“In the most individual country in the world, we try to make cookie cutter kids. It makes no sense.”
-Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, faculty at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and author of Hyper-Parenting and The Over-Scheduled Child, in this October 23, 2014 Forbes article.
Last week we had Parent/Teacher conferences at my children’s school. Each time I attend one of these meetings with the teachers who I’ve entrusted my children’s formal education to, I am reminded of the problems and challenges facing our public education system in this nation. Problems that concern me as a parent, problems that also have me very concerned for the future of this country.
There are many such problems in education today, ranging from budget issues to dilapidated buildings, school security to the food that is served in the cafeterias. Most of us, whether or not we are parents or students ourselves, are aware of these as they are often immediate and visible issues. But underlying the financial and inequality challenges, the infrastructure problems, etc, is the contentious questions about what and how our children are taught.
There has been a growing push to ‘fix’ our schools over the past two decades with curriculum changes and increased testing, all in the name of improving student outcomes. This has led to a series of shifts and changes affecting the classroom, and we are in the midst of yet another with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a series of standards that dictate what skills and knowledge students should acquire by the end of each grade in Kindergarten through 12th grade. These standards are designed to ensure that students in every state will meet the same academic goals, rather than different ones determined by each individual state. They have been developed ostensibly with the goal of better preparing students for college and career. They are being heralded as high standards that will bring American students up to speed with nations that have higher student success rates.
Common Core has been pushed as a national reform of public education. According to this site, 43 of the 50 states have adopted the CCSS and are implementing them in their schools. (There is a map on that site that shows which states have and have not adopted the CCSS, if you are curious to check on your own state.)
This sounds good at first glance. Why not have some standard benchmarks for all students all across the nation? After all, just because you attend K-12 in Oregon public schools does not mean you will attend college in Oregon, so having all students achieve equivalent standards to graduate high school in any state makes some sense. Ideally, this would also mean that students in poorer states would be given the same education opportunities as students in wealthier states. And as it is often pointed out by CCSS proponents, these are standards, not a curriculum, so states remain free to adopt any curriculum they choose as long as it teaches their students what they need to know to meet the standards.
However, the Common Core State Standards need more than just a first glance. And not just because they effect any child in public education in the 43 states that have adopted it, as well as all the educators employed in those states. We have to remember that these children currently transitioning into this new set of standards are the future leaders, innovators, business owners, employees, etc of our nation. Their education effects us all, and there are very real causes for concern.
After numerous conversations with teachers and parents over the past couple of years, I have developed many reasons for questioning the motives behind the creation of the CCSS, as well as its necessity or success potential. There is a wealth of information available on all things Common Core related on the internet for anyone who takes the time to look, and it is a really big topic, so for my own education and for this blog, I decided to approach this in pieces. I have been asking people I know, as well as people in internet groups, what their main concerns are with the CCSS in order to decide what to focus the most attention on.
I have gotten a range of answers, but the most commonly mentioned concerns are related to the math standards (and bizarre math problems), privacy and data concerns, the increasing number of tests, including high-stakes testing that play a role in judging teacher performance and school ratings, and how those tests effect the everyday teaching in the classroom, and whether or not the standards are even developmentally appropriate. And don’t forget the quote at the beginning of this post, the worry of “cookie cutter kids” who are not encouraged to be individuals who think and learn for themselves. In an upcoming series of posts, these will be the common concerns shared by many regarding the Common Core State Standards that I will be looking at.
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