Common Core transforms education
North Carolina is among 45 states that have adopted new national standards that seek to make education in the United States more uniform, through a system called the Common Core Standards.
Sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, these standards were developed to create a consistent set of objectives for K-12 education between states.
James Martin, professor of chemistry and a member of the Wake County Board of Education, said “There is concern that there has been too much variability, depending where you are, and that is not seen as good.”
The standards only apply to mathematics and English language arts, which Martin said he would attribute to the objectivity of the subjects. “It’s further separated from political or social philosophies and so it’s more likely the thing that you could get national standards on,” Martin said. Science worries policy makers because they don’t know what to do about evolution, while civil rights causes discord when creating standards for history, according to Martin.
Hiller Spires, professor of education and Senior Research Fellow at the Friday Institute and College of Education, said the standards for English education include shifts for increasing text complexity, close readings of informational text, and the grounding of answers within the text instead of having a student rely on prior knowledge to answer questions. Spires said requiring students to find answers in the text will increase vocabulary skills and give them a higher ability to work with concepts, allowing them to do better on standardized tests.
According to Teaching Assistant Professor for Elementary Education Valerie Faulkner and Senior Research Fellow at the Friday Institute Alan Maloney, the math standards will create more integration between math topics because topics like algebra and geometry are all connected to one another and taught together in courses like Common Core 1.
The push for standards in general comes heavily out of the No Child Left Behind policy, Martin said, but he said he was cautious about setting standards that are too prescriptive as it limits teachers to covering what the standards outline and create too much emphasis on content, rather than learning and critical thinking skills.
“The problem is…everyone is trying to cram too much in, making learning as though it is about content, and I will argue very strongly that learning is more about process and critical thinking than it is about any content,” Martin said. “Your best education is going to come if I teach out of my experience.”
Michael Maher, Director of Professional Education, said he supports the new standards as both teachers and experts helped design them. He argues the consistent standards will allow the public to see more direct comparisons on a national scale.
Kenneth Bernstein, a retired and award-winning high school social studies teacher, as well as a nationally known writer on educational policy, said uniform standards will not work because some students learn faster while other students need more time. Educators and lawmakers at both polar extremes of the political spectrum are opposed to Common Core State Standards, Bernstein said. However, the federal government, though it did not directly create the standards, still supports the initiative through programs like Race to the Top by increasing the likelihood that participants of Common Core State Standards will get more funding. “There’s $650 billion spent on K-12 education each year and people want to get their hands on it,” Bernstein said.
Common Core State Standards is an untested change in education policy, according to Bernstein, and he said he questions spending billions of dollars on an approach if it is not guaranteed to work.
Martin said there were some positive approaches about the proposed curriculum. “The one good thing about it is, at least in its description, there is a goal to go deeper into material, to deal with complexity, and to move away from just the rote, information response,” Martin said.
Martin said he is also in favor of the standards’ shift to a competency basis as opposed to a content basis, as well as their focus on experiential learning. Though experiential learning takes more time, Martin said.
Spires said while she is in support of Common Core State Standards, she worries that struggling students won’t have adequate resources because increased rigor will require more support.
Teachers may also struggle to adapt their past teaching techniques to fit with the new standards, Faulkner said. She said she hopes policy makers will give teachers more time outside of a class full of students to “hone their craft [and] be professionals.”