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The Common Core Debate

In 2009, the National Governors Association (NGA) convened a group of educators to develop standards to address the steady decline in academic and critical thinking skills of students in the U.S. relative to other countries.

Common Core’s stated purpose is to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.” Additionally, “the standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers,” which should place American students in a position to compete in a global economy.

Designed for English Language Arts and Mathematics, the Common Core standards focus on developing “21st-century” skills in K-12 students that will prepare them to compete in the global marketplace. The focus is not on teaching content per se, but rather the education of specific skills.  In addition, the standards are not meant to be a full curriculum. Confusion has arisen over the differences between the standards themselves and textbooks that profess to follow the standards, and between the standards and classroom lessons that trumpet as being aligned with the Common Core. The standards themselves  are fairly broad and do not dictate content, leaving lesson plans and textbooks reflecting a political or philosophical viewpoint easily to be considered  “Common Core-aligned.”

By 2013, Common Core had been adopted by 45 states.  Unlike the content-based standards of the “No Child Left Behind” act  of  2003, Common Core is not organized around content in  ways that generated the  “teach to the test” pressure that ultimately made “No Child Left Behind” unpopular with teachers, students and parents alike.  Nevertheless, many educators claim that teaching materials aligned with Common Core will also lead to the same result—teachers losing their autonomy in designing lesson plans best suited to their individual students.  Given that standards seem important to future generations,  developing a well-informed point of view on the Common Core concept is important.  The shape and direction of the next generation of American education is at stake.

The website that I have found to be the most informative about the pro’s and cons of Common Core is www.blamecommoncore.com.  The site sponsor is CICERO Systems, a textbook developer that was founded in 2003. The site says:

“This website will seek to bring some clarity to this debate by using a common sense approach to the Common  Core, based on facts and reasoned arguments. We invite you to participate in this important, ongoing conversation.”

It appears that CICERO Systems has made an honest effort to include feedback on all aspects of Common Core, without a political agenda and grounded in factual evidence.  Go to their website and see if you agree.

As for me, in my opinion, Common Core is about the development of critical thinking far more than memorizing facts.   If  it will force teachers to “teach to the test” as its critics claim, I am at a loss for understanding how that could even be done.

If Common Core is a dynamic system that allows teachers to apply from a myriad of perspectives, then why are so many teachers adamantly opposed?  I believe that this is more a function of how embattled and underappreciated teachers in this country feel.  Can teachers address the explosion of single parent households which many studies have demonstrated are more strained that two parent households?  What about the classroom impact of violence and other major distractions in the poorer urban neighborhoods?

The answer to is “of course not.”  If teachers felt secure that they would not be blamed for problems that they neither created nor are prepared to solve, they might be more open to the notion that Common Core could be part of the solution to America’s educational challenge and not part of the problem.

Robert Hoyt, Ph.D. President of Allied Health Professionals LLC

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