Debating Common Core Standards: What is Common Core?
By Dr. Conrad Lotze
VP & Dean, School of Education at American Public University
What is Common Core?
The (CCSS) are an effort to standardize that which students learn throughout the mathematics and English (Language Arts) curricula – science and social studies standards are also being developed. For this reason, the standards have been referred to as a “national curriculum.” The idea is that students in all states that adopt these standards will then be expected to learn the same skills in these curricular areas. To date, 45 states have adopted them. The authors of the CCSS claim that:
“The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy… [and that] …Building on the excellent foundation of standards states have laid, the Common Core State Standards are the first step in providing our young people with a high-quality education. It should be clear to every student, parent, and teacher what the standards of success are in every school.”
What is Common Core: Debates and Concerns
The introduction and implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the 45 states that have adopted them has caused some concern in a variety of stakeholders. Will they have a positive effect on student learning or are there significant problems that will erase any potential benefit? The jury is still out, as the CCSS are relatively new. That novelty of course, adds to folks’ suspicions, as there simply is not much data yet available to speak to their efficacy. Folks engaged in the controversy are often vocal and passionate about their positions, with the rhetoric surrounding the debate often more inflammatory than perhaps warranted.
Some teachers worry that their academic freedom will be restricted. They fear that the curriculum will be so narrowly defined and rigidly enforced that they will lose what little autonomy they currently enjoy when making teaching planning decisions. It should be noted, however, that the Common Core speaks to the content that should be taught and at what grade levels – it does not dictate the pedagogy used to teach it. It should also be noted that the Common Core Standards are typically more rigorous than many states’ prior math and language arts standards.
Arkansas mom challenges board with one math problem from the curriculum. Note*-this video was added by Robyn Shulman, and was not part of the original publishing.
Education administrators and teachers have expressed concerns about the training necessary to become well versed in the CCSS. Who will provide this training? Who will pay for it? When will it occur? Will teachers be held accountable for student performance on tests measuring these new standards? Wary of ‘unfunded mandates,’ school districts are rightly concerned that they will be asked to take on this additional professional development, using their already scarce resources.
Parents fear that with yet another set of standards will come additional rounds of standardized testing, with even more class time being spent testing and less spent on teaching and learning. There is also concern about public money flowing into the coffers of private testing companies. Some question the motives of those who designed the standards, and criticize the process by which they were developed. Who will pay to replace existing textbooks with new versions aligned to the Common Core? Education budgets are typically shrinking, not expanding – placing additional pressure on the system.
Some fear that the standards are too rigorous; others claim they are not challenging enough. Claiming that the CCSS remained unproven, an Alabama state delegate recently introduced a bill to repeal the CCSS. A similar bill is being considered in Wisconsin. Some politicians sense an opportunity to score political points by bashing the CCSS. Once early supporters, a New York State Teachers Union recently withdrew its support of the CCSS.
Clearly, the CCSS has caused much controversy. The fact is that implementing the CCSS has both pros and cons. In our highly mobile society, it is good to know that the content taught in different states will be the same at each grade level. They do tend to focus on critical thinking and problem solving skills. Reading recommendations include more technical passages so as to help students learn to read more scientific articles–a good thing, but at the expense of more traditional literature. Many teachers have not been well trained in how to appropriately integrate the standards into their curriculum; since teachers are accountable for their students’ test scores, some resentment may be building.
It is incumbent upon school districts in the states where CCSS have been adopted to ensure that teachers receive the proper training. This should be done prior to implementation in the classroom and certainly before students are tested on their mastery of them. Teacher preparation programs are, of course, beginning to address the CCSS nationwide.
Learn more about the pros and cons at the following sites and articles:
- What is Common Core Math: Don’t Panic
- “Understanding Common Core State Standards”
- “Common Core Curriculum Now Has Critics on the Left”
- “Alabama Bill Would Repeal Common Core Curriculum Standards”
About the Author:
Dr. Conrad Lotze possesses many years of educational leadership and teaching experience from a variety of academic positions. Conrad holds a BS in Mathematics from the College of William and Mary, an MA in Mathematics Education from West Virginia University, and a PhD in Mathematics Education from American University.