Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What's the deal with Common Core?

You've probably heard about it in the news. Common Core is a newest buzzword with parents, despite being heavily discussed in the education world for more than three years.

Judging by the posts I see on Facebook, Common Core is the new thing to blame for all the ails of education. Parents post pictures of worksheets and complain about how horrible Common Core is.

Let's start with what Common Core is NOT.

Common Core is not:

  • a set, assigned curriculum
  • assigned worksheets
  • a way to remove autonomy from the states
  • about added homework and stress for students and parents
  • "Obamacare for Education" or whatever that means (oh, Facebook...)
In 2001, George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law. The act was designed to ensure 100% proficiency in the entire nation by 2014. That's next year. That's right, by 2014 all students were going to be perfect! You're perfect all the time, aren't you? Surely every child in the United States of America, the greatest nation on this here planet, can be perfect, too! NCLB wasn't the beginning of the Accountability Movement in education, but it was a heavy straw added to the breaking back of education.

The measure for proficiency was on a state by state level with tests created by the states over standards also created by the states. So California makes their standards of "stuff the average students should be able to do by the end of the year" and tests them over it. Kentucky does the same, and New York, and Texas, and New Hampshire, and Florida and on and on and on. No two states are the same and no two tests are the same. This creates a problem when families have the audacity to cross state lines and students proficient in Kentucky are suddenly severely behind in another state. What's worse, the idea of "college ready" isn't stable across the country and countless students are accepted into universities, go in debt in student loans and promptly drop out or are kicked out because they just weren't ready, keeping their enormous education tab while they reassess their lives.

As 2014 edged closer and closer, the Common Core was created for a few reasons. First, the states needed to agree one reasonable expectations for grade levels that will create individuals who are ready for postsecondary education and the workplace. This agreement will help students who move between states first, but it will also make an ending point for 12th grade that students need to reach in order to move on from public school. Without cooperation, students moving between states are left to flounder while universities will continue to have more and more freshmen drop out because they can't handle the workload.

Instead of making sure that no child was left behind, the Accountability Movement of the 1990s created a further gap of haves and have nots. Parents who had the means could secure a spot at a charter school, private school or even public schools that are more selective in who they allow in. These students continued to learn at deeper levels, similar to the education you probably remember. Students at struggling schools, or "Persistently Low Achieving" schools were more and more focused on test scores to the detriment of the education the students received.

The expectations were leveled by grade creating a scaffold that students would build on each year in order to grow and develop. The expectations are not unreasonable. They're just different. Different is not inherently bad, but it does take some adjustments and getting used to.

Those "Common Core Aligned" worksheets? They're not endorsed by the government or required. Companies are looking to make a buck off teachers and parents trying to make sure that they are teaching the "assigned curriculum" that doesn't exist. The curriculum is not assigned. There are a set of skills a student must be able to demonstrate. In kindergarten, there is no "Do this worksheet because it's required." Instead, this is an example of a literature reading standard for kindergarten: "CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.K.1 With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text."

The same standard is built upon the following year in first grade with the following adjustment: "CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.1 Ask and answer questions about key details in a text."

And again in second grade with a further adjustment: "CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.2.1 Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text."

The standard grows each year until the final version of the standard in high school: "CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain."

All four of those examples are the same literature reading standard, Standard 1, which I shorter for my students as "Cite text evidence." The skill is begun in kindergarten and grows to an actual, useful skill that is required in any English 101 classroom.

That's it. That's all the Common Core is. It's not a way to control the masses or brainwash your children. It's not a plot to increase homework or make children cry. It's nothing to do with irrelevant or tricky worksheets. It's not some socialist agenda designed to dumb down your children. If anything, the level of work required for Common Core will help your students.

There's a lot of misconceptions about Common Core and pundits aren't helping the dialogue by creating fear and misinformation about it. Teachers are still working to grow and adapt to the massive change in curriculum. The adjustment can only go as smooth as people let it. While people continue to kick up a fuss about Common Core without understanding what it is, the adjustment will take longer and it is the children who will deal with the consequences.

If you'd like to see more of the Common Core State Standards for various subjects and grade levels, this is an excellent source: Common Core State Standards Initiative.

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