Do I have an opinion? Hahahahaha!
I have heard this enough times now to warrant a blog post.
So let's discuss the Common Core, shall we?
I think we need to separate this argument into two pieces:
1) The content of the standards
2) The nature of national standards
They must be separated as I believe that the second issue is coloring the first issue for most people.
They are both important.
Part Uno: Content
Lee's Summary: Content is solid and worthy of making the effort.
There is a great article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about the impact of a test score driven school structure, maybe take a peek at that first. The comments also offer a good balanced perspective about the overall "dumbing down" of school curriculum, grade inflation, etc., which might have started before NCLB too. Regardless, there is general consensus that today's students struggle to think creatively, to identify problems, to come up with solutions to problems. The Common Core was designed to help push for more critical thinking and reduce the focus on what I refer to as "listy" standards.
If you pull up the Common Core Standards and compare them with most states, they are definitely different, especially at the secondary level. You may want to do that yourself so you can form your own opinion, here are two samples from my beloved state of California:
Previous English Language Arts, 9-10 grade:
Vocabulary and Concept Development
1.1 Identify and use the literal and figurative meanings of words and understand word
1.2. Distinguish between the denotative and connotative meanings of words and interpret
the connotative power of words.
1.3 Identify Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology and use the knowledge to understand
the origin and meaning of new words (e.g., the word narcissistic drawn from the myth
of Narcissus and Echo).
Common Core, 9-10 grade
d. . Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the
complexity of the topic.
e. Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to
the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
f. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports
the information or explanation presented (e.g., articulating implications or
the significance of the topic).
See the difference? This is one sample, I tried to find a parallel for you where they seemed close enough to show the difference between a checklist of facts and a more general ability to write. Same for math:
4.0 Students simplify expressions before solving linear equations and inequalities
in one variable, such as 3(2x-5) + 4(x-2) = 12.
5.0 Students solve multistep problems, including word problems, involving linear
equations and linear inequalities in one variable and provide justification for
Common Core, Algebra
a. Give examples of linear equations in one variable with one
solution, infinitely many solutions, or no solutions. Show which
of these possibilities is the case by successively transforming the
given equation into simpler forms, until an equivalent equation of
the form x = a, a = a, or a = b results (where a and b are different
b. Solve linear equations with rational number coefficients, including
equations whose solutions require expanding expressions using
the distributive property and collecting like terms.
So do I like the Common Core standards? Yes. Some criticisms I have read or heard don't seem consistent with the practice I have seen on the ground with teachers. The most common complaint seems to be about the English standards: "They have completely taken fiction out of the curriculum! It is all about informational text!"
I find that to be unfounded. Many teachers in our network have been working with the standards for the last couple of years and they use literature. The teachers who I think are most student-centered usually end up reading more modern literature as opposed to "the canon" anyway.
Math teachers, well, that is a war zone at any given time. I would argue that there have already been a set of national math standards that some teachers have leaned on from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). The debate has gone on for decades about the best way to teach and what to teach in a math classroom, I know people on both sides and I come down clearly on the side of a constructivist approach, that will be no surprise to you.
I have also heard a lot complains about "liberal stuff" in the curriculum which I also find to be unfounded. There are plenty of conservative school states across the country who would never stand for that, and the teachers still ultimately control the content. Textbook companies might be aligning their materials to be more culturally sensitive (which yes, might include history of some gay men and women and acknowledgement of other disenfranchised populations) but the standards themselves do not drive a particular agenda. People who feel like it does are usually invoking support materials, not the standards themselves.
Part Deux: The Nature of National Standards
I "grew up" in the standards movement in education and was indoctrinated that standards matter for kids. The reasons are virtuous and lengthy:
1) It is an attempt at a guarantee that every child gets the bare minimum.
2) It is a way to help with transient families so if you move from one city to another you don't lose too much momentum.
3) It provides helpful constraints to a teacher so that you can be creative but not completely outside the realm of the content.
4) Standards help make supplemental materials efficient and allow teachers to share high quality materials with each other.
5) E.D. Hirsch has a bit on cultural literacy that is compelling as an argument for standards, that often when children don't succeed, it is because they don't know certain things that everyone should know. Standards allow for that.
The Common Core would further enhance that with the following advantages:
1) States can now pull resources to develop tests instead of spending so much money in every state on a test. It is expensive and hard to do well, why not pull together the best from multiple states and come up with some good assessment practices.
2) If you move state lines, you can be fairly close to where you were
3) We can now start to compare state system to state system and learn from one another best practices
4) Textbook companies will have a much greater depth of resources instead of having 50 state versions of the curriculum
5) As Americans, there aren't things we all need to know, but there are certain things we all should be able to do.
But I have my Ron Swanson days too.
On my Ron Swanson days, I feel adamantly opposed to following a curriculum that every other state is covering. I admire what Texas has done, make sure your standards include good college and career readiness standards like the Common Core, but then make a big public show of saying NO to something national in nature. On my Ron Swanson days, I don't want a local community to even have to follow standards, and love Alfie Kohn's take on it:
If you teach English-language learners or kids with special needs, or if you're concerned about social studies, science, or the arts, you're tempted to say, "Test us, too, so we won't be neglected!" But it's like a dysfunctional family, where the main alternative to neglect is abuse. To impose overly specific, prescriptive standards -- enforced with standardized tests -- is to lower the quality of any field or the education of any population of students.
There is something important to me about each state saying "THIS is what matters California" or "These skills help you most in Utah" or "This is how we roll in Jersey."
On those days, I want to eliminate not only the federal department of education, but the state departments of education too, and just let every little local town come together and determine, like in the good old days of exploitation of cheap female teachers who couldn't get any other job, what they want and how to best teach their children.
But my Ron Swanson days are tempered by my more pragmatic days in which I feel like the system is not ready to let go of control yet. We still aren't sure as educators, that when no one is looking, all school leaders and teachers actually believe that low socio-economic children can learn these same complex standards. We wonder, and have some background to support the fact that zipcodes still determine systemic expectations: race, color, language, and parent income are all factors in inadvertent systemic structural injustices and we somehow feel that if we at least set high standards, it will make lowering them more noticeable.
If I were in charge of the world, I probably would eliminate standards. But since I am not, I vote with the ayes on the Common Core. If we are going to have them at all, they should probably be good ones.