Common Core: Is The Hype Really Just Hype?

Common-Core-based standards hang on the wall of master math teacher Beth Moore's classroom at Walker Elementary in Northport, Ala. Schools across the state are using the math standards, and the language arts standards go into effect this fall. Walker has enthusiastically embraced the Common Core. Photo by Dan Carsen.

Common-Core-based standards hang on the wall of master math teacher Beth Moore’s classroom at Walker Elementary in Northport, Ala. Schools across the state are using the math standards, and the language arts standards go into effect this fall. Walker has embraced the Common Core. Photo by Dan Carsen.

There’s been a revolution in American K-12 education: the “Common Core State Standards.” Released in 2010, they’re math and language arts standards meant to raise rigor and establish consistency across the nation. They’ve been adopted in 45 states. But in the first of a three-part series, Alabama reporter Dan Carsen tells us that even in those places, all is not quiet on the Common Core front:

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A wise person once said, “If a liar says it’s daytime, that doesn’t make it dark.” That subtle thought may apply to the controversy over Common Core. The new standards aren’t exactly fun to read. Most people haven’t, and that’s part of why pundit Glenn Beck can say this:

“Our kids are going to be indoctrinated with extreme leftist ideology. That should terrify most people.”

Conservative activists are fired up. That’s certainly true in Alabama, which has adopted Common Core.* According to Elois Zeanah, president of the state’s Federation of Republican Women, “Your child will not be able to escape Common Core materials that are anti-Christian, anti-capitalism, and anti-America, or that are pro-homosexuality, illegal immigration, unions, environmentalism, gun control, feminism, and social justice … Remember the quote by Hitler, ‘Give me your children, and in 10 years I’ll change society’? The Obama administration intends to do just that.”

But there are also temperate critics of Common Core. State senator Dick Brewbaker sponsored a bill to pull Alabama out of the standards. It failed, but similar measures are popping up in Alabama and across the country. Even so, Brewbaker himself admits some of the criticism is off-base. “Let’s put it this way,” he says: “The only ‘conspiracy’ is one to make money.”

For the record, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, not Obama, developed Common Core. But all the guilt-by-association aside, Obama’s education department has used grant money to encourage states to adopt it. And speaking of money, publishing and assessment companies do stand to make a ton. “Common Core aligned” is a strong sales pitch.

Brewbaker has misgivings about any trend toward nationalization of education because he says innovation comes from “our 50 laboratories.” And regarding his home state specifically, he adds, “Our problem in Alabama has never been low standards. We’ve had some of the highest graduation requirements in the country. Our problem is we are a low-funding state. We are a state with a very high dropout rate. We are losing far too many students, and I just don’t think content standards are why they’re leaving school.”

Some educators think Common Core will further increase the use of high-stakes tests, boosting pressure to cheat or to turn schools into test-prep factories where standards become curriculum. In other words, instead of learning a book that’s full of literary techniques, Johnny gets separate exercises on, say, identifying theme, context clues, and alliteration. The standards themselves become the curriculum, the focus of lessons, as opposed to something learned along the way. That’s actually the opposite of Common Core’s intent, but especially when educators’ jobs are on the line, it often happens that way on the ground.

But supporters point out, among other things, that kids who move from one state to another will be able to make easier academic transitions under Common Core. Alabama is already using the math standards and is set to implement the language arts standards this fall.

Math teacher Beth Moore circulates during a group-work math lesson. Photo by Dan Carsen.

Math teacher Beth Moore circulates during a group-work lesson. Photo by Dan Carsen.

At Walker Elementary in rural Northport, master teacher Beth Moore likes what she’s seeing. Thanks to the new standards, she says, “rather than just hitting the surface on a lot of things, I’m really going deep. It has kicked my job up to a level that has been a real challenge for me, and is an ongoing challenge, in an exciting way. I don’t wanna be an old teacher — you can teach an old dog new tricks, but she’s gotta get in there and work on it. [Common Core] increases the level of rigor tremendously.”

Many foundations, business groups, and education reform organizations support Common Core. So do school administrators who don’t even want to think about trying to squeeze the metaphorical toothpaste back into the tube, despite some growing pains.

So, will Common Core be good for American education? It’s too early to tell, but this big ball is rolling, and there are a lot of adults behind it. And kids in front of it.

 

* Alabama has also kept a few of its own previous standards. Officially, the state education department calls the combination “The Alabama College and Career Ready Standards,” but it’s basically Common Core with a few homegrown standards mixed in.

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11 Comments

  1. Pingback:Southern Education Desk – Core Controversy: The Political Debate Over Classroom Standards

  2. Calvin Briggs says:

    Great report. Providing the public with a better understanding of common core is important to education Alabama.

