Common Core Misconceptions

Common Core Misconceptions


More voices waded into the Common Core conversation this weekend in the pages of the New York Times. In the provocatively titled, "Who's Minding the Schools?," Andrew Hacker, an emeritus professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York and long-time New York Times writer-turned university adjunct prof Claudia Dreifus ask two questions:

"Will national, ramped-up standards produce more successful students? Or will they result in unintended consequences for our educational system?"

That seems like the classic "When did you stop beating your spouse?" setup.

Virtually every action we take has unintended consequences. Clearly we should avoid those actions that are fraught with problems. But anytime the rules of the game change, there will be unintended consequences--both good and bad. And to answer whether our students will be "more successful," we have to have a notion about what "success" means: will they do better on tests? Make more money? Live the American dream?

I suspect the authors meant the latter: Will the new standards help our children thrive when they become adults? And provocatively, the (paper) version of the New York Times offered an interesting context for this question by simultaneously running a piece by computer scientist, Jaron Lanier entitled: "Fixing the Digital Economy." Lanier's essay is rather grim. He believes that computer technology is widening the divide between the rich and the poor, in part because people don't understand what's valuable in the information age. They settle for virtual tschotskes--not real compensation--for the value that they have in the digital world because they don't understand how the other 1% is making money. He proposes a way to more appropriately charge for value.

I'm not sure Lanier's solution is the right answer--but I do agree that the future is at least as complicated as he portrays. So if our children are to survive--better, thrive--in this brave digital world, we have to help them become sophisticated, integrative thinkers, to be able to detect points of view, to know how to ask questions, and a whole raft of analytical skills.

Can the Common Core help? Surely it is better than simply memorizing facts.

Jumping to the online version of the New York Times story, there were a number of comments from teachers on the "Minding Schools" piece. I've picked a couple of excerpts below--but read through them. What runs through the comments is an acknowledgement that yes, the Common Core will demand more from students and especially, more from teachers.

But what worries them isn't what they will have to learn but instead the assessments that are to come--and how those will be administered.

"....I have just introduced the Common Core standards for English to the school where I am working in India, where the syllabus is "prescribed" along with a very restrictive exam system by a central board...What I like about the Common Core is that it does NOT dictate "content" but rather emphasizes skills and strategies which, if implemented with care and respect for diversity, could ensure that all students know how to read a document, analyze its style, meaning and significance, and apply its content to an original piece of writing which defends a central, coherent thought..." --from Kaye, India

"...As a teacher, I like the Common Core, as do many of my colleagues, because it gives us definite guidelines for what should be taught and in what order. There is much less ambiguity. Adoption of the Common Core also frees many of us from the shackles of scripted programs which truly are one-size-fits-all attempts at education. In many ways the Common Core treats us more as professionals because we are simply told what to teach, but how to teach it and with what are left up to our own professional judgment..." --from Mister Teacher, New Mexico

"....As a Chicago Public School teacher, a veteran of 30 some years, and someone who has never wanted anyone to tell me what to teach, I nonetheless welcome the Common Core State Standards. Our previous state standards were vague and incoherent, completely unhelpful in designing curriculum. Common Core does not, in fact, tell me what to teach, though there are suggested texts that I can look at for examples of the appropriate text complexity. Then if I am willing to do the work myself, I can find texts of similar complexity that speak to my current students' interests, in order to teach the foundational skills of close reading, argument, critical thinking....." --from slang, Chicago

More comments from teachers on the Common Core are here on the New York Times education blog.

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