Critical Analysis Paper

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Common Core: The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown

Sonja Gehrman

CSUMB

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Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to gain some insight as to why the Common Core State Standards may or may not work. Those who are in support of this nation-wide curriculum feel that this idea is the answer to higher test scores and maintaining a global competitive edge in both college and the workforce. However, critics believe that this implementation will only damage student and teacher morale due to high-stakes/high-pressure expectations. Opponents also believe that implementing this idea will violate states’ rights, and allow for corporate giants like McGraw-Hill and Bill Gates to influence how our education system should function while increasing company revenue. Despite criticism, seventy percent of teachers who are members of large unions show that they are in support of the Common Core and are hopeful that this idea is the answer to a better education system.

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Proponents of the Common Core State Standard believe that implementing this system will help our nation maintain a global competitive edge within the workforce and better prepare our children for college. Opponents believe that the common core is a devious way for our government to gain control over its citizens, and also devise a curriculum that will set both teachers and students up for failure. Supporters for the Common Core are confident that if our nation adopts and maintains this system, improved test scores will provide our students a fair advantage alongside other country’s success with a similar approach. According to Tyrone Howard, a professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education, “[It] is designed as a tool to help students catch up with their counterparts in countries like China and Singapore, whose standardized test scores have surged past the United States’ in recent decades (Williams, 2014). On the other hand, those who question the philosophy behind the Common Core, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for example, feel that the government is in violation of states’ rights. He also cautioned the White House’s attempt to “[turn] the Department of Education into what is effectively a national school board. Empowering parents, local communities and individual states is the best approach” (Williams, 2014). Opponents are also accusing the wealthy, like multi-billionaire publishing company McGraw-Hill and technology giant Bill Gates, from profiting off our fragile education system and who feel are the “real forces behind the Common Core push” (Williams, 2014).

Advocates feel that the focal purpose for the Common Core is to improve our nation’s economical and academic standing within the global market. Corporate America has been recruiting overseas because our students are not prepared enough for the workforce, especially in the area of software developers and engineers. According to Williams (2014), “prepare kids

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to compete not only in college but in the rapidly-changing American job market and the high-tech, information-based global economy”. Some feel that we are staring the obvious right in the face, provide our students with the knowledge and ability required to contribute to a different economy than what was required twenty years ago. In order to keep up with just a small area within technology, for example information technology, the demand for knowledgeable, educated employees is higher than ever. Upholding the status quo will leave the future of our students spiraling into the abyss of an economic crisis.

In today’s ever growing technological advancements, it is difficult for college graduates to find employment because they are given a weak educational foundation in their early formative years. This is where the Common Core makes its way into the classroom. The first step in preparing our children for college and the workforce is adjusting the way teachers teach. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “around 20 percent of incoming freshmen at four-year colleges and a quarter of first-year students at two-year schools need remedial courses in English or math” (Williams, 2014). Common Core is not a curriculum, but simple standards that teachers can enhance with their own creative way of teaching. If anything, Common Core is said to allow freedom and flexibility in the classroom for teachers rather than the old micro management of where children need to be in a textbook by a certain date. If the curriculum is consistent across the U.S. than children who relocate will not fall behind or be penalized for not being up-to-date with their new classroom curriculum. According to Bill Gates,

Inconsistent standards like the ones we’ve had until now punish students who have to switch schools. Either they’re expected to know material they’ve never been taught, or they’re re-taught material they already know. But with standards that are not only high enough but also consistent, students will be able to move without falling behind (2014).

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This is one of the reasons why some feel that our students are testing so low. There has been a misconception that the Common Core will create rigid tests that will eventually fail our teachers and students. However, this is where the second step with the potential success of the Common Core is introduced.