    Glen Dalgleish says:

    Dan just scratches the surface of what Common Core will do. Using money to “encourage” states to participate is like saying the mob encouraged people to pay protection money. Common Core adoption was a must before the encouragement would be considered. There was also no mention of the loss of privacy of our children through the implementation of the state longitudinal database systems (FERPA was amended to get this through). Information that will go to commercial companies. And of course the lack of mentioning that its untried and unfunded (tax payer be prepared to open your wallet again). Cost analysis show it will cost 10 times as much to test as before. Please cover the downside too, not just make it a by-line.

      Dan Carsen says:

      Mr. Dalgleish: Thank you for your comments. I think your points are well taken. A few additional points: 1) It would be impossible to address everything you bring up in a four-minute radio piece. 2) No school standards can really be “tried” before they are actually “tried,” as in, put in place. 3) I have seen various cost analyses, and I can tell you right now that testing under a Common Core regime will almost certainly NOT cost “10 times as much.” There are indeed cost issues to worry about, but that particular prediction is almost certainly off base and seems like exaggerated fear-mongering. Opponents of Common Core should probably stick with reliable facts and figures. There IS a legitimate debate to be had, (that’s what the piece is really about — a big-picture view of some of the elements of that debate). 4) A “by-line” refers to the reporter’s name (as in “by Joe Reporter”).
      Thank you for paying attention to such an important issue, and thank you for your time. I hope you keep reading/listening and commenting. Best, Dan

    Eric Crisp says:

    Mr Dalglesh’s 10X number probably comes from what’s being talked about around school faculties – I’ve heard similar here. I do not know if there is any basis to the number or not. However, one of the things which might increase the cost of the testing is a change in format from simple multiple choice response. This is being considered under the PARC assessments model. Folks have been assaulting the multiple choice format for years – so there’s an effort to change it. But it won’t happen for free. It will be more expensive to grade, via humans (plural) or AI, an essay response than an A through D multiple choice response.

      Dan Carsen says:

      Good points, Mr. Crisp. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. There MAY be some savings from the homogenization of the tests across states, but overall, I think you and Mr. Dalgleish are right: if I had to bet, I’d say testing costs will increase (I hope it won’t be my anything near 1,000 percent).

    Hitler is quoted as saying, “Give me your children, and in ten years I’ll change society.”

    I can’t find the quote as attributed to Hitler, but almost the exact same words were taught me over 75 years ago as being the slogan of the Roman Catholic Church.
    The further claim that the Common Core represents ideals that are “anti-Christian, anti-capitalism, and anti-America, are pro-homosexuality, illegal immigration, unions, environmentalism, gun control, feminism, and social justice,” could well have been reduced to “anti-Obamaism.”

    Glenn Beck is quoted; I don’t have to repeat any quote of his; we all know exactly what to expect. His penchant for squeezing every possible drop of paranoia from any situation is well-known.

      Dan Carsen says:

      Mr. Eaton — thank you for your comments. Good points all. BTW, if I’d had more airtime in the story, I probably would’ve mentioned that Glenn Beck, after making those comments (and others), went into a stand-alone testimonial for a company that sells gold … you know, for people who assume everything is going to come crashing down sometime next week. Thanks & Best, Dan

    john keir says:

    I am a parent and am very much against common core. I have done extensive research on the learning materials and find them to be a bit indoctrinating to say the least. The material is very socialist leaning and some is almost a community organizers handbook. Some teaches environmental issues that is left leaning and based on bad science. I am also very alarmed at the data mining to follow the progress of our children’s beliefs and attitudes about social issues. I find this to be a invasion of privacy as never seen before in this country. I will be fighting a war against this common core, that has as many other changes have been, rammed down our throats. I am getting my message out to all parents who are against this to stop participating in the weekly school fund raisers we have been vigorously supporting. We may have to pay for this through our taxes but we don’t have to work overtime to support it by fund raising. I will also encourage every parent I can reach to watch what their children are being taught, read their school books, and look for any socialist leaning lessons. If you find material that is offensive, goes against you religious beliefs, or is socialist in nature, file lawsuits against the school, the organization responsible for implementing this, and the company who wrote the lesson plan. Money is driving this. Money given to the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers by Bill Gates. Mr. Gates stands to make millions off software and other tech products to implement and run this abomination. He is also very left leaning in his beliefs. Other monies are coming from corporations who also stand to profit from this. Not to mention the leftist companies who will be printing the teaching materials. Its no secret our educational system has been moving more towards indoctrinating our children into socialism for the last 20 years. That’s evident by how many of our collage professors are liberals. Now they will have the teaching aids and the blessing from our government. Fight back parents and fight hard. We didn’t have a one size fits all liberal education system when we became the most powerful, wealthiest, and most advanced country on the planet. We have been moving left for decades that are marked with joblessness, increasing poverty, loss of ambition, increased dependence on government social programs, and substantial loss of opportunity. Its time to draw a line in the sand and send the socialists packing. Stand up and fight or sit back and watch a once great nation brought down to mediocrity.

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