Homecommon coreAre the Common Core Standards Helping or Hurting Our Students?

I’m very fortunate to have connected with a couple of teachers from the past. One of them, who also happens to be one of my favorites, is very active in the world of education, in part because he’s a father.

Recently, he’s been posting about his daughter’s experiences with the Common Core Standards that the majority of states in the US, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, American Samoa Islands and the US Virgin Islands, have adopted. Although the one I live in now hasn’t adopted it yet, I figured I’d do a little reading up on exactly what it is, how it’s been implemented in other schools and to see what kinds of reactions there have been to it.

What Are the Common Core Standards?
I decided to start at the Common Core State Standards Initiative web page. The idea of these guidelines is to better focus education on preparing them for mainstream college and a career later in life. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but it looks like this is supposed to be accomplished by breaking language arts and math into different categories, and systematically working through them throughout each grade.

It’s very new, with the first state implementing it in 2010, and it is not federally mandated. It’s completely up to the individual state to adopt the guidelines. The system is also still being developed.

Language arts is broken into Writing, Speaking & Listening, Language, something called “Standard 10: Range, Quality & Complexity), and Reading. Reading which is further broken down to Literature, Informational Text and Foundational Skills. After the sixth grade, literacy in history/social studies and science & “technical subjects” is added. It looks like that Standard 10 is basically a suggestion to incorporate a wide range of fiction and non-fiction into the reading curriculum.

Some of this doesn’t look too bad, and I’m rather fond of the idea of increasing reading curriculum.

Math is broken down into interpreting and solving individual problems, mathematical reasoning, arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others, real world problem solving (like using geometry to solve a design flaw), appropriate tool use (like spreadsheets), improved precision, pattern/structure identification and use and identifying repeated reasoning.

The way I learned math drove me up the wall, and although some of standards look useful, I get the feeling I’d still end up on the roof if I had to learn it again.

Regardless of the standards themselves, what makes the most impact is how they’re implemented into the educational world and how they’re taught. Much as I wish it wasn’t the case, what the teachers must deal with on the administrative side of things also plays a role in the kids’ education.

Public Reception
Although the idea of these goals may not be a bad thing in and of itself, the problem arises when it comes to implementation and measuring how well they’re doing.

What has been happening is that these standards have been adopted by many states, but the deeply flawed testing systems have stayed the same. Here are some examples of released questions for a New York third grade standardized test and the rational behind why the answers are right or wrong.

The test’s strict definitions of right and wrong when some of those multiple choice questions have various answers that could be correct, doesn’t encourage the critical thinking that’s so valuable in life. In fact, it discourages it by forcing students to think in one set way, offering no quarter to those who may think outside of the box. How is that any different than the previous system again?

Could it be that these tests don’t measure a child’s progress so much as the teacher’s performance?

These tests and preparation for them takes valuable time away from reaching the actual, well intentioned goals the core standard set.

As I was reading up on this topic, I stumbled across this article, which talks about the results of the Gallup poll from this year. According to the poll, the majority of people surveyed, 62%, had never even heard of these new standards. Hardly surprising, because unless you have a child in school, keep up with developments in the world of education or work in education, the chances of running across it in the world of “news” is pretty slim.

Of those who had, quite a few of them didn’t understand what it was, or thought it was a federal program.

When it comes to standardized tests, 36% of those polled said it actually hurt schools, while 41% didn’t think it made any difference. 58% of people polled also said that they oppose using standardized testing to measure teacher performance.

Although the poll only measured the opinions of 1,001 Americans over 18, it is interesting to see their thoughts on the matter.

I’ve seen no good opinions of this system from parents or teachers, either. If this was really a step in the right direction, wouldn’t there be more positive opinions? In fact, I’ve only seen stories like these, and nothing about how students are actually benefiting.

Isn’t the whole purpose of education to benefit the students in both the short and long term?

Implementation and Testing
The take away I get from this is that it’s not necessarily the ideal of the standards themselves that are the problem, but the associated testing and way they’re being incorporated into teaching that is getting in the way.

It’s common sense that when you make a huge change to someone’s life, regardless of their neurological makeup, it takes time to adjust to those changes. Ideally, those changes should be well planned and thought out.

I’ve noticed that when new guidelines, like common core, is introduced into the schools, the people at the top seem to expect change to happen perfectly smoothly and right away, in every single situation.

That just doesn’t happen, especially with a population as diverse as the one in the United States.

Teachers aren’t given the chance to figure out the best way to incorporate the new standards, but they’re pressured to have their students get top grades right away. With that kind of stress added to the every day challenges of dealing with so many unique personalities and issues, how does that not get translated into the classroom?

I’ve also read that one of common core’s goals is to make individualized teaching easier, but from what I’ve seen, that’s not happening. There’s still a lot of the old “one size fits all” ideology going on. Public school teachers especially are still faced with large class sizes in addition to the red tape and testing expectations, which translates into the most uniquely minded kids still falling through the cracks.

Unfortunately, as much good as the idea of Common Core CAN do, the system itself is only as good as its implementation. So far, at least, that’s what’s failing so miserably.

I do hope that things will change for the better, though. The standards are still very young, and there will be changes made as the years pass. However, it’s up to the individual teachers and parents to cooperate, find what works best and hold the politicians at the wheel accountable, so those changes can be most ideal for the students.

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