What exactly is the Common Core?

The recent backlash against Common Core has brought me back into blogging. I was ecstatic when the Core first came out.  I knew this was a set of decent coherent and rigorous standards for all students.  However, as all good things must come to an end, the Common Core honeymoon is over.  Some states are looking at retracting their earlier decision to adopt the Core — or at least to pause its implementation.  Furthermore, there is a big misconception by some parents and politicians that this is a federal government mandate and somehow American freedom is at stake.  I, for one, want to set the record straight about what the Common Core is and is not.

1. The Common Core is a set of expectations
This is the most fundamental claim that supporters have stated over and over.  This means, the Common Core is not the curriculum, it is not a method of instruction, and it is not a set of textbooks.  That is why when opponents begin talking about certain classic novels being dropped from our high schools,  such person has misunderstood “curriculum” vs “standards”.  Content in fiction and non-fiction are chosen by the district, school, or teacher.  The Common Core does not prescribe what novels, or themes, or even the teaching sequence to which the Common Core skills must follow.

Another popular argument is that  “fuzzy math” or “invented spelling’ will be forced by the Core.  Again, this is unfounded.  Nowhere does the Common Core document maintain how teachers should teach. Instead, that decision has been left to the ownership of the teacher.  Remember it is the end goal that Common Core is requiring.  How the teacher gets there, is left to professional judgment.

Finally, there is no publishing company that the Common Core has endorsed.  The choice of syllabus and resources is in the hands of the school or teacher.  In fact, I am very skeptical when a publishing company comes along with one special textbook aligned to the Core.  I suspect some companies have changed very little from their previous edition other than the “Aligned with Common Core” sticker displayed proudly on the cover.  If anything, the Core promotes students to think using multiple reliable sources and not just a single textbook.

2. The Common Core is only English Language Arts and Mathematics
Yes there is a section for Social Studies, Science and other technical subjects. But that is for the literacy component.  The Common Core doesn’t tell the Biology teacher to teach evolution or the Humanities teacher to teach the holocaust.   When you hear someone debate that the Common Core will be removing American history for globalization, that is unjustified.  Facts, skills, and knowledge related to Science, Social Studies, and other technical subjects are not in the Common Core .

So why are there reading and writing standards for Social Studies and Science?  Well, any subject that requires reading and writing should also be held to the same standards as the English Language Arts discipline. Technical writing or historical recount will look different from creative writing taught in English class.  In other words, science class doesn’t excuse a student with poor reading and writing.

3. The Common Core does not dictate the assessment
Think about it, if the Common Core was about performing to certain standardized tests, they would have developed the tests first.  The PARC and SMARTER Balanced Assessments came after the development of the standards.  People that attack Common Core for data collecting of their children are missing the point of the true enemy–high stakes testing. Data collection has been around since No Child Left Behind.  So long as standardized testing remains, it doesn’t matter what standards are in place.

The Real Culprit

I suspect that Common Core’s real foe is its own people— the educators. It is quite possible that we educators have not been promoting Common Core as well as we should.  Perhaps the new shift in the standards have been poorly explained to parents.  Or it is sometimes just easier to blame Common Core when something goes wrong.  Heaven knows, we teachers are just as vulnerable to the lack of resources, admin support,  or parental support in doing our job.  Isn’t it quicker to just dismiss the new standards as the cause of our problems.  No one is perfect and neither is any system.  I urge all educators to stand up for their own responsibility, lay fault on what deserves criticism, but high standards should not be the reason that the system has failed us.

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