Biting Into Common Core
For those with school-age children, the debate over Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is a very heated one. For those not impacted, it’s just plain confusing and this article could be book-length trying to delve into it all.
Trying to create educational standardization in our country’s schools is nothing new and has repeatedly been introduced in various forms by the chairpersons of the National Governors Association (NGA) for decades.
It wasn’t until then-Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano – who served as chair of the NGA from 2006-’07 – brought together a group of educational, political and business leaders that Common Core standards stood a chance of being implemented.
Napolitano saw a need to ensure that students transitioning from one grade to the next be performing at a certain level academically, thus remaining competitive internationally through their educational years, and then on into the workforce. Mathematics, English and Language Arts became the basis for this standardization and Napolitano released a report stating as much in December 2008.
Even though Common Core came by way of a political initiative, its founders wanted it understood that it did not have roots in federal government, but rather as a state-led effort. North Carolina then-Governor Beverly Perdue voted the standards in, in 2010, and they were implemented into all public schools in the 2012-’13 academic year. Since then, 45 states and the District of Columbia have joined North Carolina in incorporating CCSS.
An immediate concern was how to bring equality to every U.S. state; that is, if one state already performs above average in math, but its neighboring state performs poorly, how does Common Core rectify that? It would stand to reason that students in well-performing states would have to take an academic step backward to allow other students to catch up.
Commoncoreworks.org provides some answers, emphasizing the role of each school system, and each teacher, for that matter, to utilize a curriculum that works best for them and their particular students, thus bringing them up to par with other states.
• In English-Language Arts, the standards require certain critical content for all students, including classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s founding documents, foundational American literature and Shakespeare. Appropriately, the remaining crucial decisions about what content should be taught are left to state and local determination.
• In Mathematics, the standards lay a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and decimals. Taken together, these elements support a student’s ability to learn and apply more demanding math concepts and procedures. The middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues and challenges; they prepare students to think and reason mathematically. The standards set a rigorous definition of college and career readiness by demanding that students develop a depth of understanding and ability to apply mathematics to novel situations, as college students and employees regularly do.
The standards do accommodate and prepare students for Algebra 1 in 8th grade, by including the prerequisites for this course in grades k-7. Students who master the k-7 material will be able to take Algebra 1 in 8th grade. At the same time, grade 8 standards are also included; these include rigorous algebra and will transition students effectively into a full Algebra 1 course.
Along the way, however, as often happens during an election year, Common Core played a part in the 2012 presidential race when Barack Obama took some of the credit for Common Core during his campaign, touting the saving of teacher jobs while skirting the subject of low performers. That did nothing but fuel the fire for opponents who’d always believed government had a hand in its implementation.
Lynne M. Taylor has been a vocal opponent of CCSS since 2009. A Lake Norman area resident, mother and co-founder of Preserving Integrity & Excellence in NC (PieNC), she’s part of a grassroots group devoted to fighting the standardization initiative.
What has so many parents and residents upset and frustrated is the way Common Core was – or was not – introduced…as a choice. Like so many others against Common Core, Taylor saw it as a mandate, “…as evidenced in the N.C. Race to the Top (RttT) Application, which was signed by our former Governor Bev Perdue; Dr. June Atkinson as a chief state school officer; and the president of the State School Board, Will Harrison.”
Race to the Top is defined as: “A $4.35-billion United States Department of Education contest created to spur innovation and reforms in state and local district k-12 education. It is funded by the ED Recovery Act as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and was announced by President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on July 24, 2009. States were awarded points for satisfying certain educational policies, such as performance-based standards (often referred to as an Annual professional performance review) for teachers and principals, complying with Common Core standards, lifting caps on charter schools, turning around the lowest-performing schools and building data systems.”
What sours in the pits of the stomachs of those opposing Common Core is that RttT goes against, notably, the General Education Provisions Act (excerpt provided by Taylor). “No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration or personnel of any educational institution, school or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, or to require the assignment or transportation of students or teachers in order to overcome racial imbalance.”
“North Carolina was in a cash crunch, as were several other states,” Taylor explains. “Race to the Top was a great way to get some cash quickly (North Carolina did win an RttT grant in the amount of $400 million in 2010). By reading the RttT application and signing it, it appears those in charge knew exactly what they were committing the citizens to with regards to the Common Core standards. Also noteworthy, and according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, is that North Carolina pays a $60,000 annual subscription to belong to the Chief Council of State School Officers, which is one of the copyright owners of the Common Core standards.”
