Common core and common sense, are they compatible?
by Roger Hines
Columnist
April 20, 2013 11:40 PM | 3694 views | 4 4 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
State governors are usually practical and sensible people. They are known for wanting to be problem solvers. Unlike legislators, they, as executives, do not thrive on policy debate but on policy implementation. Listen to a gubernatorial candidate and compare him or her to a state legislative or Congressional candidate. Governors like specifics. They like to know that something will work.

If this characterization is true, however, how in the world could the National Governors’ Association sign on to, indeed initiate, educational standards that employ lofty words, create confusion, and divide the electorate?

Try reading and understanding the following Common Core standard for 11th and 12th grade “Language Arts.” (That means English). Stay with it and go slow: “Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of a text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claims and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claims and counterclaims.”

If you followed that, it’s because I warned you to go slow. It may make sense if you’re a patient reader and have been living with educational verbiage for a while; otherwise, you may be stuck on “varied syntax.”

Try one more, a 2nd-grade Common Core math standard: “Use addition and subtraction within 100 to solve one and two-step word problems involving situations of adding to, taking from, putting together, taking apart and comparing, with unknowns in all positions, e.g. by using drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem.”

Sometimes words are like a bonnet on a horse; it just doesn’t belong there. But vague, prissy wordiness is not the most serious problem with the National Governors’ Association’s nearly infinite list of standards. Adopted by the Obama administration as the cure for “college-readiness” and “international competitiveness,” the now infamous Common Core project for America’s public schools is the biggest federal foot-in-the-door ever attempted. Any way you slice it, it is a national model for instruction. It’s messing with our kids.

U.S. Department of Education officials downplay the standards, claiming they do not constitute a curriculum. Rather, they are a “curriculum model.” Such dancing with words is an effort to avoid the perceived overstepping of federal law, especially since the Carter administration’s legislation that created the DoE prohibits federal involvement in a national test, which the standards obviously point to. The genteel way the Obama administration has handled Common Core, calling it voluntary, indicates carefulness about crossing the line of federal involvement.

Yes, Common Core standards are voluntary, but have been promoted through funding threats and incentives. States, in order to receive the so-called Race to the Top educational funding, were required to apply for grants, but to receive thems, states had to agree to implement the standards. Governors love federal money, even when the price is freedom; so do state superintendents of education. Georgia has received $400 million of Race to the Top money. Consequently, Georgia’s teachers no longer construct our curriculum standards. Faraway faceless people do it for us.

There is much to dislike about Common Core and conservatives are not the only ones who dislike it. The liberal Brookings Institute opposes it. The ultra-liberal National Council of Teachers of English has even expressed concern. Predictably, they the standards fail to promote diversity and multiculturalism.

Whether we call it slippery slope or creep, federal government involvement in our lives has reached a point unthought of a few decades ago. Let’s see: the auto industry, the banking industry and now education. When the standards move from English and math to history and literature, we should expect a considerable re-writing of history and a debunking of old, white-bearded writers. So long, Longfellow.

Common Core is an iron fist in a velvet glove. By grasping it, states cede educational control to federal bureaucrats. Four states — Alaska, Nebraska, Virginia, and Texas — have resisted Common Core involvement. Perhaps they see that prescribed, packaged, top-down education drains discovery, joy, and attention to local needs from every classroom.

It’s also possible that these four states know about the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment.

Advocates of Common Core believe that allowing 50 states to have their own educational system and standards is just too messy. It’s just not European enough. When will we learn that centralism always falls of its own weight? If messy is our problem, dictatorship can easily solve it.

Practically all of the great accomplishments that have made America what she is occurred before 2002, the year that No Child Left Behind was implemented. How did we get where we are without high-stakes testing and a common curriculum? More importantly, where will we be if federal intrusion continues?

Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher.
Comments
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Bob Eldridge
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April 23, 2013
I taught math for many years in NJ and retired in 2008. I am still substitute teaching. One year, in order to prepare my students for the NJ state test, I viewed sample questions from several other states and found that basically, we were all doing the same thing. What a waste of money it was to have each state make up its own core standards! According to the website for Common Core:

"The Common Core State Standards were written by building on the best and highest state standards in existence in the U.S., examining the expectations of other high performing countries around the world, and careful study of the research and literature available on what students need to know and be able to do to be successful in college and careers."

Is each state about to send educational staff to these all of these countries to see what they are teaching and how they evaluate their students? Sometimes pooling resources can be a great strength.

One thing we seem to agree on, Mr. Hines, is that high stakes testing is not good for our children. Teachers complain that they spend the year prepping the children for the test instead of planning things that will reinforce the curriculum and most importantly, make the kids into independent thinkers, leaders and problem solvers.
Mary Grabar
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April 21, 2013
Succinct and eloquent. You are so right.
Judi B
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April 21, 2013
I don't disagree that the states need to be able to choose their own curriculum. However, I have a family member that got held back because her family moved from one state to another. How do you prevent that while still allowing the states the freedom to create their own standards. Our military families move constantly, do we really want their kids held back because one state is that much different than another?
anonymous
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April 23, 2013
We were a military family who moved many times. My oldest son went to 3 different kindergartens and 3 different schools in 3rd grade. My youngest missed fractions in one move but he learned to diagram sentences in another. They were never held back because their parents took responsibility for making sure they were learning what they needed to learn to the point of homeschooling the youngest for the last 3 1/2 years of high school. You, as a parent are responsible for your childs education.
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