Common Core Discussion – Stirring up some trouble!
The homeschooling community, while mostly fragmented, seems to have united around one point. They are against the common core. At the
risk of being too independent thinking and of being too much of a critical thinker, I would like to make the opposite case. WE ARE WRONG. The Common Core is a great step forward. I started thinking about this when I got a marketing email which read like this. I’ve removed the vendor’s name ….
Now, am I the only one who thinks that this just a load of crap? He jumps onto a popular bandwagon, argues that traditional is better, and that’s the basis for promoting a product? Moving beyond the particular vendor, lets take a fresh look at the idea of educational standards and how the Common Core fits.
Traditionally, educational standards were written by groups like the National Council of Teachers of Math (NCTM) and were offered to the States as guidelines to use or reject. If you were an educationally intense state, say Massachusetts, you would adopt them but perhaps move everything down a grade level so that your third graders would be doing work that other states wouldn’t get to until 4th grade. You might also add some materials to make it more intense and thorough.
If you were a state which did not have so much strength in academics, say Mississippi, you might do the opposite. You’d make it so your 5th graders were doing work that other states had students doing in 4th or 3rd. And you might prune out a lot of stuff as too hard for your kids.
But all of this was invisible to most of the people. They just knew their own state standards and the tests that were based on it. So the kids in many states who were doing “well” by local standards were astonished to find when they went to college (if they left their state), that they were woefully unprepared to compete in the world since their state had dumbed down the standards. And, for people who stay in state and try to run businesses or work competing as most of us do in the national and global economy, they also found that they didn’t really have the education to compete. This is one of the huge problems with the old fragmented system where each state did it’s own thing. They tend to reinforce their own habits so the have-not states sit comfortably pumping out a new generation of students who are destined to remain have-nots.
Admittedly, the question of how hard or how easy is only one aspect of educational standards. A second one is the question of local input into standards. Staying focused on the common core for this article, lets discuss the content and local input.
Is math, arithmetic, probability, and algebra something that should change from state to state? Of course not. It’s pretty standard.
Lets switch to language arts. The biggest single switch in language arts is a big new emphasis on non-fiction reading and writing. Rather than have a curriculum that is 90% based on literature and metaphors and characters, and plot etc, the NGCC (Common Core) switched to a 50% focus on reading and writing real world materials, not just literature. It’s a big new focus on being able to understand a newspaper or magazine. Is it written to educate? Convince? Who wrote it and why? Almost everyone except the most traditional English teachers are admitting that we have perhaps spent a little too much time on Shakespeare and Hemingway and should shift to providing a new more help with real world reading and writing. The second biggest shift is that the NGSS emphasizes critical thinking and analysis rather than simple comprehension and recall. Rather than asking students: ” Who was the main character and what was he so upset about at the start of the story?, a typical NGSS question might be: “Were the examples in the article about the war anecdotes or statistically significant?”
I think the NGSS is so much better than the current mess of standards. Having goals to strive for, or to ignore, which are more relevant to the world that we live in is a huge improvement over having 50 different standards, each one of which, costs money to develop.