I have always been a little skeptical about the Common Core for many of the reasons being popularized right now. Objections have come from the right and left and threaten to delay or prevent their implementation in many once approving states. What frustrates me, and what I find to be the real problem, is the lack of attention being paid to the breadth of the Standards themselves.
If we are to tether the States to national standards, those standards should reflect those things that every student, regardless of their residence, must learn as a prerequisite for living and working in our culture. Math and Language Arts are of course important, especially the skills we often associate with these disciplines. But if these are to be national standards, why is there no mention of standards connected to our economy, our culture, our laws, or to the demands of living a healthy, environmentally conscious life.
First a word on skills as they relate to math and language arts. I have always felt that it is through these disciplines that teachers can develop important qualitative and quantitative skills by using the curriculum of these courses as a foundation through which students will become competent or master each of the following skills:
Persuasive Writing and Speaking
Writing with Clarity and PurposeExtemporaneous Speaking
Making a Formal Presentation
Conducting Efficient and Effective Research
Collecting and Interpreting Data
Leading a Group
Utilizing productivity software to write and calculate
Organizing and Allocating Resources
I'll leave it to the experts to determine how math and LA should be taught, but we are failing our children if we do not require each of them to be at the very least, competent in these skills. In fact, every course that a student takes at the high school level must reinforce these skills. Any course, regardless of the content, should be able to construct assessments that utilize some of these skills.
Now to my main point. If most states are like New Jersey, they have required content standards across the curriculum. In NJ it is the Core Course Curriculum Standards. And even though the CCCS include all traditional disciplines, the graduation test is limited to math and LA. We have to take it as a matter of faith that teachers are fulfilling their responsibilities since they basically "self-report" their success at meeting the standards. I would have hoped that a national set of standards such as the Common Core would have addressed this deficiency and developed requirements that covered all other disciplines. Sadly, this is not the case.
Any "Common Core" that do not set content requirements which include economics, history, culture, health, science, law, and the environment has failed our students and failed our nation. High school standards should not be designed as preparation for college, as seems to be their intent, but as preparation for citizenship. Our state graduation tests should in a sense be citizenship tests, assessing students as to how well they are prepared to function in our society. It is my firm belief that any competent, proper Common Core MUST require all high school graduates to have learned some "to be determined" content in the following areas:
Basic Macro and Micro Economic Concepts, ie. scarcity, supply & demand, fiscal policy, globalization
The Bill of Rights, Constitution, and Declaration of Independence
Great Movements, Moments, Statesmen, and Cultural "Heroes" in American History
Personal Health, Nutrition and Fitness
Applied, Practical Science
It is from these disciplines that we can create a short list of content that EVERY student MUST learn. I have always felt that we not only require our students to learn too much minutiae, but that what we require them to learn bears little or no connection to the real world and may in fact be one cause for the failure of our urban schools. We need to greatly narrow what needs to be learned and provide the time to insure that these new standards are truly being learned.
So while we continue to scrutinize the Common Core, I believe it important to not only debate the appropriateness of national standards and their application to teaching and learning, but to also consider what it is they we have determined necessary for all students to learn. In that vein the Common Core is a complete travesty, a disservice to our students and to our nation. It is time for a new national debate on what we should require of our students, and our teachers. The purpose of high school, and public education in general, is to produce students that are prepared for the challenges of the society they are growing up in. Using the Common Core as the foundation through which we are going to assess student preparedness is like using a history test to measure physical fitness.
We have reached a critical moment in education, especially urban education, where radical reform is our only real option. And it is here, I guess, that I see my final objection to Common Core; there is nothing "common" about public education as it relates to our suburban and urban schools. I know it is a sensitive issue because of appearances of racial overtones, but the bottom line is that our urban schools must be approached differently from suburban schools. In fact a single Department of Education is probably inappropriate for a state like New Jersey; at the very least there should be a "secondary" DOE for Urban Education.
Let the suburban schools "play around" with the Common Core, but our inner city schools have much more pressing issues. So for whatever reason, I support those who seek to put off implementation of the Common Core. It will do nothing to improve urban education, so I consider it superfluous and distracting. Lord knows we've been distracted for way too long; hopefully it's not "way too late."