By David Musselwhite/Michigan PTA
The Common Core, a comprehensive set of internationally-benchmarked and comprehensive K-12 standards in mathematics and English Language Arts, has fallen prey to exaggerated and dishonest criticism from educators and Washington think tanks. It isn’t difficult to find naysayers who lump the Common Core into arguments against what they call “corporate education reform.”
Common Core critics, in their haste to paint anything related to standardized testing as “the intellectual maiming of an entire generation,” to quote Scott Baker's commentary in Bridge, ignore the many benefits Common Core will provide to teachers, parents, and students.
Before the Common Core, our 50 states created 50 different sets of educational standards, or statements of what students should be able to do after completing a grade level or course. We didn’t have a common set of rigorous expectations for our children. In a country that strives to achieve fairness and equality of opportunity, we were targeting different outcomes for students based solely on where they lived. Not lucky enough to be born in New York, Massachusetts, or another state with high-quality, challenging standards? Too bad.
Aside from raising expectations for the vast majority of our nation’s students, the Common Core encourages collaboration. Using Common Core as a blueprint, teachers can develop lesson plans, materials, and assessments that can be shared widely. This keeps teachers from constantly reinventing the wheel and allows the best methods and tools to rise to the top.
I’ve watched this effect in action with a former colleague of mine. A geometry teacher in Detroit Public Schools, she purchased a set of PowerPoint presentations online for $10. These slides were created by a teacher and aligned completely to the textbook DPS uses and to the Common Core. Instead of spending hours creating PowerPoints, her time can be spent designing engaging activities to reinforce learning, or creating meaningful assessments that reveal gaps in student understanding.
Educators are finding opportunities to work together at all levels. The Tri-State Collaborative, a forum of educational leaders from New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, has created rubrics for evaluating the quality of Common Core-aligned lesson plans and units. Educators working together to improve outcomes – it isn’t “corporate education reform,” it’s common sense.
Parents realize the benefits of Common Core as well – that’s why the National PTA and Michigan PTA have fully endorsed these new standards. For too many parents, moving from one state to another has meant that their children were far ahead of or far behind their peers. The Common Core addresses that concern, which is especially relevant to our military families. In addition, the standards’ focus on clarity means that parents will be able to understand exactly what is being asked of their children, allowing them to assist teachers in preparing students for college and the global work force.
The most common criticism of the standards is that they seek to industrialize teaching and turn students into filing cabinets for knowledge. This could not be further from the truth. It is still the job of teachers to deliver content in ways that engage learners and activate their imaginations.
Standards are not curriculum, they are not scripted lesson plans, and they are not indoctrination. This is not an attempt to enrich testing companies or bring about the end of public education as we know it. The Standards simply seek to raise expectations, make it easier for professional educators to collaborate, and provide better guidance to parents who seek to help their children succeed.
The benefits are already visible. When will these critics start telling the truth?