Common Objections to the Common Core
Like 100 other diocesan school systems, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is adopting parts of the Common Core Schools Standards (CCSS) in its new uniform curriculum. Ohio is one of 45 states that adopted the standards before they had been completed, and all textbook and educational materials companies are revising their products to reflect them. College entrance exams and requirements are expected to follow suit.
Opposition to the CCSS has been strong in several states, numerous conservative organizations and think tanks such ast he Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation oppose them, and radio/television host Glenn Beck recently gave the opposition national prominence. Do these positions have any merit?
Objections to the CCSS are wide-ranging, but tend to fall in the categories of loss of local control, standards and content, testing, money, distrust of the educational establishment, and political distrust.
Loss of local control
A national curriculum has been a dream of would-be educational reformers since at least the time of Dewey, but our country is set up so that states are in charge of their schools. We have numerous laws forbidding the federal government from mandating any sort of national curriculum. The Common Core was not developed directly by the federal government and was adopted by each state independently — however, the federal government required states to sign up for the Common Core in order to be eligible for federal Race to the Top grants that came from the stimulus project, and is funding the national testing standards that are still being developed.
Although the Common Core establishes standards for what students learn at each grade and states can achieve those standards in any way they choose, many people think it will quickly result in a uniform curriculum because it will be easier to adopt one than to create one. States are not allowed to deviate from the Common Core, and schools can only add a small amount (no more than 15% of the total) to it, so it effectively ends a good portion of local control of public schools and may also end alternative schools, such as Montessori schools, that teach subjects in a different order.
Standards and Content
The people who developed the Common Core say it is an improvement over what most states have, but several states that had superior programs abandoned them for the Common Core. Detractors say it imposes mediocre schools on the entire country, as there is no incentive to do better than the Common Core. As the English and Math standards were still being developed when states signed up for the Common Core, and the other subjects were still in the early stages of being developed, there is no way to test whether they really are (or will be) better than existing standards. Some say that the CCSS were developed “backwards” — that the planners looked at the results they wanted for high school graduates and distributed the skills and content over a child’s entire school career without regard to what skills children generally develop at specific ages.
Many opponents object to specifics about the Math and English standards — some say they’re too difficult, some say they’re too easy, some say they are experimental, some say they are too rigid, some say they are too detailed. A common objection to the English standards is that they put too much emphasis on non-fiction to the detriment of students’ learning literature. A common objection to the math standards is that, like the “New Math” of the 1960s, much of it is experimental and that neither parents nor teachers understand it.
The science standards were announced last week. Several national organizations have already objected to their teaching in every grade level that people cause global warming and that population control is necessary.
The Common Core system relies on testing students frequently — including pre-tests, post-tests, tests, and yearly benchmark assessment tests. Many people think this is too much testing, and many people think that it is unrealistic to expect all children to master the same material at exactly the same time.
Moreover, it is generally acknowledged that it takes years to develop tests that accurately measure learning — one of the main objections to No Child Left Behind standards. Yet the CCSS were being adopted before any tests had been developed, and the tests will be used to prove proficiency before anyone knows whether or not they work.
The tests are also entirely electronic, which requires schools to buy and maintain a large number of computers, and which will require a fast and consistent internet connection (something that can be particularly difficult for rural schools). The tests also collect other data — racial, economic, and other demographic information, as well as specific information on each student’s progress and health (including mental and emotional health, learning disabilities, etc.). It is illegal for the federal government to collect this data, but to participate in the Common Core all states must compile it. States are given exemptions to HIPPA privacy laws and must give the data to a national (non governmental) database that will track all children until age 20.
In addition to large and ongoing expenses for buying and maintaining computers, schools either have to invest in teacher training or expect their teachers to figure out an entirely new system on their own. Materials will need to be replaced, and many books and materials will have to be discarded. Textbook and educational materials companies are revising all their offerings to go along with the new standards, and schools will either have to buy them or invest significant teacher time developing them.
Distrust of the educational establishment
Many people who have lived through educational fads think this is just one more. They distrust the teaching field as ultra-liberal, supportive of only socially liberal causes and eager to teach them to other people’s children, and more concerned with faddish methods than with mastering academic subjects. They cite falling test scores, record number of students entering college but needing remedial classes, and poor grasp of basic subject content as evidence that decades of education “reforms” have made things worse, and say it is a mistake to assume the same people responsible for that should be in charge of changing nearly all the schools in the nation. They say that the science and social studies standards are likely to reflect liberal/progressive views and that parents will not know this until after they’ve been adopted nationwide and will have no alternatives to them.
People who distrust the educational establishment tend to distrust private and parochial schools as well as public schools, because (they say) teachers and administrators are all trained by the same schools in the same methods and with the same values.
Considering laws against establishing a national curriculum (see point 1) and a national database of students (see point 3), many people fear that the federal government has set up a “stealth” operation to train and monitor all children. They cite the relative secrecy of the project — (developed by private think tanks with federal and private money, not by states, and adopted in order to be eligible for federal grants, not by vote) — the speed of its adoption (states were given only months to sign up for the Common Core, which had not been and still hasn’t been finished or tested) — the progressive politics of the people who created the standards and the funders who backed them (such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave more than $100 million) — and the vast amounts of money set to be made by computer companies, testing companies, publishing companies, and educational materials companies — as evidence for this view.
They point out that President Obama has recently called for universal preschool beginning at age four; that his Affordable Care Act will result in unprecedented government tracking and monitoring of all citizens, including by the IRS; and that the President has repeatedly pushed for legislation that violates the First and Second Amendments as well as the Defense of Marriage Act and other federal laws to bolster their claims that the Common Core is part of a pattern of coercive, intrusive, and controlling government actions.
Paranoia or Caution?
Many of the most troubling claims by CCSS opponents are impossible to refute or confirm because they are based on things that haven’t happened yet. Supporters of the Common Core say it is based on solid evidence and research, and that a national educational standard will benefit the country and improve education for all. Whether or not you believe this depends mainly on your view of the state of education now and the trustworthiness of the teaching profession, the Obama administration, and the organizations that are planning and paying for the standards.
While Glenn Beck’s opposition to the CCSS will undoubtedly bring renewed vigor and national attention to the opposition, many other people will discount it because they consider him a fringe media personality. What do other, less polarizing people say?
Diane Ravitch, a historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University who writes a blog about education in the United States and an advocate for voluntary national education standards, wrote about her opposition to the Common Core in February for many of the reasons listed above.
The Common Core standards have been adopted… without any field test. They are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time.
Maybe the standards will be great. Maybe they will be a disaster. Maybe they will improve achievement. Maybe they will widen the achievement gaps between haves and have-nots. Maybe they will cause the children who now struggle to give up altogether. Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences?
…..I recently asked a friend who is a strong supporter of the standards why he was so confident that the standards would succeed, absent any real-world validation. His answer: “People I trust say so.” That’s not good enough for me.
(For her complete essay, click here.)
The Director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Schools Office and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jim Rigg says that the Schools Office will monitor the CCSS as they develop, and will not adopt anything that is contrary to the Catholic faith or to the goals of Catholic education. The Archdiocese is also participating in the multi-state Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative (CCCII), part of a larger project called the Catholic School Standards Project.
But while the Archdiocese has some latitude in regards to using the standards (public schools have none) it has no input into the tests that will be used to measure schools. All schools in Ohio that receive tuition vouchers must participate in the national CCSS testing, and the Iowa tests — the benchmark tests the Archdiocese uses — are also being revised to reflect the CCSS. Even homeschoolers will be affected by the standards when they arrange for these tests for their children.
As always when it comes to large-scale changes in education, parents must learn all they can.
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