Common Core.

In public education today, there are no two words that elicit such a strong response, both positive and negative. It seems like everyone has an opinion on the effectiveness or dangers of the Common Core Standards (and with good reason). These standards don’t just affect teachers and how they structure their lessons, after all: they make an impact on the students who are upheld to those standards, the administrators who fear that their students will not succeed under those standards, and the families and friends of these teachers, students, and administrators who see how those standards affect them.

Exploring the impact the Common Core makes on student success, particularly in closing the achievement gap between kids of different races and socioeconomic statuses, is what I want to focus on over my next couple of posts.

This first post, which I have fittingly titled “The Common Core and the Achievement Gap: An Introduction,” will provide some background on the Common Core and the very basic arguments that exist both for and against its role in closing the achievement gap.

First, let’s discuss my own limited experience with these standards.

Since I graduated high school in 2014, I was not as directly affected by the Common Core Standards as current public school students are today. If my memory serves me correctly, I took exams based on the Standards only during my junior and senior year of high school and only remember having a couple. Since the Common Core was just being unveiled to the community when I actually took these exams, I would consider my experience to have been pretty neutral. My teachers were not sure whether or not they were teaching us the “right way” and often openly expressed that uncertainty. For my senior year English class, we were not given study materials for the exam until well in to the semester. Luckily, the early stage exams themselves were not terribly difficult (in my opinion), so I left high school with a general distaste for the Standards but was not an ardent opponent of them.

But that definitely isn’t to say that most people feel the same way I do – in fact, there are ardent supports and opponents of these standards alike across the country who have very valid reasons for their stances.

Let’s talk about both sides of the debate. To begin, check out this video that explains what a common (pun intended) second grade Common Core math problem is like:

If you are like me and also was not taught according to Common Core Standards, you are probably thinking somewhere along the lines of “Why is this necessary? Isn’t it much easier to do it the way I was taught?”

As this Salon article argues, Common Core mathematics (like the example shown in the video above) offer students a way to understand “arithmetic on a deep enough level to facilitate the learning of higher levels of mathematics in a meaningful way.”

Last spring, U.S. News published an article titled “A Hidden Benefit to Common Core.” The article argues that lowering or eliminating these standards will not only reduce the attainment of academic degrees – it will also “exacerbate the trend toward under-prepared college students, lengthened time to completion and inflated tuition costs for families.” These standards, according to both the creators of the Common Core Standards and those who favor them, are indicators of college and career readiness. Along that line of logic, if students can successfully navigate these standards and succeed under them, they should also be able to successfully navigate the standards set by colleges and lucrative careers.

Now, let’s switch over to the opposite side of the debate. In June of 2016, the New York Times published an opinion piece titled “The Common Core Costs Billions and Hurts Students.” The answer to closing the achievement gap, according to the article, will not be found in implementing more standardized testing measures and standards:

If we really cared about improving the education of all students, we would give teachers the autonomy to tailor instruction to meet the needs of the children in front of them and to write their own tests. We would insist that students in every school had an equal opportunity to learn in well-maintained schools, in classes of reasonable size taught by expert teachers. Anyone who wants to know how students in one state compare with students in other states can get that information from the N.A.E.P., the existing federal test.

What is called “the achievement gap” is actually an “opportunity gap.” What we need are schools where all children have the same chance to learn. That doesn’t require national standards or national tests, which improve neither teaching nor learning, and do nothing to help poor children at racially segregated schools. We need to focus on that, not on promoting failed ideas.”

For my next post, which will be published on Monday afternoon, we will go into much more depth on just how effective Common Core has been so far in closing the achievement gap.

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