Education is one of my hot buttons. I don’t talk about it much because I know that it is a hot button topic for me and I work in the industry. The best way to keep from saying something I shouldn’t is to not say much at all.
That being said, I’d like to take a minute to talk about the Common Core Standards for math and English language arts. This was brought up by a recent article where Governor Jindal of Louisiana has concerns about the Common Core.
I find this somewhat amusing as the Common Core Standards were initiated and developed by state governors and education commissioners. Further, they are voluntary. Since Louisiana is a state that has adopted the Common Core, then he (or his representatives) were invited and/or involved in the development process. Now he has concerns.
I have concerns too. I’d like to share a story with everyone.
Many years ago, there was a horrible hurricane that devastated SE Louisiana. Katrina basically made New Orleans uninhabitable for months. Many people evacuated to Texas (and other surrounding states). So that students wouldn’t be massively impacted, an agreement was reached so that evacuee students could attend local schools and not lose an entire year of education.
I was teaching in an urban school at the time and we had several dozen high school students come into our school and some into my chemistry class. In my opinion, those students were terribly unprepared for my class. For the most part, the students from New Orleans could not perform basic mathematical tasks needed for chemistry, which, honestly, is not that arduous. I’ll also state that there were more than a few Texas students were also could not perform those basic tasks.
The point is that these are juniors in high school who were basically incapable of doing 8th grade math.
Another problem is that state standards can vary wildly in terms of Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs). Students moving between states can find themselves entire grade levels ahead or behind.
Another story. This summer, I moved. That involved moving my child from one school district to another. And this was within the same county, not even between states. I was shocked that his new school, in his new grade, wasn’t quite up to the level he completed the previous year at his old school. Shocked and a little disturbed.
The entire point of the Common Core is to provide a standard (minimum) requirements for students in ELA and math. No state is required to reduce their requirements if the state requirements are higher.
These Common Core standards are based on peer-reviewed evidence on what is required for college level work. They are designed to help schools develop a progression of skills through the grade levels.
In addition, these were developed with an eye to what other countries are doing. Because, let’s face it, the US isn’t the best country for student education. We’re barely in the top 50%. The Program for International Student Assessment is an international test for 15 year-old students in reading, math, and science literacy. The 2009 results are here.
For the reading literacy, US students were not statistically different from dead average. Only 30% of US students were “capable of difficult reading tasks, such as locating embedded information, construing meaning from nuances of language and critically evaluating a text” While 18% were at or below “a baseline level of proficiency, at which students begin to demonstrate the reading literacy competencies that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life”.
In math, the US was below average and in science, the US was exactly average.
Honestly, it’s not terrible. It could be much worse. But we could be, should be doing much better.
That’s what the Common Core is intended to help. Using data on student success in college and what skills are required, the Common Core has a goal. Every student should have these skills. Then it works backwards through the grade levels to develop those skills over a student’s school career.
A similar, but unrelated, project is working on the Next Generation Science Standards.
That is all that Common Core is. It’s a voluntary program, whose goal is make sure that students have the minimum level of ELA and math skills to succeed in college or the workplace. Let me quote from the FAQ.
The Standards made careful use of a large and growing body of evidence, including:
- Scholarly research;
- Surveys on what skills are required of students entering college and workforce training programs;
- Assessment data identifying college- and career-ready performance;
- Comparisons to standards from high-performing states and nations;
- National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) frameworks in reading and writing for English language arts; and
- Findings from Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) and other studies concluding that the traditional US mathematics curriculum must become substantially more coherent and focused in order to improve student achievement.
In particular, the following criteria guided the development of the standards:
- Alignment with expectations for college and career success;
- Consistency across all states;
- Inclusion of content and the application of knowledge through high-order skills;
- Improvement upon current state standards and standards of top-performing nations;
- Reality-based, for effective use in the classroom; and
- Evidence and research-based
I don’t see what the problem is, except that (IMO) the GOP wants stupid citizens with no critical thinking skills.
I’ll be happy to answer any questions that I can.