Taylor addresses her concern over equality of education under Common Core guidelines. “Core standards do not respect age, developmental ability or grade level work that’s appropriate,” she says. “The standards are abysmal for those in the special needs group. Those gifted are discriminated against as well. If you are not taught using Common Core, you will not answer the questions in the Common Core way, which will cause you to get the question wrong. Where is the ‘equity’ in that?”
But corestandards.org responds by saying, “The standards focus on core concepts and procedures starting in the early grades, which gives teachers the time needed to teach them and gives students the time needed to master them. Because their design and content have been refined through successive drafts and numerous rounds of state feedback, the standards represent a synthesis of the best elements of standards-related work in all states and other countries to-date.
“For grades k-8, grade-by-grade standards exist in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics. For grades 9-12, the standards are grouped into grade bands of 9-10 grade standards and 11-12 grade standards. While the standards set grade-specific goals, they do not define how the standards should be taught or which materials should be used to support students. States and districts recognize that there will need to be a range of supports in place to ensure that all students, including those with special needs and English language learners, can master the standards. It is up to the states to define the full range of supports appropriate for these students.”
Patrick Coughlin is CEO of the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce. As such, he and the Chamber represent the viewpoint that North Carolina’s Chamber of Commerce takes on Common Core.
“The State Chamber endorses it and the local Chambers endorse it as well. There’s nothing wrong with more rigorous standards for anything. The question is, how do you go about preparing the teachers and implement it,” Coughlin says.
In the long run, Coughlin sees the standards as a workforce development issue. “Our students are in a much more competitive environment today than even 10 years ago, when almost every job could be outsourced to another country. So having a common standard across the country is a good thing, provided that standard is high enough,” he says. “We’re a very mobile society. So if Mom and Dad have to move cross-country, kids can unplug from one system and plug into another system without missing a beat.”
Coughlin sees adaptation as an important model moving forward. While there were two years to develop the curriculum before implementation, he doesn’t necessarily see the standards being taught the same way five years down the road. “There’s always going to be an evolution to it. There’s a clear opportunity now for the business community to give feedback as to whether or not the standards are appropriate or not,” he says.
Congressman Richard Hudson, representing North Carolina’s 8th district, though, is opposed to CCSS. He prefers local control over school curriculum to government involvement.
“Teachers are the most dedicated citizens in our community,” he says. “I trust our local boards, administrators and teachers on how to educate our students more than a bureaucrat in D.C.”
With two distinctly divided groups, what has emerged is a discussion about repeal that’s taking place nationwide. One disparity is the aforementioned lack of transparency that took place while Common Core was being developed and that there was no public vote for its adoption. Others don’t want to upend Common Core before it’s really just begun. It boils down to time already dedicated to training. It also points to the RttT program. Would the states that were awarded grants have to pay back the federal government? What high standards that address workforce competitiveness would these states enact in its place?
In the past, N.C. Governor Pat McCrory has voiced his support of Common Core standards, but he’s paying particular attention to other states in their efforts to repeal or reform Common Core in addition to the N.C. Legislature passing a bill in July. If Senate Bill 812 becomes law, it will rewrite – not repeal – CCSS. It is unclear how many of the standards would continue to be used, but the current Common Core standards will remain in place until they are reviewed.
McCrory said, “I will sign this bill because it does not change any of North Carolina’s education standards. It does initiate a much-needed, comprehensive and thorough review of standards. No standards will change without the approval of the State Board of Education. I especially look forward to the recommendations that will address testing issues so we can measure what matters most for our teachers, parents and students.”
Three states – Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina – have repealed Common Core.
Regardless of where one stands within the debate, Taylor is glad to see individuals taking a stand. “Get involved! Know what is being taught,” she says. “Ask for studies that show results if a standard or curriculum is being used. Remember, Common Core Standards is the issue, not the people supporting it or those, like me, opposed to it. Stand up for your students, if you are not already.”
Due to summer recess, Cabarrus County Schools could not locate someone to answer our questions and pointed us toward the school system’s website: www.cabarrus.k12.nc.us.