Throughout the news, there has been a constant push from all interest groups either supporting or opposing the new proposed standards by Common Core for the public education system. Proponents of the standards argue that this will help students succeed at levels they haven’t seen in years. They also attest that these standards will prepare students for the workforce after school. Critics shoot back, decrying the standards as taking away local control, along with maintaining that the standards are ludicrous and are hardly an improvement in any sense of the word. Sifting through recent reports on Common Core would suggest that public opinion is turning on the standards, as it was announced in the past week that both Indiana and Oklahoma would be dropping the standards, leaving 42 states in place with them (the highest count had been 45 states). But what I’ve noticed among all reports are common errors and misconceptions on what Common Core is, and I am curious how much of the criticism would fade into the background if everyone was on the same page.
To start off, Common Core is not a change in curriculum. Instead, it is a new set of standards; in other words, what the learning goals of the lessons are. Standards would be the conceptual skills that a student will develop from a lesson, such as critical thinking, writing skills, and reading comprehension. These standards can be met with any set of curriculum, so long as lessons are tailored appropriately. Curriculum, on the other hand, is the actual topic of the lesson; think of American History, Algebra I, or Biology, just to name a few topics. The standards are based on the Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains. The Taxonomy has six levels of thinking (shown below), and the problem with the current standards in many public schools is that it only relies on the three lower levels out of six.
The three, knowledge, comprehension and application, while important, don’t actually promote a lot of original thought. Critics argue that by only utilizing the three lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, you promote a system where students can understand ideas, but not create new ideas; innovation is completely lost. Some would consider this the precedent that encourages students to just memorize information for the test, and not actually retain anything. The standards, according to supporters, will require students to utilize the three higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: analysis, evaluation and synthesis. Students will not just be able to understand and apply old ideas, but they can now analyze them and make suggestions for improvements. The standards may change curriculum, if school districts feel as though their current curriculum cannot help achieve these standards, but there will hardly be a catharsis of the normal subjects in schools.
Aside from the misunderstanding of what Common Core does, there is also a rumor going around that Common Core is being mandated by the Obama Administration. As I stated earlier, only 42 states are implementing Common Core, and at its height only 45 were signed up. Common Core implementation is solely up to the states. It is true that the Obama Administration’s Education program, Race to the Top, could provide federal funds to implement “innovative” education standards statewide, and that Common Core would help the state secure these funds. However, many of the states implementing Common Core will not be receiving any of the funds from Race to the Top; the implementation will be state funded. Looking state by state, it becomes clear that this is a bipartisan conglomeration of states that hope to align their standards with one another. This is hardly a scheme by the Obama Administration to seize control from the states. Really, all the federal government is doing offering to help states cover the implementation costs of Common Core.
In fact, the federal government didn’t even write up the Common Core standards. No, it was actually a coalition of business groups, along with educators and parents. The standards are crafted to give each student the skills that employers claim that their employees lack. Business leaders believe these standards will produce a highly skilled workforce, offering our youth stable, well-paying jobs when they are done with school. Educators argue that these standards will actually improve the quality of education that students receive in public schools. The problem that students face right now is being able to produce original ideas in a coherent way so that the idea can actually be shared in the public sphere of ideas. This disconnect from ideas in one’s mind and being able to articulate them out loud is a problem, according to business leaders who believe that innovation and new frontiers are being stifled by years of an outdated model of schooling. Common Core is a new solution to an old problem, and is attempting to be the permanent solution.
But many groups and individuals are still skeptical if this is a solution that should even have a test run. While the standards don’t mandate curriculum changes, there are fears that curriculum will change so radically to achieve the standards, and many worry that the changes in curriculums won’t be dictated by local school districts. This sounds to me like nothing more than another slippery slope. Each district will be able to adjust their curriculum accordingly to help their students meet the standards of Common Core. Others worry of the cost of the new testing system. I do sympathize with these individuals, as the cost is a genuine concern. But I would argue that the current high-stakes testing model has not been a success, shown by how our students appear to struggle to compete globally with their international peers. So perhaps an overhaul is necessary, and many states have taken independent initiatives to find ways to pay for the tests. I wouldn’t call Common Core perfect, but it is definitely a step in the right direction by attempting to engage students in all six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. My suspicion is that many of Common Core’s critics are relying on misinformation, and aren’t evaluating the standards by its merits, but instead its misconceptions. Let’s set an example for our students and utilize Bloom’s Taxonomy and analyze, evaluate, and then synthesize a solution for the education crisis in our nation. Common Core is a good place to start, and we’ll see where it takes us.