Common Core, part 2: What’s in there, anyway?

Okay, I’m back from Idaho and ready to start the new year! We have some big plans here at GriffinEd World Headquarters; I’ll be sharing those with you soon, but first I’d like to finish discussing the Common Core.

First, you don’t need me to tell you what’s in the Core: you can read it all online.

It’s pretty gobbledegooky at first glance, but I reckon it isn’t any more so than the old state-by-state standards. If you take it in small pieces (look only at 3rd grade math, for example), it’s easier to decipher.

I have heard and read some negative comments about the Core, which can mostly be boiled down to the following three complaints:

  1. Having common standards is an unconstitutional overreach by the federal government.
  2. The process of creating the new standards was not inclusive enough.
  3. These new standards are not as good as the standards my state already had.

These are all valid concerns. For what it’s worth, here’s what I think.

  1. Well, maybe. Amendment 10 of the Constitution clearly forbids the federal government any role in functions not described in the Constitution, reserving those functions to the states and to individual citizens; so by a strict reading of the Constitution, there should not even be a federal department of education. As I understand it, the whole rationale behind federal involvement in education is that education affects national issues such as interstate commerce, civil rights, and national security which do fall under the purview of the federal government. I’d prefer not to go too deeply into this particular question here, as I expect we could argue about it all day and probably not change anyone’s mind. If you have an opinion I’m happy to hear from you. Personally, I’m more interested in how to implement the new standards than in where they came from. Having spent some time poking around under the hood of the Core as published, I have not found anything excessively liberal/conservative/fundamentalist/atheist/socialist/statist/anarchist in there, so I feel okay using the Core as a basis for my work. And yeah, I know the federal government is not officially involved in the Core, but the federal department of education has a pretty large budget to dole out to “deserving” states, so don’t tell me that isn’t why so many states signed on to the Core before the standards were even finished.
  2. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about exactly how the Common Core was crafted. Honestly, I don’t know enough about the drafting process to have an informed opinion. I didn’t track it closely for the same reasons I mentioned above. Again, I am happy to hear your opinion.
  3. All I have here is the anecdotal evidence of a few dozen teachers in California and Arizona with whom I have discussed this. One of them complained that the Common Core standards for math require a little less of students at the high school level than the old California math standards. The rest of the teachers I have spoken with, including the ones who didn’t like the process behind the standards, say they actually like what they see in the new standards a lot, particularly the new emphasis on reasoning and evidence. One thought: there is nothing in the standards that says you can’t teach MORE than the standards require. My home town of La Canada, for example, generally sets the bar a year or two above what the standards require, and nobody seems to be complaining.

The main thing I have heard from fellow teachers, though, is that we just won’t know how well the Common Core will work until we’ve been doing it for a few years. I agree: I’ve seen plenty of education reforms, including some really good-sounding ideas, go down in flames due to poor implementation and follow-through. If our politicians, publishers, administrators, teachers, and parents can maintain a clear, shared vision of what we want from this process (I admit that’s a tall order), then it just might work.

Oh, and one other thing my friends at NSTA will want you to know: the Core is for language arts and math, not for science. For science, we have the Next Generation Science Standards, which is a whole other kettle of fish. Maybe we’ll get to that another day, but not right now.