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The Rest of the Story on Common Core: Part 1 in a Series

May 5, 2013

There are two sides to every story, especially in the bifurcated realm of public policy.

On March 27, 2013, we published Back in River City writer Darrell Hugueley’s article welcoming the Common Core State Standards initiative to Tennessee. Since then, the issue has consumed a lot of ink – or pixels, or whatever the digital equivalent is – nationally and in the Nashville press. The Memphis media, not so much. (Click here for a recent Daily News story and here for Commercial Appeal coverage.)

Today, we begin a series that examines objections to Common Core.

No one could argue that Tennessee’s educational system doesn’t need more rigorous academic standards. We have always lagged near the bottom of the states in student performance. Currently, Tennessee ranks 41st in reading and 46th in math. In 2006, Tennessee was dead last in state rankings, earning the dubious Cream Puff award from the education reform journal Education Next.

this book sucks

Tennessee high school students underperform nearly all other states on college entrance exams, limiting both their college choices and their long-term opportunities. A significant achievement gap between white and African American students persists, seven years into the implementation of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind reforms. NCLB‘s  principal goal was to eliminate that gap.

These findings mean that a diploma from a public Tennessee high school is no bored kidassurance that the bearer has the ability to navigate adult waters, whether in college or the job market. Statewide, only 16% of new graduates are college-ready, meaning they can pass college-level courses without remedial study. In 2011, the corresponding number for Memphis City Schools high school graduates was a deplorable four percent. Four percent ready for college-level work. Four percent ready to enter the workplace.

Clearly this situation is unacceptable. It bodes ill for the continued viability of our city as well as the success of our children. Something has to be done.

Common Core is intended to be that something.

core 2+2Common Core is a set of complex, progressive learning standards for math and English/language arts that prescribe what a student should learn at each grade level, K-12. The standards emphasize what are believed to be the fundamental building blocks of intellectual growth and adult success, such as critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork.

Common Core, like NCLB, is intended to ensure that no child is disadvantaged as he launches into adult life by  inferior public education (and that the U.S. is not left behind in the global marketplace). The goal is to create a consistent level of measurable student achievement that will uplift our youth, our cities, and ultimately, our national economy.

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have already adopted Common Core. Tens of thousands of educators and hundreds of public education advocacy organizations across the country are enthusiastic proponents.

So, what’s not to love?

Plenty, according to an increasingly large and strange mix of bedfellows including  parents,  conservative pundits and politicians,  academic experts, and teachers unions.

Critics charge the following:

* Some standards are no higher or actually lower than those now in place in many  states.

*The high costs of implementation are impractical in states’ current economic climate.

*Common Core opens the door to federal over-involvement in education (Obamacore, some call it).

*Students could be indoctrinated into politically correct, liberal philosophy through standardized, approved textbooks.

*Common Core will suppress parental choice and market forces to achieve much-needed educational reform, and could destroy the successful homeschooling movement.

*Federal Race to the Top grant incentives prodded states to rush into Common Core participation without allowing sufficient time for careful analysis of the program and its implications.

*Implementation is proceeding too quickly, leaving students and educators unprepared and conditioned for failure.

*Common Core standards are not based on known outcomes and represent unproven ideas and concepts.

The furor has grown louder in recent months as Common Core standards, along with their actual and potential consequences, have undergone more scrutiny. Michigan and Indiana have stopped further implementation of Common Core through state legislative action. Organized lobbying groups opposing Common Core have popped up in multiple states including Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Georgia and Tennessee. Click here  for a video produced by Nashville’s Fox TV affiliate.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) unanimously passed a resolution on April 10, 2013 rejecting Common Core. RNC called the program “federal overreach to standardize and control the education of our children” “with a one size fits all” approach. The resolution specifically cited concerns about the collection and potential use of personal student data for “non-educational purposes” and without parental consent.

data collection

It’s not just conservatives who are objecting to the rush into Common Core. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers union in the country, recently called for a one year moratorium on consequences to teachers if students do not pass assessment tests based on the  new requirements. She argues that tests are being administered to assess student mastery of the new standards, but teachers have not received adequate training or resources to teach to the new standards.

In New York, where the first tests were given in April, “teachers, parents and students complained that the tests were poorly designed, covered material that had not been taught and frustrated children to the point of tears.” A New York Daily News editorial  roused teachers by predicting that up to 60% of students would fail the first round of tests. A New York state teachers union attempted to delay the implementation of the testing phase. In many states including New York, test results will inform decisions on student grade promotions, teacher job evaluations, and even school closings.

test joke

In our next article in this series, we will unpack the primary objections to Common Core and try to find where truth is.

Stay with us. And, as always, we want you to join the conversation.

What questions do you have about Common Core?

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 9, 2013 7:02 pm

    Correction: Frances Haynes and other beloved English teachers in my life taught me the difference between “principal” and “principle.” Eddie caught my typo in a reread of this post this morning and it has been corrected. Eddie was always competing with me in Mrs. Haynes’ class. (This was the FIRST and ONLY time he ever triumphed.) But thanks, anyway, Eddie.

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