The educrats in Washington first decreed, “No Child Left Behind”; then fired a starting pistol for the “Race to the Top”; now they are imposing a “Common Core” curriculum with standardized testing beginning in the first grade. When will these expensive national experiments stop impoverishing tax payers, frustrating classroom teachers; and denying our children the opportunity to achieve a level of education which will make them competitive in the world marketplace after they leave the public school system?
The National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) have sponsored the Common Core State Standards Initiative which details just what children from Kindergarten through grade 12 should know in English and Math at the end of each grade. According to these well-meaning officials, the purpose of their initiative is to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter two or four-year college programs or the competitive workforce.
Some Historical Background
In the 1990s the “Accountability Movement” in public school education began in the United States with mandatory tests of student achievement which were expected to demonstrate a common core of knowledge that all citizens should have to be successful. The nation’s governors and corporate leaders founded Achieve, Inc. in 1996 as a bi-partisan organization to raise academic standards, graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability in all 50 states. The initial motivation for the development of the Common Core State Standards was part of the American Diploma Project (ADP).
In 2004, a report titled, “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts,” found that both employers and colleges are demanding more of high school graduates than in the past and that the American public school system was not providing high school graduates with the skills and knowledge they needed to succeed. The report concluded that the public high school diploma had lost its value because graduates could not compete successfully beyond high school, and that the solution to this problem is a common set of rigorous standards.
On June 1, 2009, the National Governors Association convened a group of educators to work on developing the standards in order to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.” Additionally, “The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers,” which will place American students in a position in which they can compete in a global economy.
The standards were copyrighted by the NGA Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to ensure that the standards will be the same throughout the nation. The standards also carry a generous public license which waives the copyright notice for State Departments of Education to use the standards; however, two conditions apply. First, the use of the standards must be “in support” of the standards and the waiver only applies if the state has adopted the standards “in whole.”
Forty-five of the fifty states in the United States are members of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, with the states of Texas, Virginia, Alaska, and Nebraska not adopting the initiative at a state level. Minnesota has adopted the English Language Arts standards but not the Mathematics standards.
Standards were released for mathematics and English language arts on June 2, 2010 with a majority of states adopting the standards in the subsequent months. States were given an incentive to adopt the Common Core Standards through the possibility of competitive federal Race to the Top grants. The competition for these grants provided a major push for states to adopt the standards.
Development of the Common Core Standards was funded by the governors and state schools chiefs, with additional support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pearson Publishing Company, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and others.
While the Next Generation Science Standards are in the process of being developed, they are not directly related to the Common Core, although their content is supposed to permit cross-connection to the mathematical and English Language Arts standards within the Common Core.
The Common Core has drawn support and criticism from political representatives, policy analysts, and educational commentators. Yet, the Common Core initiative only specifies what students should know at each grade level and describes the skills that they must acquire in order to achieve college or career readiness. Individual school districts are responsible for choosing curricula based on the standards.
Is There Anything Wrong with a Common Core?
To any employer looking for a reasonably well-educated workforce of young adults who will have graduated from high school, the common core curriculum in mathematics and the English language arts seems quite reasonable. The problem is not with the “common core” curriculum it is with the current structure of the American public school system, where grade levels from K–6 are based on chronological age not individual readiness to learn.
Since the early works of Maria Montessori (1870–1952) and Jean Piaget (1896–1980), it has been a well-known fact that individual children learn particular skills and master particular concepts at different times in their chronological development through the years until they reach a certain level of maturity that we refer to generally as “adulthood”.
If the purpose of the American public school system is to provide a “free and appropriate public education to every child”, then the existing structure of the American public school system, particularly the elementary school organized by grades linked to chronological age, is both inappropriate and doomed to failure.