Common Core Makes Strange Bedfellows

north-carolina-standardsThe newest federal education initiative, the Common Core, has been shown to divide roomfuls of education advocates unlike any other topic—and those divisions might surprise you. Some of the nation’s leading progressive supporters of well-funded, high-quality public education oppose the new standards enforced by the Common Core, along with many right-wing pundits who view the Common Core as an attempt by the federal government to take over the education system… Which it is not.

What is the Common Core? Several years ago, governors from across the country got together to create new educational standards to ensure that every child has the skills they need to succeed in the workplace or in higher education. The idea was to create goals that would build a strong, competitive workforce nationwide.

The Common Core consists of goals, not curricula. It doesn’t tell teachers how to teach or even what to teach. It simply outlines skills every student should have at the end of each grade level.

Although the federal government didn’t launch the Common Core initiative, the Obama administration does support it – so, naturally, many Republican governors now renounce it. Here in North Carolina, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest is leading the charge to roll back implementation of the Common Core.

Meanwhile, business leaders in the state have come out in favor of it. At an event last week, leaders from the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and various companies praised the Common Core for ensuring that the future workforce has achieved basic academic skills as well as “soft” skills, such as problem-solving and collaboration.

Furthermore, the National Education Association, which represents three million educators, supports the Common Core.

So on one side we have teachers and business leaders in support of the Common Core, and on the other side Tea Partyers and Glenn Beck in opposition. The division seems pretty cut and dry– until you read a recent column by Diane Ravitch, one of the nation’s foremost education advocates. If you’re looking for someone who knows the ins and outs of America’s education system and what measures will best improve schools and outcomes for students, you can’t do much better than Ravitch.

And she does not like the Common Core.

As Ravitch wrote for the Huffington Post:

Can anyone explain how the nation can adopt national standards without any evidence whatsoever that they will improve achievement, enrich education, and actually help to prepare young people — not for the jobs of the future, which are unknown and unknowable — but for the challenges of citizenship and life? The biggest fallacy of the Common Core standards is that they have been sold to the nation without any evidence that they will accomplish what their boosters claim.

Across the nation, our schools are suffering from budget cuts. Because of budget cuts, there are larger class sizes and fewer guidance counselors, social workers, teachers’ assistants, and librarians. Because of budget cuts, many schools have less time and resources for the arts, physical education, foreign languages, and other subjects crucial for a real education.

As more money is allocated to testing and accountability, less money is available for the essential programs and services that all schools should provide.

Our priorities are confused.

So where do you stand on the Common Core? Perhaps that depends on your ideas about the true purpose of education. If you believe our public schools should serve as training grounds to ensure our children grow up to become good, productive employees, than maybe you support the Common Core. But if you believe that schools should be about enriching students’ minds, exposing them to a wide range of subjects and ideas, and preparing them to be good citizens, then maybe you oppose the testing-crazy system.

Where do you come down on this issue?




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