Demand More of The Core

One would be hard-pressed to encounter a paucity of antipathy, anger and outright disgust over the Common Core education standards adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia. Whether it's disgruntled teachers burdened with teaching a new curriculum, and subsequently being rated on whether their students pass Common Core-based exams; parents banging their heads against the wall whilst trying to assist their children with convoluted homework assignments; or students themselves struggling to keep pace with accelerated lesson plans and abstract concepts, it seems as though every party has a reason to be up in arms over the standards. While there are many components of Common Core and its implementation that are worth eliminating, few vocalize the potential benefit of nationalizing a curriculum that encourages children to think critically and analytically. Rather than engage in a visceral repudiation of the curriculum based on fear of the unknown and an aversion to change, why not identify facets of the standards that clearly do not work, those that could work and those that will work with some modifications.

As someone who works in the field of education, I witness daily the impact of the Common Core on children. Many students are indeed struggling to adapt to the standards and there are inherent flaws to them; the most glaring problem being the very fact that the claims its creators make are not empirically based. Legislators purport that the standards will increase college and career-readiness for students and enhance the acquisition of math and literacy skills within our children. However, no field studies to date have actually been conducted to validate these hypotheses, which forces them to remain as such: mere hypotheses. Another egregious flaw is apparent in acknowledging the very creators of Common Core; namely, the National Governor's Association (NGA) with the influence of Pearson (a corporation specializing in the creation of standardized tests), and financial contributions by the Gates Foundation. Rather than deferring to educators and researchers whose experience can inform and guide the creation of standards, we have entrusted the education of the masses into the hands of a few capitalists who lack the expertise to craft a curriculum based on sound research. More importantly, the means of assessing the efficacy of the curriculum and of the educators whose job it is to teach the standards is reflected by scores on high-stakes standardized tests, which once again, are not supported by research as reliable estimates of content mastery.

Given the aforementioned flaws, it is understandable why many denounce Common Core. Yet as of late, I have encountered some qualitative evidence suggesting that students are beginning to acclimate to it. For instance, high school English teachers indicate that some of their ninth graders are writing detailed, evidence-based essays that actually surpass the written work produced by twelfth graders who have not been exposed to the curriculum. Elementary school teachers have shared with me that their third grade students are learning how to multiply with speed and ease without having to mechanically memorize multiplication tables because their children have established a foundation in regrouping, which has given them a firm understanding of what it means to multiply. These success stories are rarely discussed and may even suggest that there is some validity to teaching students how to engage in higher-order cognition from early ages. Thus, there may be elements of Common Core that are worth salvaging. To accomplish this feat, however, parents and educators must first advocate for significant changes.

In order for any new curriculum to be successful, whether it is Common Core or another, it is absolutely imperative to field-test it with a nationalized sample of students that is representative of the American population. Children of various ages, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds should be included, in addition to special-needs students. Moreover, why not divert the funds that have gone to the NGA and other legislative bodies who created Common Core and funnel them to the very people and institutions who are best equipped to develop curricula: universities and education researchers. Allow those who spend their careers studying how children learn to determine the potentially advantageous components of Common Core, and those that could be scrapped. Next, the pernicious correlation between the standards and high-stakes testing should be eradicated. There is nothing wrong with standardized assessments, but there is something entirely wrong with teaching children for the sake of simply passing an exam that, in the long run, does not serve as a reliable predictor of their math and reading abilities or their college and career readiness. There are far more effective ways of assessing a student's progress, such as creating portfolios of student work samples or examining a child's functioning over the course of an entire academic year versus a brief snapshot provided by a one-day exam.

Perhaps one of the most significant changes that parents should demand is that children not be treated as guinea-pigs for corporations and organizations that brainstormed a curriculum lacking scientific evidence, and to refrain from linking a child's future earning potential to their ability to pass a fourth grade math assessment. President Obama's Race to the Top program and the plethora of education funding it offered undoubtedly served as motivation for states to adopt Common Core, as opposed to whether or not the curriculum would actually benefit students in the long run. But to articulate and demand these changes does not mean that we need to completely neglect the skills that Common Core attempts to develop: analytical thinking and metacognition, among others. Given our culture's propensity for anti-intellectualism, we need to change the narrative of education and convince parents, educators and even students themselves that these seemingly esoteric concepts may be a better way to learn, if demonstrated through research and longitudinal studies that track student progress over time. It is imperative to demand this, and more, of the Common Core. Our children deserve it.