading, along with benchmarks to be met by students throughout the year.


It is up to the states to adopt the program if they choose, and to decide on how to educate students to meet the standards.


Implementation of Common Core can be very costly. States which adopted the standards were given preference in grant money from Rise to the Top, but will soon be footing a very large bill. Costs include new books, technology upgrades to facilitate testing, education of teachers, and curriculum development.


What is not said is that many of these costs would be incurred anyway, over years, as schoolbooks, technology, assessment, testing, and curricula are updated throughout school systems on a regular basis, every several years. If Common Core standards were implemented one grade at a time, for example, the cost would be minimized.


Judicious implementation, reasonable budget, continuing enrichment for advanced students, and support for challenged ones would be key to success.


Conservatives for Higher Standards (, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, Jan Brewer, and other Republican/conservatives support Common Core.


David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist for The New York Times, wrote a piece favorable to Common Core on April 17, 2014, referring to paranoia among conservatives and a circus-like political atmosphere.


The bottom line question is: “Should a high school student from Arizona have the same educational opportunity as a student from Massachusetts?”


For that matter, should New Mexico televisions be as safe as those sold in Washington, D.C.?


How should American society evolve in a world of instant communication and easy, rapid travel?


Tough questions….


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