Since 2010, not only in Ohio, but across the country, educators have been gearing up for the implementation of something called the Common Core in mathematics and English Language Arts. Few people outside of education circles had ever heard of the Common Core, but that changed recently when a national talk show host started railing against this initiative. From such punditry the phones and mailboxes of state legislators have been lighting up ever since. Unfortunately, an initiative that was conceived to significantly advance the academic rigor of education in core subjects has now become a political hot potato, and a great deal of misinformation is circulating around these academic standards.
The Common Core State Standards were created by a coalition of state school superintendents who have grown increasingly concerned about the declining rigor and poor performance of American students when compared to their international peers. American students do not even rank in the top 10 on internationally ranked test scores. Almost 50 percent of our young people seeking to enter the military are academically ineligible to serve, many for failing to have a high school diploma, but others proving incapable of passing the basic math and reading tests. As far back as 1983, President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education released a landmark report entitled “A Nation at Risk,” which outlined some of the most serious failures of American education and raised alarms across the country.
Decades of low student performance motivated the nation’s leading state superintendents to undertake an effort to strengthen student expectations. These state leaders sought to develop a set of rigorous academic standards that could be voluntarily adopted by states to serve as the basis for improved education. Academic standards are important because they guide educators about what students should know and be able to do as they progress through school. They are clear goals for student learning.
Standards, however, must not be confused with curriculum. Standards don’t tell teachers what to teach in their classroom. Common Core standards emphasize the acquisition of skills in math, reading and writing that prepare students for life after graduation. These are fundamental academic skills that our students need whether they live in California or Ohio, which is where the word “common” comes in. These standards set the expectations we should have for any well-educated child in the 21st Century.
One of the most serious misconceptions swirling around the Common Core standards is that it is a federal program or mandate. This confusion has arisen because the Obama administration sanctioned the common core effort when setting up the Race to the Top program. However, the administration has played no role at all in developing or implementing the standards.
A second misconception is that somehow the Common Core will permit the federal government to collect personal data on our students. The only data that will be collected from students will be the results of the assessments they take. Individual student names will not be reported to the state or federal government. The Ohio Department of Education has been tracking such data for years, and nothing about this system will change. No child’s personal data will be collected and certainly none will be passed on to the federal government.
The development of curriculum (e.g., specific text books, recommended reading, etc.) has always been the responsibility of local school boards. This does not change under the Common Core. The Ohio Department of Education has provided a model curriculum for many years that local communities may voluntarily adopt in part or as a whole, but that is a service to local school districts and is totally voluntary.
Most teachers, school leaders and school boards have embraced the Common Core and have been working hard for two full academic years to make sure that they are prepared for this rigorous set of standards. Their biggest fear is that with increased rigor, student test scores will drop as the bar is raised on how much we expect students to learn. Schools that appear to be “knocking it out of the park” on student assessments might not look so good for a while. But we believe that they will step up to the challenge and those test scores will rise with higher expectations.
I strongly really encourage Ohioans to find out the real facts behind the common core before jumping on the anti-core bandwagon. Additional information is available here.
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