What is Wrong with “Common Core”? Comments from Marvin Christensen
A recent political controversy related to education has been over the “Common Core” used as the basis for establishing standards and curriculum for American schools. As is true of much political discourse, many are making arguments based on incomplete or twisted interpretations of what the “Common Core” really is. By extension that goes to how it will affect what and how our children learn.
The “Common Core” is nothing more than a set of Academic standards related to shared goals describing what students need to know and be able to do. Based on these widely accepted learning standards, “Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards” describe the skills students need to be successful in life. Simply put, these standards are a set of expectations placed on students to ensure that when they leave the classroom they are prepared to become informed, productive members of society.
These standards challenge students to do more with what they learn both inside and outside the classroom as they prepare for future success in education as well as diverse careers. They are about teaching kids the “why” - not just the “what” of learning. Development of critical thinking skills is explicit in these standards. Rote learning of facts is not a sufficient basis for success in the 21st century world.
Since the early 1970’s (and probably even before) there has been a demand for schools to do a better job of preparing students for life. Going back to the early 1980’s (with the publication of ‘Nation At Risk’), parents, educators, and legislators have demanded reform and accountability standards for school systems. Now, more than three decades later, many feel the challenge has not been met. There have been many reform efforts and strategies focused on choice and competition among schools. Educators attempted to focus on learning goals as they tried to reform their schools. Charter Schools (of choice) have become popular as one means of making schools responsive to individual needs. However, they have generally not delivered on their “charters.” Change has been achieved in public schools as new methods and strategies are employed. Educators now understand more about “how people learn and develop” than they did 50 years ago. Of course, the ubiquitous availability of technology in the schools has forced change to accommodate new ways of learning. The challenge requires constant change!
Some believe reforms should be driven by “high stakes” testing. This is a very popular strategy that legislatures like to require. A high-stakes test is typically any test used as a single, defined assessment. It has clear line drawn between those who pass and those who fail and has direct consequences for passing or failing. The difficulty comes in arriving at the decisions determining what “pass” and “fail” mean. The “stakes” are not a characteristic of the test itself. In today’s school system, the stakes are the consequences placed on achievement of the outcome. No matter what test is used—written multiple choice, oral examination, or performance test—the test must be passed as evidence of achievement of the outcome. Obviously, the test must be related to accomplishment of defined standards. Tests without this standards basis indicate nothing. Testing must be related to what is intended to be learned and taught. Standards and high stakes tests are not the same thing. High states testing compromises the challenge to meet the needs of every student.
Many of those who oppose the “Common Core” standards fail to understand their purpose and their origin. Educators – and the school systems they operate – should reflect the needs and desires of their constituents. At the same time they must take into account the structure of knowledge and recognition that there is variance among individuals in learning styles and rates of learning. Teachers can work within any set of goals and standards. The problem is goal ambiguity and ever changing standards.
The “Common Core” is not designed to prescribe a “one size fits all” system of education. It has been developed by “experts” in learning, representing all segments of American society. They reflect the current state of thinking where content is concerned. They establish a framework for determining what is to be taught and what outcomes are to be expected. They are intended to serve as the basis for curriculum design. The “Common Core” does make it possible to assess learning in terms of accepted outcomes. This leaves open the need to design programs and strategies as well as selection of learning materials and techniques. What is Wrong with “Common Core”? You must decide!
Thanks, Marv - very informative. Appreciate your knowledge and experience in this area.