According to an article in the Huffington Post, the United States ranks 17th in education among developed countries. Finland, South Korea and Japan are all placed ahead of America in educational rankings.
The Common Core State Standard Initiative hopes that with new standards for American school children that “communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy,” as stated in the mission statement.
To be clear, the Huffington Post was not referring to America’s university system, which has seven of the top 10 universities worldwide according to Times Higher Education. The Common Core focuses on school-age children, grades kindergarten through 12th.
Origins of the Common Core
The standards for mathematics and English were released in the summer of 2010, according to the Common Core website, ready to be implemented by schools the following school year. This is not a federal program; rather each state has the choice to adopt the standards or retain their own. Interestingly enough, the United States Department of Education did not develop these standards.
The concept was created by the National Governors Association, or NGA, and the Council of Chief State School Officers, or CCSSO, with input from teachers and various teaching organizations. To create the standards, the NGA and CCSSO looked to the highest state standards as well as international standards and benchmarks. If any state adopted these standards, not one would find itself with lower standards.
Implementation in Classrooms across the Country
Because these standards are not a federal program, each state has the opportunity to tinker with the standards and adopt them to their state. Forty-five states, along with the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have adopted the standards, according to the program’s website. Among those who haven’t are Texas, Alaska, and Puerto Rico.
The Common Core standards for mathematics and English emphasize solid foundations, according the program’s website. Especially in the case of mathematics, students are going to be expected to do more than simply memorize facts to be forgotten over the summer. Instead of solely procedural learning, students should be able to understand the concept behind the fact. It will not be enough to memorize that five times five is 25 or that five tenths is equivalent to one half; students will have to understand why this is so.
In short, the standards for mathematics are as follows: for grades kindergarten through fifth, students will be expected to understand whole numbers, fractions, decimals, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Middle school children will begin learning geometry and algebra. In high school, students will focus on real-world applications of mathematics.
Because of the strong foundation, teachers should not have to teach the same facts over and over again, but apply knowledge to new learning material.
With English the standards are primarily divided into reading and writing, but also include standards for media and oral presentation. In reading, the focus is the “‘staircase’ of complexity,” according to the Common Core Standards website. The students should be reading increasingly difficult texts, enabling them to not only be ready for college-level literature, but also understand any text that they may come across.
The Common Core also focuses on content, making sure every student has read mythology, America’s founding documents, key works of the American canon, and Shakespeare. However, the Common Core does not generate a reading list for each grade level. They have a suggested list, but the ultimate decision for the reading list lies in the curriculum, which the Common Core does not touch for either subject.
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The writing portion of the Common Core’s English standards emphasizes logical reasoning and begins building the concept in early grade levels. Students will have to write sound argument pieces and opinion writing as well as research papers. By writing short texts and in-depth papers, the student will be well-rounded and well-prepared for writing in college and in the workplace.
Other subjects, such as science and social studies, do not yet have Common Core standards in place, but are in development.
Local Reactions to the Standards
According to The Times-Picayune, Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish parents are more than a little upset at the new change. In an article titled, “St. Tammany parents vent about Common Core standards during loud Tuesday night meeting,” parents have vowed to fight the Common Core standards to the end, voicing complaints about the “federalization” of school standards, inappropriate reading lists, and students’ anxiety about the new mathematics program.
Louisiana is not alone. A website called “Floridians Against Common Core Education” states that they are trying to protect their children from “progressive liberal, socialist Marxist ideologies.” They do not see the standards being raised, but rather lowered, and point to the lack of evidence that Common Core standards will actually improve students’ comprehension and writing skills. Even with all of this backlash, Louisiana and Florida have adopted the Common Core standards.
To be fair, there is an overwhelming lack of evidence that the Common Core standards will vastly improve education for American children, and it will be a long time before evidence is ready. School boards and teachers will have to wait to compare Common Core students with everyone else because the best results will come from younger students who have either had the Common Core most or all of their academic careers. Researchers will have to wait to see how today’s first and second graders fair in college or in the workplace.
Despite beliefs to the contrary, this fluid new set of standards may help the American educational system compete with those of countries like South Korea or Japan. Whether the students or parents are ready or not, this is the future of American education, and it may be a change for the better.
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