“Notes On The Common Core”

I would be most interested in your thoughts on this topic.


The problem with the Common Core (or Common Core State Standards Initiative as it more properly known) is not that it is a federally imposed mandate (which it is not) but because it was implemented without prior notice or proper preparation and training. And when any program begins without prior notice, training, or preparation it will probably fail.

There is also a historical basis to the problems associated with the Common Core Initiative and that was the now infamous “No Child Left Behind” legislation. While the NCLB legislation may have been well intended, its implementation has proven a disaster. And the efforts to repair that damage have been as equally disastrous.

A second point to consider is that we had some of the answers to many of our educational problems some fifty years ago when we began what we called the “space race.” But when we won that “race”, the money for education was diverted to the war in Viet Nam and the solutions in place began to disappear.

Let the reader understand that, for me, education is not only the learning of information (which I believe is the present and sole emphasis of the educational process) but the learning of skills that will allow the student to learn on their own, both in and outside the classroom. In essence, the educational process is self-eliminating; we teach our students in such a way that they can begin learning on their own.

Now, I realize this is not always possible. What is possible for a young adult of sixteen is not necessarily possible for a child of seven or eight but we cannot necessarily simply teach for the next year (as happens now).

I also think that we need to think about education at the highest possible level. Right now, our educational process focuses on a rather low-level, ensuring that all children pass. If we shift the focus to a higher level, we can still make sure that all children pass but also have the necessary and proper skills for life outside the classroom.

So how do we achieve a solution where all children receive an equal education, that allows them to achieve whatever they wish to seek (which may not necessarily be what their parents want) and have education be, as Indira Gandhi noted,

. . . a liberating force, and in our age . . . democratizing force, cutting across the barriers of caste and class, smoothing out inequalities imposed by birth and other circumstances.”

We begin by recognizing that there are two sets of goals inherent in teaching children. The first are the goals met during a particular time frame and which allow the child to progress through the educational system. What we also have to realize is that each child learns at their own rate and we have to be careful to keep that in mind and not forcing the child to learn at a rate that they cannot keep up.

Second, there are a set of cumulative goals. These are the goals that represent the sum of the period goals and represent what a person needs requires for success in society.

We must also realize that if we want the highest possible results, we cannot keep up the “test now” attitude. Learning takes place and the only way you are going to know if someone has learned something is to ask them later, say six months after they have learned it. (And the research shows this is most often true. People may understand during class that all objects fall at the same rate but when you ask them later, they revert to the heavier objects fall faster answer.)

An emphasis must also be place on the teaching of thinking skills. This does not end the need for learning information but changes the emphasis from simply knowing information to using the information.

Learning must become an active process as opposed to the passive process that takes place now. And this is especially true in the STEM areas. Right now, in most instructional practices, the student reads the material, do some practice problems, and then take a test over the material. I cannot say whether this approach works in other areas such as English and social studies but it does not do well in mathematics and the various sciences.

A more active approach would be to have the students explore an area of interest (which would be a natural extension of their normal behavior) and develop a concept to explain what they have observed. The teacher/instructor can be the leader or students can do it on their own.

After identifying the concept and relating it to a broader scheme, the students are evaluated. This approach allows the learner to develop the necessary thinking skills as well as calling into play previous learning experiences.

Now, I realize that this method uses far more resources than current methods but we have to realize that a cheap education is not necessarily a good education. If we are to obtain the desired effects, we must realize that the current funding plan for most schools does not work.

Right now, the economic status of a school district determines the educational content and outcome of the schools in the district. And we have seen that, over the years, money spent on education today yields better economic effects tomorrow.

To go back to the beginning, there really is no problem with the Common Core Initiative; there was and is a problem with its implementation. And we have to realize that the solution to the present problem will not be resolved overnight or next week because we have allowed things to really get screwed up.

We will need to do the following:

  1. Equalize school funding, both across state levels and across the nation. If this means taking funds from the defense and national security establishment, so be it. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”
  2. Make sure that teachers in the classroom are well-prepared to undertake the changes being implemented. This means taking more than just a few days before the beginning of the school year and also that it will be an ongoing process from the first day of employment.
  3. Make sure that the parents and guardians of the students are part of the process. It does no good to make changes in the classroom if they are not understood at home. This will need the involvement of the parents and guardians because they will need to know how things work (and how they have changed from when they were in school; we cannot simply teach children today the way their parents and grandparents were taught).
  4. Finally, society as a whole needs to understand what education means. Education can no longer be a secondary issue in the thought and decision-making process of society. Right now, we need to shift our funds from tasks that ultimately result in the destruction of things to tasks that construction of things.

1 thought on ““Notes On The Common Core”

  1. From a colleague – I believe there has to be a fundamental paradigm shift as you suggest about education, away from discrete academic fact teaching to intellectual development which is actually learning. We put too much emphasis on teaching and not enough on learning ~ learning happens in the learner and requires a wise teacher who draws learning out through projects or experiences and is NOT about fact delivery from the sage on the stage. That is the reason I emphasize the students role in education ~ the student must hunger for the knowledge and skills that will give their lives meaning and purpose. Our society needs to examine how their policies affect the motivations of folks to grow change work or learn. NCLB and Common Core need to be regarded as an ethic and used to inspire creative and flexible delivery of education, which also to my mind, doesn’t require a lot of money or more money or money at all. It requires a change of mind and heart.

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