Decoding the Common Core

“Angry” isn’t the only word to describe mothers and fathers who are coming into first contact with the Common Core. They’re confused. They’re anxious. They’re frustrated. And whatever their opinions are, they hold them very deeply.

But just what is the Common Core, and why is it causing tempers to flare and frustrations to rise? We spoke to education experts, teachers, and parents from around the country to get real answers about the classroom changes that are sweeping the nation.

What is the Common Core and where did it come from?

The development of the Common Core standards began in 2009 as a joint effort between the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, who preside over education policy in each state. Their mission was to make sure all students throughout the country were getting the same access to quality education while also raising the bar for everyone so our kids would be better prepared for college and the workforce. What they came up with, officially called the Common Core State Standards Initiative, is basically a set of national benchmarks for the math and English Language Arts (ELA) concepts students need to know at each grade level. It’s not a national curriculum, a preset syllabus, a list of required reading, or prefab lesson plans that have to be doled out to every classroom. It’s up to each state to determine whether it wants to adopt the Common Core—43 have adopted all the standards so far, with Alaska, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia opting out—and how to interpret, implement, and assess it.

That doesn’t sound so bad. Where is all the outrage coming from?

Few people actually disagree with the overall goals of the Common Core, but the creation and implementation have caused a great deal of controversy. First of all, although the standards were created with the help of a seemingly unending list of academic, nonprofit, and governmental organizations, some people feel there wasn’t enough teacher involvement. Some educators were also upset by the lack of time, training, and resources given to them to implement the changes, many of which required a complete overhaul of lesson plans and curricula. The teacher uproar trickled down to the parents, who got a bad taste in their mouth about the change from the get-go. Both parents and teachers were also upset by the amount of testing needed to ensure the standards were being met.

Why were the teachers so concerned about implementation? How different are the standards from what was taught before?

“Common Core is looking for a deeper kind of learning,” says Lucy Calkins, the Robinson Professor in Children’s Literature and founding director of the Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University’s Teachers College. For the ELA portion, “It’s looking for students to synthesize information across different texts, to examine the perspective from which something was written, to marshal evidence in support of an argument, and to weigh the validity of that evidence—not just write a straight, simple piece,” Calkins says. Students are expected to read more complex texts with more sophisticated vocabulary and be able to make arguments based on evidence from the texts. For kindergarten through fifth grade, the standards require a fifty-fifty split between fiction and nonfiction reading materials, such as stories from around the world, the country’s foundational documents, and classic works of American literature.

In math, students are still expected to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of whole numbers and fractions. In addition to calculation and computation, though, they’re expected to know how math applies to everyday life. “You see more of what you’d call word problems,” says Marcy Singer-Gabella, professor and associate chair of the department of teaching and learning at Vanderbilt University. “They create a situation and then students have to analyze what’s there and figure out the right equation to use. So they have to do more writing—they have to show their work and justify their solution.”

That sounds rigorous, but my district was already excellent before Common Core was introduced. Should I be worried that my high-achieving school will be “dumbed down” to the lowest common denominator?

Quite the opposite, in fact. “What you see for the high school standards is that they look about two years harder than what we had previously been expecting, particularly with regard to reading complexity, text complexity, and math concepts and skills,” Singer-Gabella says.

That trickles all the way down to elementary school. “What was expected in first grade is now expected in kindergarten,” says Peggy McNamara, Ph.D., chair of general teacher education at Bank Street College of Education. “I think that some kids, because of preschool, start kindergarten being ready for things that kids were not necessarily ready for prior to this. But that’s one of the issues we’re having with Common Core as educators and parents—that so much is being expected of younger kids. The ‘pushing down’ doesn’t just go for lesson plans, either. Standardized testing is being introduced earlier, with diagnostic tests starting as early as kindergarten.”

Speaking of standardized testing, how does that factor into the Common Core?

The subject of standardized testing and the Common Core is so fraught that even some of those who find no fault with the guidelines themselves find their support wavering when the testing is factored in.

Rigorous standardized tests are being used to determine whether each child has met the benchmarks for his or her grade, but they’re so new that there’s no proof they actually work. “We don’t have tests that are validated yet,” says Singer-Gabella. “We don’t know that they’re testing what they’re supposed to test, and we don’t know whether the scoring is reliable—that two scorers would give the same grade when they look at the same test.” The growing pains for the standardized tests wouldn’t be such an issue if no stakes were attached. But Common Core standardized testing has already been used to evaluate teachers and schools. This leads some to believe that the implementation of Common Core standards was too rushed.

Regardless of whether it’s being implemented well or not, the Common Core will be a part of my child’s education. What’s a concerned parent to do?

A good way to begin is by separating the fact from the frenzy. “Start by reading up on the Common Core standards,” Calkins recommends. “That way, you understand the standards for yourself, rather than people’s interpretations of the standards shouted from a megaphone.”

Once you’re familiar, if you’re still unclear about what the standards mean, it’s best to go to the front lines. “My advice is that parents talk with the teachers,” McNamara says. Ask questions like: What are the main changes my child can expect this year? What are her strengths and weaknesses? What can I do at home?

