Common Core: Do you Approve?

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“Education is life itself.” ~ John Dewey

If you live in the U.S., and even if you don’t, you may have heard about the Common Core Learning Standards and how they’ve been adopted in schools throughout the country.  Many parents and educators like the new system, but just as many hate it.

Since the beginning of the school year (my 5th grader above is required to prove his answers in class, per new system), that’s all I’ve been  hearing. I left the back-to-school meeting with a folder filled with common-core literature, and soon received an invitation to a “Common Core” conference. A new system comes with loads of info.

The news media, sensing a huge conflict, jumped into the fray, assembling groups of politicians and educators, even Hollywood stars arguing — some very passionately –for or against the standards.

While I’ve heard more than enough criticism, nothing seemed watertight, with the exception, perhaps, of the one size doesn’t fit all argument. Meaning, we shouldn’t demand schools everywhere to adopt the same standards.  Fair enough.

I understand certain kids do better if allowed freedoms with emphasis on individualism rather than being dictated how to learn. But I don’t see how that can be done in a state-run school system with thousands of kids. If what we want, as parents, is individualism and freedom within limits, then perhaps the Montessori education system is best and not a taxpayers funded system.

Here is my understanding of what common core does: The tests will require more elaborate answers, and students will be learning to comprehend, analyze, and discuss. The old standards (pre common core): students memorized facts for multiple-choice tests. So, while multiple-choice may still be around, the new system requires kids to think deeper and show how they’d arrived at an answer.

I was never a huge proponent of multiple-choice tests. My Eastern European school system had no such thing. A test required a mini-essay answer for each question, one I had to prove. An answer to a question was, sometimes, a page-long. That encouraged critical thinking, and focused not only on the end result, but on showing how and why the specific answer was chosen.

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Little thinkers in my son’s class

College in the U.S., especially the first year or so, was ridiculously easy once faced with multiple-choice tests. I remember joking with friends: They give me the answer, and I use the process of elimination.

How does that encourage thinking? Sounds very robot like. 

While the jury’s still out on the Common Core principle, I’m in favor of anything that promotes high expectations, anything pushing the student to not only memorize an answer, but dig deeper and understand how and why he came to such an answer.

~~   What say you, dear blogging friend?  If you’re not in the U.S., how does your country’s education system compare?

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29 responses to “Common Core: Do you Approve?

  1. An important question! I liked your reflections on multiple-choice questions in college in the U.S. I was always too good at taking the test for my own good, and in several cases earned good grades without actually learning. Anyway, I recently listened to an excellent debate about this on NPR: http://intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/past-debates/item/1154-embrace-the-common-core

    • Thank you, Matt. I hear you about being too good at taking tests without actually learning. I don’t yet see how the new system can make that any worse. Thanks for sharing the link. Will certainly take a listen.

  2. Ohhhh EXCELLENT, my Dear Watson!! I absolutely agree with you that critical thinking is a good learning tool. I HATED multiple choice and True/False questions and much preferred thesis questions as I am a “Big Picture” person. I think this country will do FAR better with people who are critical thinkers! I’m applauding you!

  3. I agree with you 100%. Now it is a “wait and see” situation, which I predict will last about 3 years. And then there will be some fast pedaling to catch up.

  4. I’m not in favor of Common Core, although I applaud any system that teaches children to think and not just regurgitate. I think the major problem is the content and what it does not contain. I also don’t like any system that teaches to a test.

    • Noelle, I was looking forward to your reply, as I know most of the opposition comes from teachers/professors. Interesting view point — though I’m not sure what’s missing from the standard, so I can’t tell. Thanks for weighing in.

  5. I don’t know enough about the fact based pros and cons to share an opinion, Silvia. But I’m aware that it is a hot button issue. I wish I had the time to keep informed about all that is both good and deemed problematic with our good country.

  6. I totally agree with you, Silvia. I know there’s a lot of opposition to Common Core, but I haven’t been able to figure out what the argument against it is. To me, this is will be a big step forward in raising the standard of education and the abilities of our children in this country, as we’ve fallen way behind other countries in the past several years.

    • Yes, Linda, with a poorly performing school system, it seems we should do something, anything. Maybe this isn’t the perfect answer, will see, but it just seems wrong to accept something we know as deficient. Thanks so much for commenting.

  7. I, too, cannot see the down side of enhanced critical thinking, essay testing and – most importantly – higher expectations of our students, teachers , administrators and parents.

    The overwhelming demand by parents for charter schools in the lowest performing and poorest school districts SHOULD be a strong indicator that present mediocre methods aren’t acceptable for the future of our current students.

    • Thank you, Sammy. Charter schools are a good example of system failure. I’m not sure how successful they are, but the demand is huge, as you say, and we have to fund them as well, meaning resources must be allocated from elsewhere, or higher taxes, or … oh, don’t let me get political here. :)

  8. Ah yes, it’s all about common core now. There are some positives, definitely, as long as some negatives. I guess it’s all about those who are instituting it–the teachers. It seems like there’s a new system every decade or so, so if this doesn’t work out, another thing will be along soon enough.

    • Liz, I remember reading about New Math being implemented in schools, some ten or fifteen years ago — another new concept, as the old was outdated. You’re completely right, every new decade there’s a new system, which is good, I’m guessing, as an update. Thank you for commenting.

  9. Such an important and relevant topic these days, Silvia. I need to educate myself more on Common Core. I feel sorry for teachers these days since the trend is to grade them on test scores.

    • Thank you, Denise. I would never make it as a teacher. I have all the respect and sympathy for them for having to deal with large class size, and content that’s constantly changing. I know in my school district teachers have help, not only from parents volunteering every day but also from interns, and sometimes assistants. The class is broken down in study groups and that frees the teacher’s time quite a bit.

