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Monday, February 3, 2014

Half-truths at best about Common Core

If everything that was put out there about the Common Core State Standards at Saturday’s anti-Common Core rally were true, we’d be running away from it too.

But it wasn’t.

In fact, we heard a lot of half-truths, totally misinformed statements and emotional grandstanding during the long-winded rally.

We also heard this story from a neutral observer who just wanted to learn more about Common Core. It’s a story that illustrates an important point about the environment Common Core now faces:

A friend had a daughter who was struggling in her high school math class this year. What could be different? Why, the Common Core was being newly implemented. That horrible Common Core – it was causing all the “harm to students” the naysayers said it would. Further investigation, however, showed that the girl hadn’t been keeping up with her homework, thus the falling grades. 

Having been employed in communications at the Arkansas Department of Education from 2005-2011, we were there when Common Core was just a hopeful idea to help students all across the country meet their potential and a plan to keep the United States from falling farther behind other developed nations both educationally and economically.

Because we were involved at that stage, we went to Saturday’s event knowing quite a bit about the early context and development of the Common Core State Standards. You can read those in Friday’s post.

Rally at the Capitol on Feb. 1
Here are just three of the things we heard Saturday that alarmed us, to say the least, and that also made us realize that Arkansans are in need of accurate information about Common Core. This anti-group said:
  • Common Core narrows the curriculum, so students are learning less. This half-truth, sadly, was voiced by a high school teacher.  Yes, it’s true, the Common Core for both math and English focus on deeper levels of learning of the most important concepts and skills. Gone are the broad array of facts that teachers must cover to meet the former Arkansas curricular expectations.  This teacher said there’s so little to teach, that kids just sit in class with nothing to do. That reminds me of concerns I heard about block scheduling – that too many teachers new to the block system failed to use the expanded period to teach more meaningful, hands on lessons. Instead, they were delivering their same 30-minute lecture and letting students spend the rest of the time doing homework and visiting.  I’m not blaming teachers…maybe better training on how to incorporate Common Core learning standards into the classroom is needed.
  • Common Core produces workers, not thinkers. Again, a half-truth used to scare. I don’t know a single parent who doesn’t want her childreb to be able to land jobs  when they graduate, whether from college or high school.  So, yes, an important goal of Common Core is to prepare American students to be able to compete in the 21st Century economy. But, here’s the catch. Never before has landing a good job so depended on an individual’s ability to think critically, to problem solve, to adapt to new situations, to communicate well, and to learn new concepts and processes. And the reason Arkansas wanted Common Core implemented is so ALL of our students would benefit from this curriculum.
  • Common Core is a big plot to line the pockets of testing companies. True, testing companies will continue to make lots of money to research, test, implement, score and report test results. It's a complicated, sophisticated job, after all. But that was happening long before Common Core – ACT, SAT, SOAR, AP, states’ benchmark testing --  a decent argument can be made that students spend too much time being tested in recent years.  I’m not sure we’ve got the accountability equation right yet, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not needed. Common Core assessments, though, when fully implemented, will serve a purpose beyond accountability. For example, students will have summative tests along the way to determine which, if any, concepts need more time for mastery.  
We heard so many more false charges that we'll attempt to address later -- Common Core is rewriting history, brainwashing students, the stimulus for teacher evaluation systems, and the list goes on! Not only do students and parents need a better understanding of why Common Core is important and beneficial, but, it seems, so do many of our educators. And the facts need to start being sounded much more loudly than the vocal opposition we heard Saturday.

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