Common Core Standards Are Hitting Roadblocks--With Good Cause
According to a report by National Public Radio (npr.org 6/24/13) there is a growing backlash against the new Common Core Standards. The standards have been accepted by 46 states and the District of Colombia, most of which received some federal funds as an incentive for their acceptance.
Opposition seems to be gathering around three concerns. First, as Lindsey Burke, an education fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says, "This is an effort largely driven by national organizations and the federal government, and for many, the fear is that that will come at the expense of state and local control of education."
The second concern is that the new standards will drive the curriculum and assessments. Burke notes that textbooks are already advertising that they are "Common Core-aligned textbooks."
The third worry is a pragmatic one for those states that have already adopted the standards. How are they going to pay for the costs of implementing them? As the NPR article noted, "Everyone on both sides of the standards agrees that implementation of Common Core will cost money. There are tests and new textbooks, and teachers will need to be retrained." Supporters say the results will be worth the costs. Opponents, however, say there is not enough evidence to show that will actually be the case.
Among those who say that the standards have not been adequately field tested is former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, who in most cases is a vocal opponent of conservative positions on education reform, such as school vouchers and charter schools. Ravitch says she also mistrusts the fact that a number of large corporations support the standards--many of which will benefit financially through sale of curriculum materials, online learning venues, and tests once the standards are implemented.
Christian educators have been sitting on the sidelines of this debate, since at this point there is no move to impose these curriculum standards on Christian schools. That, however, may change in the future.
Another concern for graduates of Christian, private, and homeschools should be the fact that the College Board, which produces the SAT, has already begun putting out materials to demonstrate how closely their tests were aligned to the Common Core. Now that the man behind the development of these standards, David Coleman, is president the College Board, the alignment will no doubt be tightened.
Coleman recently reached out to Christian educators in an effort to broaden the base of support for the Common Core. As Karen Swallow Prior reported, "He invited a dozen Christian thinkers and scholars to join him for two days "to discuss the challenges and implications of the new literacy standards for people of faith."
Prior posted an opinion article, "The Good News of Common Core," on Christianity Today's website on June 20, 2013. She urged evangelicals to get behind the Common Core Standards, primarily because of the standards for literacy. She wrote:
The vision behind the literacy standards boasts that the skills taught through Common Core--engagement with literary and informational texts, critical reading, cogent reasoning--will apply beyond the classroom and workplace. It's easy to see the parallels between these skills and the close reading and study of Scripture upheld by today's evangelicals.
At the end of her article Prior concluded,
Indeed, the kind of careful readers the Common Core literacy standards seek to develop are exactly the kind of readers that people of a Word-based faith seek to cultivate, too.... In short, the Common Core standards of reading promise to revitalize the fading art of reading well. For Christians, this is indeed good news.
As already noted, critics such as Ravitch are saying that what the Common Core "promises" and "seeks to develop" just hasn't been demonstrated yet. Therefore the rush to adopt them is premature and largely a gamble based on high hopes but little evidence.
In her article, Prior does not indicate that she reviewed the at standards herself, or that she even read them. Among those who have reviewed them, there is no agreement that these standards will "revitalize the fading art of reading," nor that they will develop the kind of "careful readers" that Prior hopes they will.
One of the major criticisms of the standards is that they lower the amount of literature students are exposed to from 80 percent to 50 percent. The other 50 percent of texts students will read are classified as "informational texts" which could include reading a computer manual or a Supreme Court decision.
One of the problems this raises is the fact that these are not the kinds of documents that English teachers are trained to teach, says Dr. Sandra Stotsky, who is Professor of Education Reform and holds the Chair in Teacher Quality at the University of Arkansas. Stotsky had the chance to look closely at the standards when she served on Common Core's Validation Committee from 2009-2010.
Dr. Stotsky says the Common Core's English Language Arts (ELA) standards "badly misinform reading and English teachers on a number of disciplinary matters." For example, she says, "Informational reading standards do not clearly distinguish the modes of organizing an expository text (e.g., order of time, cause and effect) from structural elements (e.g., purpose, introduction, body, and conclusion)."
Stotsky's extensive analysis of the other shortcomings of the literacy (ELA) standards is presented in a white paper put out in May 2012 by the Pioneer Institute and American Principles Project. The paper gives five major criticisms of the Common Core Standards drawing from the testimony and research of experts such as Stotsky and others:
- the standards are of mediocre quality and rest on questionable philosophies
- the Common Core Standards/Race to the Top effort violates three federal statutes and eliminates state autonomy
- the Common Core Standards requires a governance system that will further impair state and parental rights
- states and their taxpayers will incur substantial costs to implement the Common Core
- the Common Core Standards system intrudes on student and family privacy.
Taken together, these concerns should indicate that before evangelicals put their shoulders behind the push for adoption of Common Core, they should take a long, hard look at the potential consequences of adoption.
There is much at stake in this debate, and just because the standards are for the present only being imposed on state funded schools does not mean that they will not be broadened to apply to private, parochial, and Christian schools, and even homeschooling, in the future.
The time to stop the long arm of government from reaching inside our homeschools and Christian classrooms is not when they are at the door, demanding entrance. If you are a Christian parent or grandparent, now is the time to educate yourself on this issue. Then, when you have the facts, join in the community discussions and participate in the forums that are being held all around the country on Common Core. Make your voice heard and stand for truth.
"The entirety of Your word is truth. And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever" (Psalm 119:160.)
Karen Swallow Prior's article can be found at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/june-web-only/good-news-of-common-core.html
More information on the perceived problems with the Common Core can be found at: