You do not have to be steeped in the education world to have heard the latest catch-phrase called common core curriculum. There have been critics on the right and the left voicing their concerns. Those on the right claim that it is another attempt by the federal government to overtake the powers of the state government. Critics on the left claim this is just another program trying to fix education by emphasizing rote memorization at the expense of critical reasoning.
I can almost hear seasoned teachers say, “Haven’t we been through this type of change before?” Let’s see if we can make some kind of sense about common core.
First of all, common core was originally sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Association of Chief State Officers. It basically goes back to the accountability movement of the 1990’s. The overall idea was to come up with a set of common rigorous standards of the basic ac academic disciplines. Another theme was the alignment of standards in various states.
Therefore, a student in Kansas, for example, would be learning the same math principles that a student in New York would be learning. So far is there anything controversial in such an arrangement?
Second of all, these standards are much more than rote memorization. The standards are designed to foster critical thinking skills. They appear to be much more rigorous than the “No Child Left Behind” marks of the previous years. As such does it address the interests and skills of those students who are more inclined to “hands-on curriculum.” Our society needs mechanics, technicians and disposal waste collectors, as well as lawyers, doctors and teachers. As one administrator I talked to said, “The gap between these two types of students continues to grow.” Will this new reform put us on par with other countries or will it force other students to drop out? We are the only nation who seeks to educate all students K-12 in much the same way for all. Is it time to recognize that one size does not fit all? To some this may sound like heresy, but the value of many jobs is on the same level (or should be) with white collar or professional jobs. I guess the question remains as to what knowledge every student should gain or what is essential information to one’s future profession.
Common core standards have been adopted by all but six states. The initiative was adopted by Republican as well as Democratic governors. It has been endorsed by state boards of education, state superintendents of schools, national teachers associations, and various educational leaders on the state and local levels. Many schools have begun the process of training teachers to begin implementing these rigorous standards. The key word in education has always been “improvement” in our expectations for teachers and students. Education is still considered the main factor improving a person’s position as well as advancing all of society socially and economically.
Page 2 of 2 - To begin with the standards for common core will be applied to English and math. The key points in English surround reading, writing, speaking, language and research. There are a lot of different areas in which math can be utilized for statics, modeling and problem-solving. It must also be noted standards are set for all students K-12. This is an all-encompassing attempt to energize American education with the ultimate goal of competing at home and with the rest of the world.
So what should be the response of Americans to such an important innovation? As is the case with any public issue which will affect us in one way or another, we should learn and read from reliable sources. Fear should not be our guiding force. There are many dedicated educators who are attempting to make a difference in the lives of their students. How can they best use education to help their students become productive citizens in this modern world? Can Common Core be the vehicle which can make it happen for our students?
There are a lot of factors which can derail any reform in education.
Unfortunately, many of these factors are beyond the control of teachers and other school personnel. Many students come to class with a lot of disadvantages.
Family issues involving abuse, neglect and divorce make it difficult for students to be totally focused on academic performance. Studies show that increasing poverty also is a factor in achievement. A lack of funding on the state level is another factor, although not the only one. Individually we cannot do everything. Together we can accomplish a great deal. Common Core may not be the only answer, nothing ever is. However, it is worth our support in helping our young people meet the needs of the 21st Century.
Dwight Goering is a resident of McPherson