What is Common Core?
Common Core is basically a nationalized educational movement across America that created national standards in our education system. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of learning standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. These standards will replace existing state standards in these subject areas.
“The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.” – CCSS Mission Statement
It’s more than just economic standards, it’s reform.
What’s Wrong With The Core Standards
The Common Core Standards are of mediocre academic quality. Even Common Core proponents have conceded that the Standards are clearly inferior to those of several states and no better than those of about a dozen states. More objective analysts have concluded that in both English language arts (ELA) and mathematics, the Common Core Standards are deficient. Moreover, both the ELA and the math standards rest on questionable philosophies.
Dr. Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas, a member of Common Core’s Validation Committee who refused to sign off on the Standards, criticizes the ELA standards as “empty skill sets . . . [that] weaken the basis of literary and cultural knowledge needed for authentic college coursework.”
Common Core’s focus on skill sets rather than true content is unlikely to genuinely educate students in English, reading, rhetoric, or composition. Nor do the ELA standards validate Common Core’s boast of “college-readiness.” Dr. Stotsky analyzed the high-school examples
of “complexity” in Common Core and concluded that “the average reading level of the passages on the common tests now being developed to determine ‘college-readiness’ may be at about the grade 7 level.”
Common Core’s ELA standards (as well as the math standards) are designed to prepare students only for nonselective community colleges – which was in fact admitted by one of the Standards-writers when questioned by skeptical Standards-evaluators. Because of this misleading definition of “collegereadiness,” Dr. Stotsky warns, colleges “will likely be under pressure from the [Department of Education] to retain these students so as to increase college graduation rates even if they are reading at only middle school level.”
In addition to their technical deficiencies, the ELA Standards radically change the focus of instruction. They de-emphasize the study of classic literature in favor of reading so-called “informational texts,” such as government documents, court opinions, and technical manuals. In fact, the Standards dictate that well over half the reading curriculum, at least in grades 6 through 12, should consist of informational texts rather than classic literature. This will present difficulties for English teachers, the vast majority of whom have not been trained to teach such material (nor would most want to). And it is likely to diminish the communications skills students need to succeed in college and career. Not only does Common Core limit the amount of literature that can be taught, but there are indications that it promotes the most intellectually disengaging techniques for presenting even the informational texts.
But even more disturbing is that Common Core would deprive students of the intangible benefits of studying classic literature. A student who learns to love great books learns to understand great principles that endure throughout human history; to imagine himself in other times and other worlds; to understand different perspectives and points of view; to appreciate the history of his nation and others; and to love, and perhaps emulate, the well-crafted phrase, sentence, and paragraph. Most of these benefits cannot be obtained from reading informational texts.
Common Core’s embrace of the latter at the expense of the former is a surrender to the idea that most students should be trained for static jobs, not developed as creative human beings who can fulfill their own potential and take their place in society as citizen leaders. Teaching students informational documents rather than classic literature may train them to be adequate entry-level workers for existing factory jobs, but it will not educate them to be thoughtful citizens and empower them in the exercise of their liberty.
University English professors are beginning to recognize and express concern about the educational philosophy represented by the Common Core ELA standards. Dr. Anthony Esolen of Providence College, for example, has urged one state legislature to reject Common Core’s attempts to diminish our children’s literary heritage:
What appalls me most about the [Common Core] standards . . . is the cavalier contempt for great works of human art and thought, in literary form. It is a sheer ignorance of the life of the imagination. We are not programming machines. We are teaching children. We are not producing functionaries, factory-like. We are to be forming the minds and hearts of men and women. . . . Frankly, I do not wish to be governed by people whose minds and hearts have been stunted by a strictly utilitarian miseducation. . . . Do not train them to become apparatchiks in a vast political and economic system, but raise them to be human beings, honoring what is good and right, cherishing what is beautiful, and pledging themselves to their families, their communities, their churches, and their country.
Common Core’s mathematics standards also fall short of the best we should offer our students. Mathematics Professor R. James Milgram of Stanford University, the only mathematician on the Validation Committee, concluded that the mathematics standards would put students two years behind those of many high-achieving countries, such as those in East Asia.
Dr. Milgram thus refused to sign off on the math standards. Curriculum expert Grant Wiggins described the math standards as “a bitter disappointment.” Dr. Milgram has identified several specific problems with the math standards. A significant concern is that Common Core places algebra I in grade 9 rather than grade 8. This means that the large majority of students will not reach calculus in high school, as expected by elite colleges.
Another problem is that geometry teachers will be instructed to teach their subject with an experimental method never used successfully anywhere in the world.53 This method failed with math prodigies in the Soviet Union fifty years ago; what is the likelihood it will succeed with the average American student today?