Common Core

“No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, or to require the assignment or transportation of students or teachers in order to overcome racial imbalance.” ~ 20 U.S. Code § 1232a – Prohibition against Federal control of education1

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” ~ The U.S. Constitution2

“The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.” ~ Common Core State Standards Initiative3

There isn’t a day that goes by where I do not read some inflammatory headline demonizing Common Core State Standards (we’ll call it Common Core, or CC for short). Everything from “illegal and unconstitutional” to “liberal mind control propaganda for children” is the message being spewed from the mouths of parents and/or politicians that just seem unable to wrap their minds around the concept of what Common Core is actually about.

Which I find amazing to be honest. The above quote from the CC website states the idea pretty clearly, which basically says; establishing a uniform and useful minimum standard that American children are expected to perform at during their educational career.

The first quote I have up there is the law that prevents the federal government from influencing education, leaving that to the state level of government. So, the law prevents the federal government from directly dictating WHAT students learn. Because that is best left to the states.

Okay, so let’s forget that interstate travel exists or that people can literally live in one state and attend school in another. Let’s pretend that the quality of education one person receives in the state of West Virginia is just as high as what a person gets from a school in neighboring Virginia. Let’s forget that it is in the best interest of a state to invest taxpayer funds in a responsible manner, it is fact what we vote on (or should vote on), that benefits the population that contributes those tax dollars.

Well, in the state of West Virginia two of the top industries are chemicals and coal. So it would make sense to ensure a steady stream of working class citizens prepared to occupy those industries. If the majority of your population is in a labor industry, focusing resources on educational disciplines that do not further the success of labor intensive skills is not in the best interest of your community. In fact, educational disciplines that encourage independent thought could be considered counterintuitive because in the labor force a group of people working together under the direction of a single person is more productive and more secure. Teamwork becomes more valuable than individuality, educational resources are better directed toward team building activities such as sports.

So we have then geographic areas where the focus of the community and education becomes localized and specific to the region, for the betterment of the local community. This can be seen in rural areas in particular. Education becomes less about a better tomorrow and more about maintaining a working class.

Today commerce is not just a local concern, or a state concern or even a national concern. Commerce today is a global organism that connects high tech factories in Japan to kids selling pastries in rural Wyoming. The global demand for coal can eliminate the third largest industry in West Virginia almost overnight, leaving countless people unemployed and unemployable in nearly every other field. Something like that would take a generation to address and correct for, those children currently in the school system have been working towards a career in an industry that no longer exists.

Common Core is designed to prevent that localized concept of teaching from being a detriment to our national community. Children in high school should feel comfortable knowing that their school in Florida is preparing them to be on the same level as the kids going to school in California. Shouldn’t being an American suggest a shared level of education, a minimum expected ability to comprehend?

The Declaration of Independence says “all men are created equal”. In America we become “men” (and women) in the eyes of the law when we are 18 years of age, we are no longer minors and carry the full weight and responsibilities of adulthood. We are in a manner of thinking “created” and in the eyes of the laws of America finally seen as equals. It is a fundamental right of all Americans to be treated as “equal” and this should be especially true when it comes to education because how intelligent a person is can determine their ability to realize the promises made to each and every American in The Declaration of Independence; “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Common Core is not a set of rules that schools have to follow, they are guidelines that schools are encouraged to implement so that students can meet specific testing requirements are certain grade levels. But it can be pretty confusing so let’s look at how CC came to be.

In 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), a series of provisions designed to address the widening gap in performance in the education system. The majority of the ESEA focuses on funding for schools that have a high population of students from low-income households (Title I). So back in 1965 it was obvious enough that American schools were not performing at the level they were expected to (documented skills gaps in reading, writing and math) that the President had to establish the first federal law to address it.

President Bill Clinton reauthorized the ESEA and expanded the scope of the programs with the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994. Studies conducted between 1965 and 1994 clearly showed an inverse relationship between student performance and poverty; the poorer a student is the lower their performance in school. The ESEA had improved the educational system but in nearly 30 years the needs of american students had changed and President Clinton adjusted the federal government’s role to accommodate for that.

The US Congress enacted the No Child Left Behind Law of 2001 (NCLB) which again reauthorized the ESEA and even further expanded its reach and specificity. This was also the introduction of standardized testing and goals on a state level that would directly influence how federal funds were allocated under the ESEA. There would be no federal testing, only a requirement that testing be done to measure the success of educational programs enacted by states using federal funds.

Common Core builds on earlier laws, leaving them unchanged, and presents guidelines for how states, school districts and schools can meet performance goals. In 2015 the United States federal government will have spent $68.98 billion on education. It is not unreasonable that schools prove that money is being spent to achieve the goals it was meant for. States, school districts, schools, and teachers need to be held accountable for the success of students.

But why can’t the federal government just stay out of education and let states do the right thing themselves?

That’s a great question and one that is often used to demonize Common Core and the government for over reaching. Well, here are a few examples of why:

Nine Atlanta educators in test-cheating case sentenced to prison.

MCA scores tossed over cheating, St. Paul teacher suspended.

States Investigating Test Fraud.

Teachers accused in test-taking fraud that spans 3 states, 15 years. (In this one the teachers weren’t even taking their own tests)

Bombshell reports show at least 100 cases of teachers cheating on standardized tests in public schools since 2006.

El Paso school scandal.

These are just a few from the first page of a quick Google search. This should be enough evidence to suggest that maybe, just maybe, schools and states are not equipped to follow the rules for the best interest of their students.