With a new policy comes a clean slate. Common Core testing will allow for a more in depth measure with students’ level of understanding within the new curriculum. Some teachers feel the Common Core digs deeper into the way a student can grasp the material, and in turn produce higher test results. For example, with the aid of a new framework for reading called Lexile, educators are finding it easier to pin point exactly where a student is struggling with reading and comprehension. This system measures what they call text complexity which are broken down into three equal components of Qualitative (measure of meaning, structure, and language clarity), Quantitative (measure of word frequency and sentence length), and Reader and Task (measure of knowledge, motivation and interest) (Lexile, 2014). According to Lexile research, this program has already been linked to positive outcomes in English language reading skills around the world through TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Many English-speaking colleges and universities use TOEFL as a mandatory prerequisite for admission for non-native English speakers. The hope is to bring American students to the same reading level as their global counterparts and in turn better test scores. Bill Gates (2014) claims that the ongoing diagnosis of new reading programs will successfully help students master their knowledge of success after graduating high school and better prepare them for college and the workforce.

Critics claim that with the adoption of Common Core, state testing will create a high-stakes atmosphere measuring a teacher’s job performance and ultimately dismissing those who cannot handle the pressure of a so-called rigorous

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testing system. Regardless of criticism, most teachers are in favor of the Common Core. A poll managed by teacher unions like the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) and NEA (National Education Association) show an overwhelming 70% support for Common Core (Williams, 2014). The NEA has also provided a “Common Core toolkit” available on their website that is “designed to help educators prepare for implementation” (2013). According to Williams (2014), so far 45 states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. Territories have approved the Common Core within their classrooms. On the California’s Department of Education website, they explain how the Common Core was created and supported by an array of people including teachers, practitioners, content experts, researchers, leaders in higher education, and businesses. These same people feel that this idea “was designed by the states and for the states for a clear, consistent, rigorous, and relevant way to improve our education system” (2011). With constant backlash from opponents, advocates have argued that they have yet to propose a viable alternative for our education system’s improvement.

The main arguments that opponents of Common Core State Standards have provided are government control, a high-pressure/high-stakes atmosphere for teachers and students, and an opportunity for the rich to get richer. Those who challenge the implementation of Common Core see it as another excuse for the government to gain control of our education system where they have no business at all. Some argue that there was a reason that our Founding Fathers did not mention education in the Constitution. With that said most feel their intention was that the decisions concerning education should be left in the authority of state and local officials. For this reason,

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The Founders wanted most aspects of life managed by those who were closest to them, either by state or local government or by families, businesses, and other elements of civil society. Certainly, they saw no role for the federal government in education (Boaz, 2006).

Furthermore, Boaz (2006) argues that the avoidance of too much power within one branch of our government was foreseen as a problem by our Founders which are why they supported the idea of dividing and limiting power. Another concern for government control is addressed by conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck who believes, “Common Core is a back-door means for the government to spy on citizens and indoctrinate children in what Beck called “an extreme liberal ideology” (Williams, 2014). What critics seem to agree on the most is that federal involvement is in violation of states’ rights and has no business in the classroom.

Many argue that our government has already had its chance for “fixing” our nation’s educational system when President George W. Bush introduced the No Child Left Behind initiative back in 2001. This initiative was designed to increase teacher and school accountability to ensure that students understood the curriculum through state mandated tests that measured their level of knowledge. If not, then the punishment was decreased funding for the schools that showed no improvement. Because this accountability approach was limiting teacher focus to only a specific division of set skills, they felt their students were not prepared enough to take the state tests. They also felt unreasonably chastised for only doing what they were told to do. Fast forward four years later when disapproving results started to rear its ugly head. Our government felt an obligation to go back to the drawing board and rethink its approach for a better education system. The idea of the Common Core was born. Instead of a narrow approach to the curriculum they turned to a more in depth understanding of how to measure student knowledge. Presumably programs like Lexile, mentioned earlier, support this

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new approach which in turn is meant to result in better test scores. With that said, many still fear that the curriculum will only intensify the already high-pressure, high-stakes atmosphere that teachers and students are facing today, “…in Common Core [liberals] see a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach, drafted in private, that ignores how teachers teach and how children learn” (Williams, 2014). Some teachers are in agreement with the Common Core’s concept that supports more flexibility in the classroom, but hate that they are strong-armed into something that has yet to prove successful. Understandably so because after all, the No Child Left Behind Act has left our government scratching their heads figuring out what went wrong with their initial idea and will this new idea work? Some may argue that if teachers and students have to be held accountable should the government also be held accountable? Maybe having powerful and influential friends like the McGraw’s is our government’s answer to accountability?

