Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What About Common Core?

Sam Graves is the U.S. Representative from the Sixth Congressional District of Missouri where I live. His “Straight Talk with Sam” e-magazine article for Aug. 25 was titled “Putting a Stop to Common Core.”
Sam’s article got me studying about a matter that, perhaps like many of you, I had heard a lot about but didn’t know much about. Since Sam’s against it, I figured it was time for me to learn more about it and why he, along with many other (mostly Republican) politicians, is trying to stop it.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) is an educational program in the U.S. that details what K-12 students should know at the end of each grade. The initiative is sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Basically, it seeks to establish consistent educational standards across the states as well as to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter college programs or to the workforce.
CCSSI establishes expectations in three academic areas: mathematics, English language arts, and literacy. The latter sets reading and writing expectations for students in social studies, science, and technology.
Implementation of Common Core started in 2010, and 45 states soon adopted it. Since then three Republican-controlled state legislatures have voted to repeal it and two others, including Missouri, have voted to review and possibly replace it.
In July, Gov. Nixon signed legislation that provides for a task force to write new education standards that could eventually replace the Common Core in Missouri.
Rep. Graves, though, wants Common Core to be replaced not only in Missouri but nationwide. But is that really necessary or desirable? Probably not.
In case Rep. Graves hasn’t noticed, the school situation in the Sixth District that he represents, and all across the nation, is much different now than it was years ago when there was considerable local control of the schools, which is what he still wants.
Many years ago, few people went to college, and those who did usually didn’t travel far to get their education. The same was for true for those who entered the workforce: most stayed fairly close to home. But things are much different now.
High school graduates now literally go to college all across the nation. Also, it is also not uncommon for people to be sent by their employers to places far away from home.
With this changed and constantly changing situation, what could be wrong with having national educational standards so a student from any part of the country would have the same math and vocabulary skills as students from any other part of the nation?
Why should it be necessary for each state to have to figure out what math and vocabulary skills they want the students in their state to acquire?
Opponents say they object to the “one size fits all” mentality. But when it comes to basic academic skills and knowledge, why does there need to be local decisions about those basics?
Regrettably, Common Core has become a political issue more than anything else. Parents across the nation were basically satisfied with it until the politicians got involved.
Now even governors who were strongly in favor of Common Core, such as Gov. Jindal of Louisiana, are opposed to it—most probably for political reasons.
Increasingly, opposition to Common Core has become a litmus test for gauging a candidate’s conservatism. Some Republicans are trying to stigmatize it by calling it Obamacore.
But sorry, Sam (and your naysaying cohorts), Common Core needs to be supported, not stopped.


  1. Well, put, Leroy. And thanks for the information. I needed a refresher course on Common Core.

    The evil spirit of unbridled and unbending opposition to everything not consistent with one's ideology has possessed the GOP. That kind of politics is almost always destructive in the long term. It's the kind of politics that infected Europe through the first half of the 20th century until, exhausted at the end of WWII, most parties and their leaders "discovered" negotiation and compromise. Such pragmatism doesn't make the right or the left happy, and maybe the middle path will turn out to be destructive in its own way. However, it appears that the U.S. is going to have to play out its own period of inflexible ideological warfare by a powerful right. (The U.S. doesn't have a left to speak of.) It's very sad.

  2. The concept of having a universal curriculum plan has been around for a long time. I remember the issues from my days in school, moving from one district to another, and trying to get up to speed on a subject which was not taught in the previous school district. The biggest issue was switching from Kansas City school district to a private Christian school which had much higher standards and expectations. The only thing that I remember learning in 2 years in KC was how to type - everything else I had previously learned in the Raytown school district. To a lesser degree the same could be said of switching every other time as well - Cape Girardeau, North Kansas City, British private school, and a Catholic home school curriculum.

    The Common Core started off as a good idea, which somehow became politicized and is now in growing disrepute across the political spectrum and within academia. Outside of partisan politics, the concerns are legitimate. As is so often said with new curriculum ideas which surface every decade or so - This too shall pass. Too bad a good concept lost control.

    1. The President's youthful education in an Indonesian Hadrasa probably gave him a variant perspective as well, much as my year in a British school (Std 2), and a key reason for supporting "Obamacore" (strictly a narcissistic funny name which is not really applicable). One would certainly expect variance outside one's national boundaries.

      I was recently listening to a school district curriculum administrator promoting the need for 3 targeted tracks for various students to follow - 15% need a low end curriculum for jobs which only need a minimal high school education, 15% need advanced classes to be targeted for professions needing college or university degrees, and 70% need classes to prepare for 2 years of post high school education for skilled trades (this is the group least served). There are YOU-Tube videos which highlight this effect within Common Core - there is no means of differentiation. My wife has this issue with the advanced classes she teaches (2 years beyond grade level), because the students start at a point beyond Common Core expectations. Too much emphasis is placed on college tracking, where most students will drop out - what a waste.

      Another side issue is the diminished emphasis on the arts and languages (and even recess) in elementary schools in order to focus on current "core" curriculum. What a mistake. Those help to develop the student for the "core" classes. Maybe we should add another hour to school.

      During my 2 years in KC, the curriculum was aimed at the low-end student. We who were at the top end, just sat at our desks and read, or helped the teacher by tutoring other students - What a waste. My son currently has 2 low end classes which bore him terribly, but are mandated by the state of Missouri. My daughter took 2 other low end classes, in addition to AP, just so she could graduate a year early (top of her class), and move on to a real challenge.