  10. I’m not in the US but this sounds like a great idea.

    The overal tendency of the American culture, from what I see from abroad, is to dumb people down by lowering expectations and shifting the focus from high performance to average-ism. “If you’re doing ok, you’re ok.” That’s a comforting attitude, but it hides a lot of problems, because if you’re never asked to do more, you will never try. Of course this doesn’t go for everyone, but for the grand majority, and that’s what makes up the population of tomorrow: kids who haven’t learned to be ambitious, who believe being like everyone else, fitting in, is the highest, most important thing they can do.

    I grew up in Romania, same as you, and I haven’t done one multiple-choice test until I got to college. I always found them to be too easy, and after studying for such a test and graduating it, I usually forgot everything I learned. But with “essay tests”, those that required careful thought and argumentation, I remembered what I learned for years and the information fit into my overall knowlegebase organically.

    So, in a word, YES. I believe Common Core is a good idea. :)

    • Thank you, Veronica. As grand as this country is, our education system shouldn’t be lagging so far behind. But it is, and that’s a damn shame. Of course, it varies greatly, as you said, from state to state. In California, where I live, you’re set if you live in a good school district with huge parental involvement. Otherwise, you’re screwed. There are stories of kids in sixth grade reading at the first grade level. That is unacceptable. And while parents are the first to blame, we, as a society, should be ashamed of ourselves for allowing that to continue. For not pushing for change. Many schools promote thinking and creativity, but too many don’t. Common Core would put every school (I think) on the same system.

      I smiled at your story from Romania. Remember those long papers we had to write? And the poem study. I still remember much of Eminescu’s Luceafarul today, given the detailed analysis.
      Multumesc. :)

  11. I am a retired teacher who is grateful she left before Common Core entered the classroom. My beef is not with teaching children to think critically. My concern is the way Common Core is being implemented, especially here in California. I taught in a district where most of the students were field workers’ children and English was their second language. Few of them had computers or iPads at home, and even fewer were computer proficient. They already had the challenge of learning and testing in their second language. The school’s computer labs were insufficient and most classrooms had only one or two computers for the students to use. Now the vehicle for testing them through Common Core will be computers…which may well be an insurmountable challenge for even the brightest of these kids.

    Just more food for thought. – Fawn

    • Fawn, thank you. I appreciate this, especially coming from a former teacher. I always say: no idea how teachers do it — I’d go crazy in a classroom. Our schools seem to have a host of deficiencies these days, or maybe it was always like this. I’m aware of it now, as my son is in elementary school. Maybe this system will work … somehow. Thanks again for taking the time.

  12. Well, I agree with you. I have 3 kids, 2 in 7th grade and 1 in 3rd. My 7th graders adapted to common core with minimum input from me so I really don’t know the impact they felt. My 3rd grader is a different story. I feel like I am living common core every day with her. With her math specifically, her teacher has students do the lesson on a blue sheet and then sends home a similar sheet for them to do at home. All she is doing, essentially, is copying the blue sheet when she gets to something she doesn’t understand so in a sense it is multiple choice all over again.

    In my school district (in Western NY), at the elementary level, they have multiple classroom learning options. There is multi-age with students from different grades in the same class and the traditional single grade classes, which is what my kids were/are in. Keep in mind we moved here from IL two years ago. I was pleased with how prepared the kids were academically for this transition as in IL we dealt with higher class sizes, no busing options, etc. Those types of budget cuts are just beginning to be felt here.

    I am not a fan of Montessori due to having to repeat kindergarten after attending a Montessori kindergarten in another state.

    That’s my two cents. Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

  13. I know as a one time classroom English teacher that the students had to both prove themselves and get a bit of creativity points by writing short answer and essay tests. I also know that it is a tremendous amount of work for the teacher to grade such tests! With class sizes above 30 students, it is logistically impossible to do much of this kind of testing. The US has a flawed educational system, no doubt, treating classrooms like factories. We need to reduce class sizes and empower teachers with resources and TIME to truly work with individual students.
    Great topic, Silvia!

  14. Hi Silvia – well you’ve triggered some great responses – my schooling was yonks ago … and I was not considered bright material – but I think I’d prefer the new system … I was grateful to be able to do multiple choice questions for some later exams I sat as an adult – made life a whole lot easier .. but didn’t help much in the overall understanding …

    Looks like you’re getting some helpful information too .. cheers Hilary

  15. Oye. This is a hot topic for me. I’ve been a home educator for 11 years, and with my recent pregnancy, we decided to put the two youngest in public school. 2nd grade isn’t challenging enough. 4th grade has my jaw scraping the ground. Since when should a kid be learning multiplication one day and algebra the next? (Algebra in 4th grade–with no prep? Geez!) I like the idea of common core, but I’m not sure it’s execution is working…as with most bureaucratic hogwash these school politicians come up with. We really need to have a free market with paid schools and educational vouchers so parents can choose they type of education that fits their child.

  16. Wow, a hot topic Silvia! Our state sponsored education system in South Africa is so so poor. A bug bear for ALL of us. The pass rate may be high, but the percentage required to pass is so low that it is embarrassing. My boys were educated at a private school (in SA this means the parents pay through the roof, whereas in the US it means differently I think).
    Your newly introduced system sounds good if children are encouraged to think independently, critically, creatively and systematically instead of by rote. Anything that fosters that is good.

  17. Something they’re doing in college with the multiple choice is no longer as easy as elimination; they have similar sounding answers in which you *know* a few of them are correct, but it MUST be what the instructor wants you to answer. It’s stupid and feels like a set up for failure.

    ♥.•*¨Elizabeth¨*•.♥

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