mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Fixing the Schools
New York Gets Cold Feet on Common Core
The Common Core curriculum, the Obama Administration’s signature education initiative, is losing support from an early (and deep blue) adopter: the state of New York. Both houses of the legislature are asking to delay the use of new Common Core teacher evaluation tests for two years, and the Board of Regents is delaying student testing requirements for five years. Clearly, New Yorkers are having second thoughts about the plan. Even Andrew Cuomo, an early supporter of the plan, is calling for an official review of the implementation of the program.
Criticisms of Common Core are coming in from all sides, but the main criticism concerns the speed at which the programs have been implemented and the lack of input from parents and teachers. The New York Times reports:
The loudest of the complaints is based on New York’s decision not to wait for those new Common Core exams, which are expected to make their debut in 2015, but to begin testing students on the new standards last year. Teachers said they had not been fully trained in the new curriculums, and had not received new textbooks and teaching materials; many still did not have them in the fall. As the tests changed, the scores plummeted: Less than a third of the state’s students passed.
In addition, many are concerned that the Common Core standards are needlessly difficult, particularly at younger grade levels. More specifically, some critics charge that the standards focus too early on granular knowledge, shifting focus aways from fundamental skills like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Some now worry that the new curriculum may alienate students from the education process, particularly in communities with the greatest need:

Teachers also said that pupils who were already struggling, particularly those who speak limited English, were facing greater challenges. Nonnative speakers are having a harder time in math because the new curriculums require greater use of word problems.

At a recent study group for teachers at P.S. 36 in the Bronx, Kathleen Rusiecki, who teaches first-grade special education, described one task in her curriculum: Draw a picture of the word nobody.

“It doesn’t even make sense,” she said.

In general we believe that the teachers have the best sense of what their students need and what approaches will work. The fact that so many teachers have serious issues with these standards is an early sign that something is off.

Perhaps the program could be fixed with tinkering, but this still wouldn’t fix what we see as the larger problem with federal, one-size-fits-all programs like this: The country is too large and heterogenous, and DC policymakers are too far removed from the practice of teaching, to design a program that makes sense everywhere. We should be giving more autonomy to teachers and local administrators, not less. 

Features Icon
show comments
  • rheddles

    Yeah, it doesn’t really matter if kids learn to read or cipher, as long as the teacher is held unaccountable with lifetime employment. Same problem as No Child Left Behind. Doesn’t matter which party tries to improve education. The teachers unions won’t have it.

  • johngbarker

    “. . .standards focus too early on granular knowledge…” I believe granular knowledge means acquiring disconnected bits of information not related to a larger conceptual scheme. Granular knowledge is not ever very meaningful at any age, like learning the state capitals as a stand-alone exercise.

  • Jim__L

    Common Core just proves that education professionals can’t police themselves, and should not be allowed to be the first and last word in curriculum production.

    Take their new rules for Math… The new “word problem” demands a word solution. They emphasize being able to explain, in painstaking detail, how you got the answer you got. This is how you discover and train talented math teachers, not talented mathematicians. I’ve taken enough university-level math courses from talented mathematicians to tell you, there is a HUGE difference between the two.

    But, teachers being teachers, believe that explaining is the measure of everything. Their blind spot here is huge.

    Ten or fifteen years from now — earlier, if Common Core goes into the recycling bin of academic fads as rapidly as it deserves — you’re going to get a multitude of students actually doing math for the first time, and realizing that they’re very good at it… despite the abysmal grades they got from Common-Core-infected teachers.

  • mgoodfel

    Home school your kids. They may not be exposed to as large a curriculum, but they might actually learn something. From what I remember of public school, most students just end up forgetting it all anyway. And they hate books, memorization and tests for the rest of their lives. Home schooling could hardly do worse.

  • vepxistqaosani

    Do a little Googling, and you’ll find plenty of funny/horrifying examples of extremely poorly-posed math problems, along with heuristics designed to frustrate the talented student, alienate the concerned parent, and frustrate everyone else.

    (1) Juanita wants to give bags of stickers to her friends. She wants to give
    the same number of stickers to each friend. She’s not sure if she needs
    4 bags or 6 bags of stickers. How many stickers could she buy so there
    are no stickers left over?

    (2) The “hundreds chart”

  • Clayton Holbrook

    “We should be giving more autonomy to teachers and local administrators, not less.” – TAI

    My initial thoughts of Common Core is that it would be a good model to actually grant more autonomy to educators by establishing core knowledge, holding the institutions accountable for teaching that knowledge, and then letting that knowledge be taught in whatever manner more local administrators and teachers saw fit. Basically, it would exchange more accountability for more teaching autonomy. Apparently, that’s not how its going down.

    Further, and not that the Fed overstepping it’s bounds fixes this, but a big problem imho with local control is the corrupting and competing forces. There’s the teachers (and in some cases their unions), the administrators, the school board, the parents and the PTA, and the local politicians et al. All of these groups have their opinions and unfortunately get lost in their own self interest.

  • MickMcMick
  • Nat

    It’s also possible that this is just the rocky transition to implementing higher standards. Andrew Wolf has written about how Massachusetts established a world class K-12 education system. They came up with a sequential, connected curriculum, and then bit the bullet in implementation: ie, they endured a couple years of kids and teachers failing and not being up to the new standards. But teachers and students rose to the challenge and adjusted to the new curriculum, and now their schools are among the best in the country.
    I don’t know if the Common Core curriculum is as good as the Massachusetts one, ir is being implemented as well. Certainly a top-down Federal program will never be as good locally-driven reform.
    But we should expect that any serious reform will rock some boats, since currently so many students, teachers, and schools are failing. We shouldn’t expect that everyone will gladly take to tougher standards that demand more out of them. A kick-in-the-behind is what’s needed.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service