      Common Core is a good thought, but needs to be re-thought. Oops another curriculum change which will also pass...

  3. Thinking Friend George in Canada sent these comments:

    "For sure, I agree with you. I wish we had something like that in Canada but alas. Each province is responsible for public education. In our mobile society, it is very difficult for students to move to another province and get what he/she needs.

    "My granddaughter who is in Grade 10 French Immersion in Manitoba will be moving to Saskatchewan at the end of Semester 1 and the standards and what is offered in FI courses in SK is very different - and inferior - to what is being offered in MB. Because of her father being transferred to SK, she has to move with the family and thus pay a penalty - by being short-changed - in her high school program.

    "'Common Core' is what we need here in Canada too."

  4. Local Thinking Friend Don sent this brief, but important, comment:'

    "Note: It is not a federal govt. program. Seems to be common sense to me."

    1. Thanks, Don, for pointing this out. That is why is it ludicrous that the President is being criticized for it.

      Of course, Gov. Jindal's criticism seems to be more about states being cut from federal funding if they don't adopt Common Core than the initiatives themselves.

  5. I've been puzzled as to why anybody would object to the concept of a uniform measure of whether a student is making satisfactory progress compared to other students across the nation. Unfortunately, the "common" measure being used now by colleges are the SAT and ACT scores taken at the end of the high school career when its too late for corrective action.

    However, there are three complaints related to testing of students in general that I think have merit.
    (1) Too much of the student's time is being spent taking tests.
    (2) It creates incentive to teaching-for-the-test.
    (3) The tests are being used to decide which teachers to fire.

    Any testing system can be criticized for the above issues, not just Common Core.

    I suspect one reason (perhaps unconscious) that some people object to Common Core is because they fear that their local schools will be shown to not measure up well.

    1. Clif, thanks much for posting significant comments about this blog article.

      There have been criticism, to be sure, of Common Core from people on the left as well as from conservative Republicans criticizing it largely for political purposes.

      And it seems that the bulk of that former criticism has been related to the matter of testing, which you pointed out.

      And there are some teachers who are opposed to Common Core. But my guess is that those opposing teachers are in general those who don't like the additional work Common Core produces and who are insecure in their position, maybe because they are not doing a very good job.

      Last Sunday I talked with two long-time teachers in the Kansas public school system, and they were both highly supportive of Common Core, as, my guess is, the majority of good educators are.

  6. Sun Tzu wrote, "All warfare is based on deception." Look at what Putin is doing in the Ukraine to see this in action. Unfortunately, this applies to much of American politics as well. We just call it "lobbying" instead of (largely economic) war. It is hard to do anything in American education without being sucked into the vortex of political warfare. That is what happened to Common Core. A very reasonable step in education reform has become a political football. Some, such as Governor Jindal, have flip-flopped so quickly that we are simply left standing in amazement.

    Unfortunately, ever since Brown v Board of Education, over half a century ago, there has been a growing wave of rejection against public education in America. A significant part of America is hellbent on restoring the status quo ante, and will do anything from celebrating the killing of unarmed black men to rejecting all science concerning global warming to further that goal. A very cynical plutocracy waits in the shadows to pick up the pieces, which is why they are also funding and masterminding all this as well. Think of the connection of the Koch brothers to the Tea Party as an example.

    If that is all too heavy, here it is in music, by Leonard Cohen, at this link:

  7. Thanks, Craig, for your posting thought-provoking comments. I much appreciate your reading, thinking deeply about, and commenting on my blog articles.

    Thanks, too, for linking to the song "There is a War" (1994), which I don't remember hearing before. I don't know that I fully got the point of the song. I understood "There is a war between the rich and the poor" and "There is a war between the black and the white." But the theme seemed to be "Come on back to the war," and I am not sure what that was supposed to mean.

    1. Leonard Cohen is too good a poet to get stuck on one side of an issue. He regularly mixes both sides of an issue, and the personal with the political. My take on "Come on back to the war" is that he is reflecting the strange allure of war on humans, but not actually endorsing it.

      By the way, after the President's speech on ISIL last night, "Come on back to the war" seems especially relevant!

  8. Here are comments received yesterday from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson:

    "Kentucky has benefited immensely from a program similar to Common Core called KERA (Kentucky Educational Reform Act). Some, like Sam Graves, are trying hard to put children in their area at a disadvantage in terms of further education and their vocations. I'm fully in agreement with you."

  9. Local Thinking Friend Eric Dollard was out of town last week and unable to send comments about this article.

    He wrote this morning, saying that "we need to stop funding local schools with property taxes from the areas in which the schools are located.

    "The current funding system leads to significant funding discrepancies with the wealthiest districts (i.e., those in Johnson County) being awash in money whereas KCK or other districts in poorer areas must go begging for money. Instead property taxes for education should go into a state-wide fund and then distributed according to local needs.

    "Let me admit, however, that such a proposal would never, ever fly in Johnson County."

  10. Interesting to hear David Sallee about the present and future of education. Since content is generally available to everyone worldwide, what is needed is teachers who teach thinking skills, and who open the doors, rather than promoting content. Early elementary grades still need content just for a foundation - up through grade 2 or 3.