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Misconceptions, falsehoods surround Common Core

By Staff | Oct 25, 2013

The Common Core State Standards are a relatively new program dedicated to improving our youth’s education. The hope of the standards are that students in grades K-12 will be taught, at their grade levels, everything they’re supposed to know to move on to the next level, and for high school seniors everything they need to be better prepared to move on to either college or the workforce.

And just like all new programs, people have a lot of questions, and every answer they get supposedly brings up another question. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of misconceptions and falsehoods abounding.

Before we get into those, however, let’s get a little background. The Common Core standards are designed with varying math and English requirements. Some of the biggest critics of the Common Core say that the standards are a government takeover of education; that they’re a “one size fits all” model that ignores diversity; that educators and members of the general public weren’t consulted when the standards were on the drawing board; that the standards emphasize uniformity and rote learning over creativity; that they’ve never been field-tested; that they’ll cost school districts who implement them boatloads of money.

Supporters, however, say that the standards will supposedly level the playing field from, as Edward Frankel called them in an article for the Wall Street Journal, “mediocre”, and alienating standards presented by math textbooks; that the standards were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, that teachers were involved in the process, and that feedback was sought for and incorporated throughout the design process; that Kentucky, one of the earliest states to try the standards, had a two percentage point bump in test scores, had graduation rates increase by six percent versus an 80% graduation rate in 2010, and college/career readiness up 20 points from 2010’s rate (34%).

45 states and Washington, D.C. have adopted the Common Core standards. Of the states that adopted them, Alabama and Indiana had legislation at the state level prepared (Indiana’s Senate passed) to repeal its adoption; Kansas had, at the state government level, legislation passed to defund; Michigan halted implementation; Oklahoma withdrew from the associated testing in July; Minnesota only took up the English standards. Due to their status as initiative members, Nebraska and Virginia haven’t adopted the standards. Texas and Alaska never adopted the standards.

Lately there’s been opposition to the Common Core standards, some of which had been shown on Internet news outlets and related to a recent town hall meeting of sorts in Florida and speeches in Wisconsin. Some of the opposition have begun raising misconceptions as well as statements that have been declared false by fact-checking websites.

Sandra Stotsky, a professor at the University of Arkansas and a huge pusher for education reform, said that literature and fiction would be replaced with nonfiction, informational texts and that English teachers would be forced to spend at least half the time on informational texts. Politifact found Stotsky’s argument to be false. The Common Core standards follow an NAEP (National Association of Educational Progress) framework that states percentages by grade level. By 4th grade, literary versus informational reading is supposed to be a 50/50 split. By 8th grade it’s a 45/55% splits, and by senior year it’s 30/70. Informational reading isn’t just background or critical works, nor is it limited to just English classes. Technically, science, math and history textbooks all count as informational reading, too.

The Huffington Post reported that the Tennessee Firearms Association came out against the Common Core standards, saying they promote a liberal, anti-gun agenda. They cite a textbook used in South Carolina that has, at best, a questionable interpretation of the Second Amendment. However, one textbook is not representative of all textbooks, nor is it representative of the Common Core as a whole.

The Florida Stop Common Core Coalition raised a claim that the aim of the standards is to instill federally determined values, both political and religious, in our nation’s youth. Politifact rated this claim “Pants on Fire”, it’s equivalent rating for an outright lie. The coalition brought up a screenshot of a report that shows a list of data elements that school districts may keep, but aren’t required to collect, such as religion and political affiliation. Unless the school in question was a parochial school, in which case, religion would play a role in the data.

Let’s take another look at some other claims.

Cost: First and foremost, the cost for school districts will be hard to predict. There are the business costs, which encompass buying textbooks and their delivery, and administering teachers’ assessments on paper. Then there’s computer assessment, open-source things and a whole bunch of costs. Because school districts aren’t one size, one district’s costs are going to be different from another’s. (Let’s say our school district has 500 students. That’s 500 at Ely, the high school and at Little Flower. Now let’s say Minot with the elementary, private and middle high schools there has 2,000 students in its district. Or districts. Get where I’m going with this?)

Teachers must follow this cirriculum: The standards set out what teachers should teach, but how they teach it is up to them.

States were required to adopt them: No, they weren’t. If they were, then Texas and Alaska would be breaking the law right now. (And probably so would the states whose legislatures have attempted to pass repeal legislation.) However, Race to the Top grants did provide a nice incentive for states to adopt the standards.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the Common Core State Standards, or how they work. However, it seems to me that the opposition is throwing claims that are false or misconceptions around, and are opposing just to oppose.

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