So it was pointed out to me that while I have repeatedly ripped apart the Anti-Common Core people showing their positions to be contradictory, baseless or just the worst in typical liberal/populist propaganda, I have never pointed out why I like the Common Core Standards. So here goes.
First let’s define what we mean. Common Core Standards (linked here) are a collection of standards drawn up by the National Governor’s Association (NGA). They cover reading, writing, and mathematics. They do not define what will be taught, what goes into textbooks, or do they create worksheets. It does not have anything to do with allocation of resources in the school or how teachers teach. There are some recommendations about how to make math a more pragmatic, real life application approach to math, but most of the complaints in the media have nothing to do with the Common Core math standards. These are based on the current administration and their education department interference – Race to the top. These two different concepts should not be combined.
Before we get back to why I love the standards I can already tell I’ll have some objections to the above paragraph. But I heard Common Core was a federal take over…no you’re thinking of the White House’s Race to the Top program which like the list of the previous 60 years of federal education programs boils down to we’ll require schools to do random things (some stupid, some okay) and throw money at them. Race to the Top does require states to adopt Common Core, but no state is required to follow Race to the Top, just as no state has to adopt Common Core, and many states were getting ready to adopt Common Core before Obama even got into the White House. But I heard Common Core requires this or that stupid text book. No, those textbooks and those text book companies were always stupid. In fact studies have been done that the new text books that say “Common Core Compliant” are actually the pre-Common Core versions (word for word) with a new sticker slapped on. But on the news I saw this terrible worksheet a student had to do and they said it was Common Core. You must not watch the news much as those stupid worksheets have been around for decades before anyone thought of Common Core. But the teachers and school administrators are saying everything they’re doing is because of Common Core. Here’s a hint, most teachers and school administrators are either liars or incompetent (in many cases both)…there’s a reason we had to come up with bare minimum standards for them to follow, namely, they were too dumb to be trusted on their own. Repeat after me Common Core is properly only used to refer to the Common Core State Standards. It is not Race to the Top, it is not textbooks, it is not the behavior of teachers. It is only standards. They may call all these other things Common Core…but if you call a fish a bird it doesn’t mean that it’s a bird. The only thing that is actually Common Core is the Common Core State Standards. Everything else is not Common Core and you should berate anyone who says otherwise for their ignorance.
Okay back to the standards themselves.
Common Core is a set of standards created out of an initiative from the governor’s council. It has two main parts Math Standards and English Language Standards (Reading and Writing). Things like as a Student will be able to do X at Y grade level.
An example standard reads (this is for reading at the 11th and 12th grade level):
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7 Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry); evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)
That’s all it is as can be seen here http://www.corestandards.org . (Again please go read them).
It was meant to replace each state’s individual standards so there is more consistency and a higher standard throughout the US. It also allows for states to use only one standardized test (which saves costs for the states as development costs are now shared for one test) and also allows for us to actually see which states are meeting requirements. In most cases (but not all) the standards are higher than what the state had before. Are the math standards high enough? No. But they’re higher than they were before in most cases and states, schools, teachers, and students can always go beyond the bare minimum of the standard.
Beyond suggestions of the kind of reading (as in primary sources, or analysis papers) and questioning to be done at each grade level there are no History, Government, Science or other kinds of standards.
There is almost no content requirements to be narrow on. The only Common Core standards even remotely related to Social Studies and Science are the language ones that more or less boil down to “Read Primary Sources”. It requires only a few works that HAVE to be read by students: They have to read something by Shakespeare, the Declaration, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Gettysburg and I Have a Dream. That’s it. Other than that it’s pretty much open game for teacher selection so a bad teacher could still choose bad works to try and indoctrinate, but as the standards focus more on the higher level skills (Analysis, Evaluation, Synthesis) if they’re actually teaching the standard then they should be teaching students how to question and analyze (after that it’s up to free will of the student).
Why do I think this is all a good idea?
Well first of all teachers are like most people. Most of them will do the minimum required of them. As the standards before Common Core were much lower in almost all the states…this at least means that the minimum they have to do will be higher. Some might complain that this will amount to teachers only teaching to the test…but that is a problem with the teacher not the standards or test. A bad teacher will always teach to the test because that is the minimum they can get away with…and if you don’t have a test it’s not like they’ll suddenly go in great teacher mode, no, they’ll show videos and talk about their feelings all day. Great teachers will have no problem with these standards as their teaching is probably already well above the minimum. (Oh, and to the recent string of whiny teachers who thought that anyone should give a shit about their screeds about how education was becoming nothing but testing…you have no one to blame but yourselves. Even if you were among the competent teachers, which I seriously doubt, you were among the teachers who were voting for unions and supporting them when they protected your inept colleagues. Teachers are to blame for not beginning to police their own long before this.) Standards/testing have always been around to determine if everyone is getting an average amount of data from the course – whatever that is – so this statement of teaching to the test is silly.
