The Common Core “State” Standards are a major change in the purpose, content and methodology of educating children from K through 12. According to some reports, not only are the college entrance exams being revised to be Common Core compliant, COLLEGES are also said to be considering adopting or adapting to the change.
The question is, the change from WHAT?
The question is important because Common Core is either a step up, or just another step further down the road of the ever lower “progressive” standards that America has been experimenting with for over a hundred years.
The question that is not being asked, and therefore not being answered, is, what is the baseline? What is the baseline against which to measure Common Core and decide if it is a step up or a step down?
To those of us who went to school in the 1950s and 1960s (or even earlier), it is all too painfully obvious that Common Core is a huge step DOWN. We were taught to memorize poems, famous quotations, multiplication tables, do arithmetic in our heads. We were drilled in the rules of phonics and spelling, grammar, conjugation, punctuation, parts of speech, sentence structure, etc. We learned (memorized) historical facts and dates, everyday science facts, etc. Sure, we had teachers good and bad, but most were professionals and experts both in the subject matter they were teaching and in the methods appropriate to the material and to their students. Yes, there was rote memorization, and lots of it. Yes, there were drills, and lots of it. There were also field trips, discussions and brainstorming, where we had to show not only that we learned something but also that we were able to think for ourselves. There was homework; lots of homework, because you can’t learn anything unless you practice it, a lot. (Do you think a wide receiver is born knowing how to run a pattern and catch the ball?) We did “word problems” based on “real world” situations, which we could relate to if we ever went shopping with our mothers or did anything around the house with our fathers. We read and discussed passages from real literature, from the best of the classics, which included age-appropriate “youth novels” such as the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and the fairy tales of Grimm and Andersen. We were shown that even children could be intelligent, brave and resourceful — qualities that are essential for a successful adulthood. We were NOT talked down to as if we were stupid, and expectations were NOT set so low that we’d be convinced we ARE stupid, or expected to BE stupid.
But to those of us who had raised kids in the later decades, it is also all too painfully obvious that something suspicious if not totally terrible had happened after we left school. To our parents, our stories about what we saw happening to their grandkids in school were unthinkable; they could not believe that the three R’s would be replaced by whole language, new math and “self-esteem” education, or that love of country and American exceptionalism would be replaced by globalism and the new world order. Who would do such a stupid thing? If your parents were New Dealers and you broke their hearts by voting for Reagan, well, your horror stories about school were just biased right wing propaganda, not to be believed. “It wasn’t that way when we were in school!” Our mothers and grandmothers even had Latin and Greek in high school… Do you think previous generations were more intelligent than our kids? Really? Or did they rise to the challenge because they were presented with greater challenges?
And now that the grandkids are old enough to start raising families of their own, talking with them, dealing with them, watching them trying to cope with life’s demands is a daily slap in the face with how little they know, how little they see, how poorly they go about solving problems big and small. If the job of a parent is to raise children to successful adulthood, I’d have to live to be a hundred before my job is finished. Is yours?
So there it is. What is the baseline that is implicitly assumed by the writers of the Common Core federal standards? Because if the baseline is the garbage that has dominated American education in the last 40 years, then Common Core is a step up — if you believe their claim that the standards are intended to teach kids how to think, how to solve problems that they have never faced before. Well, OF COURSE; it is our fate as humans, and therefore it must be the purpose of education, having to learn and having to solve problems we have never seen before. DUH…
But is it? Is Common Core a step UP?
Well, sadly, NO.
Even on its own terms, even with the current, very poor standards as the baseline, in its authors’ wildest dreams Common Core cannot be considered to be a step up. Why? For at least two reasons.
One, Common Core very specifically discourages learning anything. It does that by de-emphasizing content and eliminating memorization. I don’t know what they were thinking, or what you are thinking, but I for one cannot ponder a possible solution to a problem unless I already have lots and lots of facts stored in my head and available to me instantly as needed. You can’t think about anything if your brain is empty. You can’t think about anything, let alone formulate a solution, if you have to look up everything you need to know. That is another DUH, but the authors of Common Core seem totally oblivious to it. And by cutting the kids off their own country’s history and literature, Common Core deprives them of valuable examples of problems that had been solved and how they had been solved; in other words, what does work and what does not work, and why. And that most “new” problems have been seen and solved — by earlier generations.
Two, Common Core specifically demotes teachers from professional educators to hall monitors. They are specifically NOT allowed to lecture, even if that is the most efficient way to convey knowledge to the students. Under Common Core a teacher is NOT allowed to choose the method that is best suited to the material being taught and the students being taught, such as lecture, show-and-tell, lab work, individual study, group study, individual project, group project, individual discussion or group discussion. The teacher is NOT allowed to require memorization, assign homework or issue grades. Common Core requires them to throw away years of expensive education and years of hard-earned classroom experience. Common Core requires them to ignore their independent professional judgement. Instead, Common Core requires teachers and school districts to devote enormous amounts of school time and expense to RETRAINING, because Common Core requires teachers to “guide” a group discussion so as to let the students “discover” facts, solutions or “knowledge.”
The exceptional students will learn as exceptional students have always learned — with the help of a great teacher or in spite of a bad one; and they will flourish as they have always flourished — in a great system or in spite of a bad one. Exceptional students are never at risk. It is the average and poor students who are and remain at risk. Common Core will not help the poor or average student. THEY will be further left behind. And again there are two reasons for that.
One, Common Core is driving teachers out of the profession, as one after another is giving up, choosing to leave rather than give in to the degradation of their profession. Guess who is leaving; the GOOD ones. Guess who will be staying; the poor ones, the ones you would not want to teach your kids, ever.
Two, the “discovery” method is NOT the best way to teach all materials under all circumstances, and it is even less so for poor and average students. Anyone who has taught in school would know that, but now you have to remember that NONE of the authors of Common Core have any teaching experience at any level. Most things you have to TEACH; that is, show and explain, and require your students to memorize — and if all else fails, just ACCEPT, until they have learned more and are equipped to come back another time for the “deeper understanding” that Common Core claims is its goal.
Where does this leave us? Back where we began. Common Core is a step DOWN. In it’s design and especially in its implementation, it is ROTTEN TO THE CORE.
Tell your state and local officials to GET RID OF IT.
For the printable flier, see CommonCoreFlier – A Step DOWN