If you still have concerns after talking with your child’s teachers, don’t stay silent. Burris notes that parents are powerful when it comes to education policy. “Parents should be very vocal if they are uncomfortable with the work they see coming home or if their children have a negative reaction to the tests,” she says. “Every child has the right to an excellent education, and I believe that parents should have input through their local communities as to what that education looks like.”

Comments 71

  1. May I just say what a relief to find an individual who genuinely knows what they’re talking about on the web.
    You certainly realize how to bring a problem to light and make it important.
    More and more people need to check this out and understand this side of your
    story. It’s surprising you’re not more popular given that
    you certainly possess the gift.

  2. Hi there would you mind statjng which blog platform you’re using?
    I’m planning to start mmy own blog iin the neear future but I’m having a tough timje
    deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your dsign and style seems
    different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique.
    P.S My apologies for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

    Feel frtee to surf to my blog :: gloucester chinese restaurant food (Ezra)

  3. Excellent site you have here but I was wanting
    to know if you knew of any forums that cover the same topics talked about here?

    I’d really like to be a part of community where I can get advice
    from other experienced individuals that share the same interest.

    If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Kudos!

  4. Howdy I am so grateful I found your webpage, I really found you
    by mistake, while I was browsing on Google for something else, Anyhow I aam here now
    and would just like to say kudoss for a fantastic post
    and a all round entertainjing blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to browse it all at the
    mmoment but I have bookmarked it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be bzck to read much more, Please do keep upp the excellet
    job.

    my website: double glazing, Efren,

  5. When I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked the -Notify me
    when new comments are added- checkbox and now whenever
    a comment is added I get 4 emails with the exact same comment.

    Is thee a means you are able to remove me from that service?
    Cheers!

    My webb blog :: chinese in gloucester (Lyndon)

  6. This is the right weblog for everyone who is hopes to check out this topic. You already know a lot its practically challenging to argue along (not too I really would want…HaHa). You definitely put a fresh spin over a topic thats been discussing for some time. Excellent stuff, just fantastic!

  7. Hello there! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this website? I’m getting fed up of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform. I would be great if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

  8. I?¦m now not sure where you are getting your information, however great topic. I needs to spend some time finding out more or understanding more. Thanks for great information I used to be looking for this info for my mission.

  9. I just wanted to tell you how much my partner and i appreciate anything you’ve discussed to help improve the lives of men and women in this subject matter. Through your current articles, I have gone through just a newcomer to a professional in the area. It’s truly a gratitude to your good work. Thanks Nobel Calling Cards

  10. hello!,I like your writing very much! share we communicate more about your post on AOL? I require a specialist on this area to solve my problem. Maybe that’s you! Looking forward to see you.

  11. Simply want to say your article is as astonishing. The clearness on your post is
    simply spectacular and that i could assume you’re an expert in this subject.
    Well together with your permission allow me to take hold of
    your feed to stay updated with approaching post.
    Thanks a million and please continue the enjoyable work.

  12. I hardly leave a response, but after reading through a few
    of the responses here Decoding the Common Core. I do have a few questions for you if it’s allright.
    Is it simply me or do a few of the remarks come across like
    they are written by brain dead people? 😛 And, if you are posting on additional social sites, I would like to
    keep up with you. Would you make a list of the complete urls of your social sites like your
    twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

  13. hello!,I like your writing so much! share we communicate more about your post on AOL? I require an expert on this area to solve my problem. Maybe that’s you! Looking forward to see you.

  14. I am not sure where you’re getting your info, but good topic.

    I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.
    Thanks for fantastic information I was looking for this information for my mission.

  15. I’m reallly enjmoying the theme/design of your site. Do youu ever run into any web browser compatibility problems?
    A number of my blog audience have complained about my site not operating correctly in Explorer but llooks great in Firefox.
    Do you have anny recommendations to help fix this problem?

    My wevpage … gloucester conservatories (Holley)

  16. Magnificent beat ! I wish to apprentice while you amend your website, how can i subscribe for a blog web site? The account helped me a applicable deal. I were tiny bit familiar of this your broadcast provided vivid clear idea|

  17. It is the best time to make some plans for the future and it’s time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I want to suggest you some interesting things or advice. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I want to read even more things about it!|

  18. An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a co-worker who was doing a little homework on this. And he actually bought me dinner simply because I found it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending the time to talk about this matter here on your web page.|

  19. My coder is trying to persuade me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the costs. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type on numerous websites for about a year and am nervous about switching to another platform. I have heard fantastic things about blogengine.net. Is there a way I can transfer all my wordpress content into it? Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated!|

  20. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get
    four emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me
    from that service? Thank you!

  21. Wow, superb blog structure! How long have you ever been blogging for? you made blogging glance easy. The whole glance of your site is wonderful, as well as the content material!

  22. Hello there! Quick question that’s completely off topic.
    Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My site looks weird when browsing from my
    apple iphone. I’m trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able to correct this issue.

    If you have any recommendations, please share.
    With thanks!

  23. This is very fascinating, You’re an overly skilled blogger. I’ve joined your rss feed and sit up for in search of extra of your fantastic post. Additionally, I have shared your web site in my social networks|

  24. Good day! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a group of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You have done a marvellous job!|

  25. Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having a tough time locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an e-mail. I’ve got some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it expand over time.|

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.