The Common Core Debate

By now, educators across the country have been exposed to the concept of “Common Core Standards”, an idea introduced by the U.S. Department of Education that represents a fundamental shift in how America’s primary and secondary education systems function. The standards, as of yet only created for the topics of math and English language literacy, have been adopted in all but 7 states nationwide.

The Common Core Standards set out effective functioning levels for students at various grade levels, allowing teachers to assess their students’ progress based on an established, national set of criteria. The standards use calculated assessment tests and other measurement methods to evaluate whether or not a student has developed sufficient knowledge and skills for their grade level. This set of federal standards has its roots in the No Child Left Behind Act, which required schools to test and report data on student performance. Previous legislation, however, allowed schools and states to continue setting their own curriculums. Now, along with the standards provided by the Common Core, schools will be given a recommended collection of topics and lessons to effectively satisfy the requirements.

As a result of this legislation, teachers have become embroiled in a debate over whether or not the Common Core is the best approach to renewing America’s educational leadership in a global economy. Beyond that, some question the process through which the Standards have been employed and tested. Individuals from both sides of the political spectrum find themselves scattered on this issue, with opponents and advocates on the right and the left.

Here are some of the key points from the Common Core’s defenders – and its critics.

Arguments for the Common Core Standards
Helps America remain competitive on a global scale
The Common Core is “internationally benchmarked”, which means that the learning standards of other countries that the U.S. considers economic competition were taken heavily into account. Proponents of the Standards consider them an essential step in the assurance of American participation in a growing, global economy.

Raises the bar of student performance
State administrators who have adopted the Common Core claim that, while some say that the standards and topics represent a vague, less rigorous version of current curriculums, the plans therein only build on current academic benchmarks.

Creates universal standards
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 20% of incoming freshmen at four-year colleges and 25% of first-year students at two-year schools need remedial courses in English or math to catch up. Those who argue for the Common Core believe that a broad set of standards will help ensure that students enter college with the appropriate knowledge needed to succeed.

Helps identify and improve underperforming districts
In its own breakdown of the pros and cons of the Common Core, Parents for Public Schools, a national group dedicated to close communication between parents and educators, included the improved professional development opportunities for teachers and the academic community as a whole as a definite advantage of the legislation. With teachers teaching to a common set of standards and reporting their results, defendants of the Common Core suggest it will be much simpler to assess educator performance.

Arguments Against the Common Core
Incurs cost on schools
Some states have already opted out of using the various forms of online assessment tests due to the cost of the exams. Georgia, for example, spent $27 million as a state on annual testing for their kindergarten students. The Common Core assessments would’ve added an additional $56 million to that cost.

Over-standardizes education
One of the most significant concerns communicated by those who disapprove of the Common Core, this concern stems mostly from a consistent focus on testing scores as the measurement of student success. Some have claimed that this will create a funnel directing students and the educational marketplace towards “career and college readiness” as opposed to human development, sacrificing student engagement for mechanical skills and recitation.

Lacks transparency and piloting
The process through which the Common Core came into being has come under a great deal of scrutiny, as some feel as if the legislation came largely out of nowhere. Many have expressed concern, as well, at the relatively untested nature of the curriculums and topics driven by the standards.

Allows for “intrusive” government oversight
Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, among others, has expressed concerns regarding the information gathered through the program and what exactly the federal government is going to use it for. Some critics see this as a potentially dangerous attempt at collecting information on teachers and students nationwide.

While polling has determined that educators largely support the Common Core, the debate rages on in schools across the country. As the initiative is still in its early stages, it’s difficult to say whether or not the program will have a positive impact on student development. Experts and leaders in education have been seen arguing both sides of the issue. Either way, it will take some time before the results of the measure are clear. Until then, it’s likely the debate will continue.

Educators can arm themselves for the coming academic climate with the online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction offered by Western New England University. Click here to learn more.

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