Which brings in a factor too large for the scope of this article; what educators are paid and how they are appreciated. If teachers made more money and got the appreciation they deserve then we might be looking at a different picture here. I believe that 100%. But this is America and we’d rather spend $50 on our favorite team’s jersey than give teachers a pay increase (or a more accurate statement; we’d rather not pay a fraction of a percent more in property taxes on the homes we own to increase the pay of teachers).

I digress. States and school districts have shown enough of an inability to improve student performance without the government getting involved that it was decided in 2001 that they should be involved and standardized testing became required for federal funding. Please note that no one forces a school to accept federal funding and the testing that comes with it.

Even with testing in place a decade of data showed that levels of education across the country were not the same, that students in some areas were at a disadvantage compared to their peers in other areas, there exists an inequality among high school graduates based solely on the curriculum taught in schools. Students that thought they were performing well were victims of bad education.

Common Core is designed to correct that, to equalize the playing field of all American students in all grade levels regardless of income, race, gender, religion, etc. It goes beyond that though and promotes a type of teaching that is more than memorization and regurgitation; students are taught to use reason and logic when looking at a problem.

A recent article making the social media rounds illustrates what Common Core is perfectly. In the article a student answers the question: “Use the repeated addition strategy to solve: 5×3.” The student’s answer was “15 5+5+5”.

Far too many people are attacking the teacher claiming that the student came up with the right answer; everyone knows that 5×3 is 15, how could that possibly be wrong? Which basically means that far too many people are really, really stupid. Like, really fucking stupid.

Approaching this article and commenting with contempt toward the teacher is a perfect example of why Common Core is so needed simply because it demonstrates a lack of reasoning and logical thought by the commenters. First, you have to assume that there is more to the situation than there seems at first glance; this isn’t simply “find what 5×3 is”. If it were that simple, it wouldn’t be making the rounds of social media because it is just an example of someone being human and making a mistake. Second, you must take time to look at alternatives to your conclusion and decide if your answer is the best answer; because there are almost always better answers.

The test question in the article is asking the student to prove they comprehend the question, not that they can produce an answer. We can train monkeys to give us answers, we have calculators that can give us answers. Intelligence is the ability to examine a problem, comprehend that problem and produce the best answer based on that comprehension.

Comprehension is the root of Common Core. Students are tested on their level of comprehension, teachers are guided to teach in ways that students are comprehending concepts and not just storing away information. The books listed in the CC guidelines and the testing expectations are all designed to ensure that students understand the principles of what they are learning; five groups of three is not the same as three groups of five, even if you have a total of fifteen. Just like putting gas in your car is as simple as looking at the octane rating and avoiding the green handle, unless all the handles are black and the octane ratings are gone. Then what? Reasoning and logic give you the tools to produce the best answer.

How is a borderless minimum set of educational goals, where there is no upper expectation limit or specific method of teaching involved, a bad thing for students or the rest of America? Common Core is not a national curriculum, teachers are free to teach however they want to teach as long as their students have an understanding of the fundamentals expected for their grade level.

Another feature of Common Core that is often brushed under the table is that each grade level sets a student up for the next grade level. So that every student moving up a grade knows everything that they need to in order to succeed in the next. There is no allowance for gaps in what a student knows, something that I know personally happens. I attended nearly a dozen different schools between first grade and my senior year due to my parents moving frequently. Every new school I went to was either repeating things I’d already learned or expecting me to know things I’d never been taught. I was never entering a new classroom on the same level as my fellow students.

It’s scary, I know. Change is scary. Having your child come home with homework that you, the parent, cannot understand because it isn’t the way you learned, is scary. You might feel dumb or ashamed that you can’t help. Does that make you a bad parent? Does that make the material being taught bad or the school bad?

Does wanting your child to be better educated than you are make you a bad parent? Does raising the bar of what we expect our graduating classes to know make us a bad community? Does expecting each generation to be better than the one before it mean that we are a bad country?

But Common Core is backed by companies that do the testing and create text books! Why should companies be involved in education?

Do you think these companies care what is printed or what is being tested? It is in their best interest to show that their books and tests are effective tools for education, removed from the content that is used for education. Their goal is success of Common Core as a tool, not what goals that tool is used for. So why shouldn’t they be involved? They’re objective and impartial to what the education involves, as long as the system is utilized.

Then we have the “there weren’t enough educators involved in the crafting of Common Core” argument.

Maybe it’s just me but I’d rather college level educators design the expectations of graduating students, the instructors that we hope continue building on what Common Core built. Not teachers that might benefit from lower expectations because it make their jobs easier. As the numerous articles I linked above show, far too many American teachers are in no position to craft standards of education that will help create a growing number of better educated and more intelligent graduating classes year in year out. Even searching for such teachers would quickly be seen as a witch hunt no matter the possible requirements thought up.

Common Core is a tool that we should have never needed in the American classroom but one that global test scores show we need. It should have been better implemented, with it rolling into effect for children just starting into the educational system and not in the middle of it, but it is in effect and simply establishes a minimum expectation for schools and states, not a maximum. A number of states already have standards in place that exceed those of Common Core, so you’d imagine that there would be no problem, except that this is a political issue and some states feel it necessary to symbolically act against CC. Which proves the final point of this article; the faults of Common Core are in actuality the manufactured presentation of Common Core by states, school districts and political groups.

Educate yourselves on what Common Core is, use your own reasoning and logic to read between the lines of what you are told and see what exactly it is that you might be fighting against; a better system for educating the youth of America.

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