I like this because it is better economics. Not only in the fact that we’ll save overhead costs in not having to have 50 different state tests…but because this will lower a bar for people who have children. If standards are equal everywhere then you never have to worry about “but if we move to this state will Sally fall behind” greater mobility in geography will translate to greater economic prosperity everywhere.
When and if the standards are implemented even half-way competently you’ll have a justification to fire bad teachers who can’t even teach to the test to the minimum standards. Further this will be a fair basis by which we can judge which students need to be held back.
Further despite bizarre claims to the contrary, these standards are a great thing for school choice movement. These people are apparently not actually paying attention to one of the biggest problems with the school choice movement: bad schools. The central claim of the school choice movement is that bad schools will go out of business …but regrettably that implies that every parent wants their child to learn. Regrettably I can tell you that some parents just want their kid to get a diploma, or worse they’re just looking for a baby sitter…whether they learn anything isn’t even a concern. And thus schools with really low standards that won’t bother them with homework or parent-teacher calls or requests to meet to discuss Johnny’s progress are very popular with this group. And these excuses for schools give liberals ammunition against the entire school choice movement. And independent testing can help separate them…but testing alone won’t do it because you also need high standards. Why? Well there are some alternative schools that are set up to cater to students who have trouble—they look for the students who have flunked out of three or four schools already…as might be expected the pass rates on tests of these schools are rather low…but they did take a group that everyone else got 0% and in turn got 30% to pass…to only look at the pass rate is say that these schools took toxic waste, turned it into water and you want to complain they didn’t turn it into wine. High standards (and the school creating curriculum to match those standards) help differentiate these schools which are seeking to help the high risk student from the paper mills which just seek to give every student a diploma and collect their funding no matter what they learned. These standards will get the terrible schools out of the market and will strengthen the school choice movement as a whole.
And on a personal level I certainly won’t mind if elementary and middle School teachers are finally required to teach basic grammar so that I, in Senior English can actually focus on poetry and philosophy…and not, you know, my usual fair of “How to use a comma.”
Now the problem is that each state is implementing Common Core in a different way. Some are adjusting their history and science standards, and some (usually the liberal ones) are adding PC blame America BS into the standards. Also several companies that make teaching material, handouts, textbooks and such are also making liberal tripe and giving their product names like “Common Core History.” The implementation and the products which bear the name Common Core are in a lot of cases really dumb and should be opposed–Not because it is being called Common Core but it is bad regardless of what you call it.
I would compare this to trying to teach Shakespeare. In the hands of bad teacher the high moral, hilarious comedy, and near libertarian critique of corrupt government could become a diatribe of trite feminism, bad psychoanalysis, and cheap Marxism…but it is the teacher not the Shakespeare that is to blame. In the same way Common Core is perfectly fine…it’s the idiots trying to put it into practice that are the problem.
Let’s deal with a few pointed criticisms about the Standards themselves. Some critics claim that the standards aren’t high enough to get students into high end colleges…well no kidding, they’re minimum standards, they’re what every student should learn and every student isn’t going to MIT. Others, usually the same organizations that claim they’re not high enough…please make up your mind…but even if they’re still not high enough (and that is the case in some places) they are almost always well above the previous state standards and I know of no state that adopted Common Core that found their standards dropping. Besides which you need to start at a basic minimum and then each year you can start raising the bar. This could go a long way to stopping the graduation of students who can not read, write or comprehend English or Math.
Some complain that the problem with the standards is that they were written in an undemocratic way without public feedback and comment at every level…yes because all the regulations we have from the government with that level of feedback are just so wonderful…and all documents that were composed without public comment (like the Declaration and Constitution, which the CCSS require students to read) are just so terrible and like Common Core should be abolished because of their anti-democratic methods of being created. Also private companies were hired to help write the standards…and as we are a good capitalist nation we hate private companies…wait, no. The problem with this set of complaints is that it never actually asks if the standards are any good. They are. It doesn’t matter who wrote them or the process of them being written, unless you can point to me where the standards themselves are lacking this is just a demagogue tactic to whip up baseless hatred of the standards.
The Common Core reading list has books on it that are terrible! Yes the suggested reading list has some books on it that I would never teach. But here’s the thing, I don’t have to teach them. It’s an extensive list of suggested works that you don’t even have to follow. All it says is that the books are of the level we’re looking for at certain grade levels, when planning for your English course, try to have the books you pick to be on par with the ones listed here. Yeah the list does include some real tripe, but I hazard to think what any educational institution would have cut if they tried to make the list more restrictive…better to have the list be broad and then have parents judge the teacher’s by the books they pick (and if you don’t like the books get your kid a new teacher or new school) or a new book. If you cut the list down to just Shakespeare and the other classics it might give truly inept teachers the appearance of knowing what they’re doing. Better to not restrict the freedom of teachers, and even suggest a few pieces of dung, and then you can easily spot the bad teachers by the ones who pick those worthless books.
So to sum up. Just about everything you hear complaints about isn’t the actual Common Core standards. The Common Core standards themselves are fine and will, if implemented lead to some but not all of the reforms we need to make in education (while making some of those other reforms easier to implement).