Core Improves Education for Students, Teachers

If you want to start a fight, or even a heated discussion, just bring up education in general, particularly the Common Core. First you will hear that the new standards are controversial. If you ask where the controversy lies, the answers vary widely. 

Depending on whom you ask, the new standards are either a federal takeover of schools, one-size-fits-all, mandated curriculum, too costly, too difficult or teachers are forced to teach to the tests. None of these oft-repeated criticisms have any basis in fact. 

Originally embraced by 45 states, there have been a couple of recent defections; Indiana is one, Utah is considering opting out. 

To set the record straight: Common Core was the work of state governors seeking to better prepare students for careers or college. The idea was to integrate several formerly separate disciplines and encourage critical thinking over rote memorization. Teachers decide on how and what to teach, and the curriculum varies by state and local districts. 

The federal government’s involvement is limited, mainly granting states waivers from the mandated No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, a leftover from the previous administration that’s made more enemies than friends among educators.

To accomplish the goal of better preparation, the new standards are somewhat more rigorous and rightly so. Once considered an educational leader, the U.S. now ranks at or near the bottom of all wealthy countries. That’s appalling. School districts across the country have “dumbed” down their curricula in attempts to meet goals set by NCLB. 


We graduate high school students woefully unprepared for college where they waste time and fortune on “make-up” math and “dumbbell” English, among other remedial courses. A degree once routinely earned in four years now takes the average student five or six years even without changing majors. With escalating tuition costs, debts follow alumni for decades after graduation, ruining credit scores and impeding the ability to invest in a home or obtain a car loan. 

After attending several education discussions prefaced by apologies for Common Core, and describing the new standards as controversial, I set out to discover where or with whom the controversy developed. 

Teachers, at least in elementary grades, seem to embrace the increased challenge and are working within the framework. Tests are being administered, but they won’t count this first year. The second year, students will be apprised of their scores. How about giving the tests back so students could learn from their mistakes? 

A high school teacher I know believes Common Core falls off the ledge after it passes algebra II and plane geometry, when they get to trigonometry, calculus and statistics. It doesn’t cover higher math. Isn’t that what Kahn Academy does? 

She adds, “I think the coddling continues in grades 1 to 4. I get kids that don’t know they can function without a calculator; I have to teach them number short cuts.” 

I’ve always believed rote learning is useful for arithmetic, learning number combinations, whether orally, with flash cards or however. Calculators should not be involved until those number combinations are committed to memory. Concepts need to be taught and understood on another level occurring later. That’s just my personal bias. 

A retired English teacher says he’s seen so many revolutions in education the new standards are just déjà vu. Nothing is more important than quality teaching, he says. I agree, but NCLB was a nightmare that plagued teachers and valued test scores above analytical thinking. Consider this: Countries that score highest seem to be those giving teachers rigorous training and paying them the most. 

When it comes to English (a.k.a. language arts), I think Common Core’s emphasis on writing and literary analysis will be useful to students throughout college and in business where writing letters and reports is a required skill. 

Recently, some New York parents protested the new standards as being too difficult and causing their children to stress out. I hope these “helicopter” parents don’t pressure the state to opt out of Common Core, which in my view actually prepares kids for life in the real world. 

My youngest granddaughter moved to Montana, where Common Core standards have replaced NCLB, to attend middle school. Always a good reader, she now writes as well as most high school students. Having just completed a week of testing, given all on computers, she was thrilled not to be filling in multiple-choice bubbles with No. 2 pencils. And she’s been recommended for AP math next year. 

Is this proof? 

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