Education Wednesday: Understanding the Common Core Debate


What’s the big deal about Common Core? From the federal to the local level, this increasingly controversial education plan has become a hot topic. Referring to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, 45 states have adopted this ambitious reform strategy which is certain to change how and what our students learn.

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Alaska, Texas, Virginia, Minnesota, and Nebraska are the only states yet to adopt Common Core Courtesy: Core Standards

Common Core seeks to create a more rigorous learning process for students, aligning on a nationwide level schools’ math and English curricula. Under the new standards, the expectation is that by high school, students will possess an advanced level of knowledge to meet the demands of college coursework and entry-level employment.

Setting higher education standards across the country may seem like a no-brainer, right? Not quite. Since its introduction in 2010 by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)reports have been mixed about how much students will benefit from Common Core. To help you get a handle on the debate, here are 5 things you should know about Common Core:

 5 Things to Know about Common Core

  1. Common Core is meant to be a guideline for the goals and expectations teachers should meet with students–not a mandatory framework for how teachers should teach. Embracing the beefed-up expectations, some teachers feel empowered under the new state curricula to push students to new learning heights. However, others argue Common Core limits teachers’ freedom in the classroom and has resulted in awkward student-teacher scripts for learning.
  2. Your student is likely to be affected by Common Core even if your state has not opted-in. As recently argued on the Washington Post blog The Answer Sheet, higher education titans such as College Board and ACT are showing their support of the new standards with plans to align college entrance exams with Core-based curricula. At least for students hopeful of attending college, Common Core will be an inescapable component of postsecondary prep.
  3. A coalition of states is currently designing a Common Core-aligned standardized assessment which will replace individual state exams as soon as the next school year. Supporters of the initiative hope to replicate the success of states such as Tennessee where students have benefited from the new standards and National Assessment of Educational Progress scores have improved. However, this has many parents fearing that “teaching to the test” will continue and students will remain trapped in the standardized learning trap.
  4. Common Core gives consideration to special student groups. As noted on the Core Standards website, states are encouraged to capitalized on new opportunities and practices to boost learning experiences for students such as English- Language Learners (ELL). However, much as I discuss in Education Wednesday: A Common Definition for English Language Learners, states have yet to adopt a universal standard defining which students should qualify as ELL. Without first applying a common distinction between states, students in need of additional support are likely to fall through the cracks even with the new academic standards.
  5. Millions of dollars have already been invested in Common Core. Both the federal government and private contributors such as Bill and Melinda Gates are heavily investing to help schools implement core standards. Yet, with so much money already spent and few national results available to declare it a success, critics of Common Core are asking: where is the money going?
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A student in Middletown, Del. works through a new English worksheet. Courtesy: Philly.com

Both supporters and critics of Common Core view these state-aligned standards as merely a starting point for improving educational outcomes. Undoubtedly, additional policy efforts are required to successfully coordinate the implementation of these standards across states. More importantly, increased involvement in schools from parents, teachers, and students will be the only way to ensure more young people receive the best education they need to thrive in the future.

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An education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

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