Common Core: A New & Improved Cage?

Guest Blog by Dr. Rebecca Nelson

Today's guest blog addresses a problem many states are struggling with: the Common Core.  Dr. Nelson offers commentary on what the motives behind the initiative might be.

Double-DownGraphic.png from http://www.utahnsagainstcommoncore.com/2012/08/

Why are all of the education groups along with the Nat'l Governors Association along with several 'big' education "reform" groups, et. al. so enamored of this "new set of standards"?  [Quick answer ~ they all have something to gain].  To me it seems a bit like this:  I am a bird in a cage (the type of bird who keeps flapping my wings to alert others that I don't want to be in this cage).  One day, several groups of people come to "save me"; I think they are going to open the cage so that I can fly, alas, instead of letting me escape from the cage, they put me in a "new improved cage" as they keep telling me how this new cage will actually ensure that my life will be better (after all, this cage meets all of the researched ideas about how cages should be built and is supported by all of the right groups, etc.....).

With students, parents and teachers all on the same page and working together for shared goals, we can ensure that students make progress each year and graduate from school prepared to succeed in college and in a modern workforce.

Who defines this "same page"?  Whose "shared goals"?  While I may want my child to have multiple opportunities to learn many things, I may also not care if they read the same books at the same time as all of the other kids across the nation so that we are all on the same page.  We do not all have to be doing the same thing at the same grade level to be able to be learned and knowledgeable about multiple things. 

Achieve will continue to work with states to improve standards, graduation requirements, assessments and accountability systems so that all American students graduate from high school prepared....

Achieve is just one of a growing field of "education non-profits" aimed at helping to provide curriculum, assessments, etc.... that will be "good products of accountability" (and in no way will lead to teachers being led to teach in a certain way).  Of course, we all know that non-profits inherently are altruistic because they are "not for profit"?? NOTE ~ I may even agree with some of the tenets of a group like Achieve and may even think that some of the "new assessments" are "better" than the previous state tests, but to me that is not the point.

The standards are informed by the highest, most effective models from states across the country and countries around the world, and provide teachers and parents with a common understanding of what students are expected to learn. Consistent standards will provide appropriate benchmarks for all students, regardless of where they live.

What does the term "highest" mean? (as opposed to "lowest"?) I've already heard one parent lamenting that since Virginia doesn't yet follow the Common Core, her son is going to "be behind" (which for me always begs the question, "Behind what?").  Why do so many people have this desire to "make sure" that all kids are doing the same thing at the same time?  Imagine if your child is at home learning how to read, write, question, analyze, do math, think, use multiple strategies, but they are not necessarily "covering the content" in the prescribed manner as outlined by the standards (e.g. God forbid they don't learn procedures for adding fractions until later than what all the other kids are doing).  Do we really have to say that this kid is "behind"?  [The crazier thing to me is that this starts even when kids are 2-3 years old.  Parents scrambling to get their kids in the 'premiere child care place' so that they won't be behind.  I'd like to know who defines this elusive benchmark of "behind"].

I suppose it is too simplistic that I think this way.....

I can only think of a child as being behind if I believe there is some benchmark to which I must compare at each and every prescribed level.

All of this does not mean that I think we shouldn't have any standards or any way to measure "where someone is" in general.  e.g. If a child is not talking or writing at all and he is 2 years old, of course there is concern and we should be checking things along the way.  If a child is 8 and cannot read at all, of course we should have been assessing and helping this child to learn to read.  I don't see how making a nationwide, huge system of standards will help....

Dr. Nelson is currently serving as project manager for Middle Matters, a JMU initiative to increase the number of highly qualified middle school teachers in STEM fields. She is a former Peace Corp volunteer to Kenya and loves to share her passion for mathematics education with teachers and students alike.

As always, I'd love to hear from you (and so would Dr. Nelson -- she stated that this post was designed to "elicit discussion").

References:

My original blog post on the Common Core

Common Core State Standards main website (where Dr. Nelson's quotes come from)

Site where the Common Core graphic used above came from


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The Solver Blog

Author:  Dr. Rebecca Nelson

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