I have been doing a ton of research on Common Core lately. That's the fairly new initiative on educational standards that has a lot of people upset. To be honest, I must admit that I went into my research looking for reasons to hate Common Core. I was under the impression that the federal government was making a back door attempt to take over education which, constitutionally, should be run by the states and local school boards.
I expected to find passages in text books stating the founding fathers were a bunch of racist, sexist, homophobes. I expected to find brainwashing material telling our kids the Constitution is too antiquated to be relevant.
What I found is there are no textbooks at all. There's no propaganda material. Common Core is not a curriculum at all, rather it's a set of basic standards each graduating senior needs to have mastered by graduation. It's not something that was mandated by President Obama. It was commissioned by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Doesn't sound very federal to me.
I know Obama likes this initiative and is pushing it but he also likes golf. That doesn't make golf bad. We have to drop this notion that just because Obama supports something it must be sinister. He's been killing terrorists, including bin Laden. There are times when the man actually gets things right.
I've been hard-pressed to find any specific objections to Common Core from its opponents other than the fear of a federal takeover of our schools. That's a legitimate fear, mind you, but I see no evidence of it. One of the rare specifics cited is they claim Common Core will de-emphasize classic literature like To Kill a Mockingbird. First of all, there's no evidence of that but we'll cover that in a moment. But I want to make a point here and this is central to the whole argument.
Everyone remembers reading To Kill a Mockingbird and The Grapes of Wrath way back in the day in high school, right? Everybody read those, all across the country. There was no federal mandate to read them so how did we all end up reading the same books? Government conspiracy? No, there was a set of literature standards that school boards all across the country adopted. There has to be some commonality in order for students to do well on tests like the ACT and SAT. Plus, agreements on what constitutes classic literature simply emerge as common knowledge. That doesn't mean Harper Lee was forced on local school boards as part of some federal government conspiracy.
What's ironic is Common Core supposedly puts more emphasis on The Federalist Papers than it does on the so-called literary classics. I can't believe people are actually complaining about that one. If I had to choose I'd much rather my kids study Madison than Steinbeck but Common Core doesn't force such choices. In the words of Common Core itself the standards include "classic myths and stories from around the world, foundational U.S. documents, seminal works of American literature, and the writings of Shakespeare. The standards appropriately defer the many remaining decisions about what and how to teach to states, districts, and schools."
I don't know about you but it seems the study of our foundational documents has been woefully lacking. Common Core fixes that. Another thing Common Core is designed to do is to narrow the shotgun approach to education a bit and concentrate on taking a deeper look into the more important things kids need to know. It also encourages critical thinking. That's something else that's been lacking.
Many of the concerns come from misinformation and, to be honest, disinformation. I've seen articles quoting an Israeli math expert who says Algebra I, under Common Core, won't be offered until ninth grade instead of eighth, as it is in many parts of the country. That's simply untrue. You can take Algebra I in eighth grade if you've mastered the math skills in grades 1-7 that build up to eighth-grade Algebra. That sounds like a common sense approach. Kids shouldn't take Algebra I because their friends are. They should take it because they're ready to take it.
You can read a long list of myths vs. facts at the Common Core website.
I also understand that Common Core makes kids learn their multiplication tables like we had to back in the day and makes them solve math problems by working them out on paper or in their heads instead of using a calculator as a crutch.
Yes, I've done quite a bit of research on this Common Core and I was all prepared to uncover some grand conspiracy by Washington to take over our schools. After all, the feds are now telling our schools what to serve in the cafeteria. I found nothing to alarm me and, in fact, a lot to encourage me. Common Core appears to be what the name implies; a common core of knowledge that the states can agree on to prepare students for college, if the student so chooses, or for a career after high school. How the schools impart that knowledge is largely left to them. And the curriculum and materials are left exclusively to them.
I preach logical thinking on my radio show and that's the very approach I took on this subject. Take a moment to ask for specific objections from those who oppose it, as I did, then explore whether those objections are valid. I suspect you'll come to the same logical conclusion that I did.