Publishing power houses like McGraw-Hill and Macmillan have been criticized for monopolizing and financially benefiting from state standards. Not only do they supply textbooks to almost every school in the United States, but they also provide the state tests that go along with them. McGraw-Hill takes pride for being the largest publisher in the world with services and products available in more than 600 languages. What is more is that the McGraw and Bush families have strong ties with one another. In an article written by Jim Trelease (2006) he uncovers what he calls “cross-pollination and mutual admiration between the McGraw’s and the [Bush] Administration”. For example, Harold McGraw Jr. sat along-side former First Lady Barbara Bush on the Barbara Bush Foundation For Family Literacy while former McGraw-Hill executive vice present John Negroponte assumed a position as Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations. Trelease is ok with hiring

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friends whether it is the president of the United States or the owner of a local pizza restaurant. His concern is with hiring practices validating scientific research that had been wrongly reviewed by a third party research company rather than a peer-reviewed panel in which Trelease calls “an essential ingredient in scientific research” (2006). The backlash was the U.S. Department of Education’s unveiling of 51 pages of conflicts of interest in 2006 pertaining to the Reading First program. One conflict being that the McGraw’s coauthored mandated books for the program. Despite this huge controversy, it seems that the McGraw’s were never penalized for their questionable business practices. Whatever happened to accountability? As mentioned before, they control the education publishing market and pride themselves in doing so. With a nation-wide endorsement for Common Core Standards upon us many feel that McGraw-Hill continues to profit off the stress and pressure of our teachers and students.

Another billionaire who many accuse of profiting from the Common Core Standards is Microsoft founder Bill Gates. His critics have accused him “for virtually creating a national marketplace for [education and testing] products” (Williams, 2014). As one of the main supporters for the Common Core, his foundation has funneled money into the cause for education reform since 2006. His claim is that “…Common Core is among the most important education ideas in years” and that “The Gates Foundation helped fund this process because we believe that stronger standards will help more students live up to their potential” (2014). He feels that this education reform is shrouding in myths and misconceptions and that he wants to get the word out that this is the best answer for a stronger education system. One of the myths circulating is that the standards were created without teacher input. Along with governors and school officials, teacher

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unions within 48 states sent representatives, many of them teachers, to provide input. While he is getting the word out, opponents feel that his influence is muffling their concerns. They believe that rather than corporate power, the answer to an ideal reform should be driven by a more research-based approach.

There is no question that the Common Core State Standard remains to be controversial within our nation’s education system. Supporters feel strongly that this is the answer to higher test scores, college preparation, and the competitive edge needed to sustain our economy. While those who are against the adoption of a nation-wide curriculum question the government’s ability to adequately resolve this problem without violating states’ rights, creating a high-stakes/high-pressure classroom atmosphere, and allowing the richer to become wealthier. In the meantime, while the nation is holding its breath, the outcome can be anyone’s guess.

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References

Boaz, D. (2006). Education and the constitution. Cato Institute. Retrieved from

http://www.cato.org/blog/education-constitution

California Department of Education. (2010). What are the common core standards? Retrieved

from http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/cc/tl/whatareccss.asp

Gates, B. (2014). Bill Gates: commend common core. USA Today. Retrieved from

http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/02/11/bill-melinda-gates-common-core-education-column/5404469/

Lexile. (2014). Common Core Standards. Retrieved from

http://www.lexile.com/using-lexile/lexile-measures-and-the-ccssi/

School Vouchers. (2014). Retrieved from

http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/school-choice-vouchers.aspx

Trelease, J. (2006). All in the family: the Bush’s and the McGraw’s. Trelease on Reading.

Retrieved from http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/whatsnu_bush-mcgraw.html

Walker, T. (2013). 10 things you should know about the common core. NEA Today. Retrieved

http://neatoday.org/2013/10/16/10-things-you-should-know-about-the-common-core/

Williams, J.P. (2014). Who is fighting against common core? US News & World Report.

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Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/special-reports/a-guide-to-common-core/articles/2014/02/27/who-is-fighting-against-common-core

Williams, J.P. (2014). Who is fighting for the common core? US News & World Report.

Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/special-reports/a-guide-to-common-core/articles/2014/02/27/who-is-fighting-for-common-core