Core State Standards Raising Questions for Parents


math school blackboard chalkboard chalk school edu learn educationWith the school year starting soon, here’s a sampling of questions from recent emails:

Q. Our school district is revamping the curriculum to comply with the new Common Core State Standards, but we don’t know what that will entail. Will my kids be behind since they have not had this curriculum from the beginning of their education? Is this really an improvement or is it intended to simply get students to do better on standardized tests?

Q. My daughters go to a Catholic school in Kentucky. I am hearing that Catholic schools are adopting the Common Core State Standards. Not sure what it’s all about but I’d like to find out. Can you direct me? Where can I find good information on what the Common Core system is about?

A. I feel sorry for parents of school-aged children these days. It’s not enough that you have to assure your kids are developing physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually; you also have to practically get a job in a newsroom to keep track of all the information that impacts your children’s education.

Americans spent approximately $151,000 per student educating the class of 2009 through the 12th grade — nearly three times the amount spent educating the class of 1970 (adjusted for inflation) — with overall achievement declining or stagnating, depending on the subject.

In the 2012 assessment administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranked 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math out of 65 countries on the Program for International Student Assessment. We’re not exactly killing it.

Educators have struggled for years to find ways to improve educational outcomes — which is to say, test scores, graduation rates, college entries and other things that can be measured — while also beefing up the standards that must be met in our classrooms. This is a difficult balance.

On the one hand, teachers don’t want to “teach to the test,” believing that such a strategy puts undue emphasis on assessment and not enough on learning. On the other hand, it’s tough to tell if children are learning anything if you don’t test them.A few years ago, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offered hundreds of millions of dollars to create something called the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Developed mainly by Yale-, Oxford- and Cambridge-educated David Coleman — who is now president of the SAT-administering College Board — the initiative seeks to impose curricula that would be suitable for going to the sorts of schools he attended, which is to say the fanciest ones. Lots of solid educators believe his ideas for what should be taught in America’s classrooms reflect the fact that he has never been a teacher.

Nonetheless, working with the National Governors Association, the Gates Foundation has managed to get nearly all of our 50 states to sign on to developing curricula that’s meant to fulfill the broad educational objectives defined (loosely) in Common Core.

In states where the initiative is being implemented, districts will develop, over time, new material for classrooms. Be aware that there is a lot of wiggle room in Common Core — it’s not a specific road map but more like a suggested route that schools might take to churn out well-educated students.

For this reason, many parents are concerned that it opens the door to teachers making up their own educational agendas based on their personal ideologies or political worldview.

Parents of Catholic or parochial school children are understandably worried that the Common Core goals may undermine the objectives of religious education that undergird the educational philosophies of these schools. That’s probably a legitimate concern.

To be sure, there are respected people who both vigorously support the idea of Common Core and who stridently oppose it, for a host of reasons.

Parents need to be extremely vigilant about reviewing materials that are put into their children’s hands. The more you know, the better able you’ll be to assess and supervise your children’s education.

Remember that educating your kids isn’t the job of the schools or some big, government-run education system. It’s ultimately your job and your right.


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  • Ed

    I work in school administration and was fairly pleased with the common core initially: it gives more rigor and is much better aligned to success long term. It is especially helpful in districts that are not k-12 because there was often such a gap between 8th grade and 9th grade expectations (esp. in IL).
    On the other hand, I have become suspicious of too much federal govt control over certain lessons, particularly ones that are so contrary to my values and the values of many neighborhoods/districts that never would consider certain books/lessons.
    I have decided on this, however: If we think that the common core will be responsible for such change NOW, we have been blind. Public education has been slipping contrary values into our children for years. Schools often think they know better. Parents have always needed to be more aware. Hopefully the CC, if nothing else, will prompt some more attention.

  • DanielCrofts

    There’s a great book on the broader subject in question here called “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” by Diane Ravitch. This is not to say that I endorse everything in the book, but I think it offers some very helpful food for thought that can add constructively to the whole conversation about standardized testing, etc.