What is Common Core, where did it come from?

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The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been fully implemented this school year in math and English language arts, and while some students are keeping up, others are struggling.

Legislators have long said they do not have a problem with CCSS, just its implementation. Now that it seems to be here to stay, where did it come from? Why these standards?

Webster Parish Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls explained that it came from a collection of Republican governors. A federal program called “Race to the Top” was on the line, tied to CCSS, he said, and the state had no choice but to implement the rigorous standards.

“The federal money was tied to the development of Common Core,” Rawls said. “Our state opted to go to Common Core to get the federal money. The problem is the aftermath and the devil is in the details. We’re finding out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s not a curriculum; it’s a set of standards.”

Rep. Gene Reynolds, District 10, said before where it came from is discussed, people need to understand the full meaning of Common Core.

“Common Core is a set of standards,” he said. “If you look at the standards, the standards say the student will perform certain functions by the end of such-and-such grade. That’s all it says. It doesn’t tell you how. Then the local school systems can choose the curriculum.”

Rawls said that is part of the problem.

“We were left to fend for ourselves to find what we were supposed to teach,” he said. “We didn’t have any uniformity in our schools. The state did not provide any direction with curriculum and curriculum materials. We finally got some direction from the state on what we’re supposed to be using.”

Webster Parish is using a program for math and English language arts (ELA) called Eureka Math and Core ELA that comes from Gauge, New York.

“The math makes no sense,” Rawls said. “Parents don’t know what to do. The sad part about English is they have some questionable reading material, and it’s very explicit stuff. It just doesn’t go over well, and a lot of people don’t think it’s school reading material.”

Reynolds said he felt the reason Eureka Math (and Core ELA) were chosen for Webster Parish is because it aligns with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing. In this new form of math, students are taught to think things through.

“Here’s the problem,” he said. “For years and years and years, kids were taught to memorize the test. Like it or not, that’s the way it was. A year and a half ago, when the kids got out for summer, that’s the way it was. Then we came in and implemented Common Core and we expected the kids, who were taught for years and years and years to memorize, to automatically start thinking.”

In light of all the questions and issues surrounding CCSS, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office issued a brief explaining in detail where CCSS came from, how it is used and why.

In short, CCSS was developed through a need to develop an “agreed-upon set of standards.” In 2001, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) into law.

“NCLB was designed to increase state accountability for student progress and allowed states to set their own proficiency standards,” according to the brief. “The result was that some states created strong standards, while others were not as rigorous. The discrepancy became apparent when students across the country took the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.”

In the brief, an exhibit shows where the United States ranked among several different countries in mathematics. It shows that Shanghai, China ranked No. 1, where the U.S. ranked No. 36 (Source: National Center for Education Statistics).

“U.S. students have consistently finished in the middle of the group of countries taking the tests and almost always just at or below the benchmark score,” the brief indicates. “Education leaders were also troubled by the fact that college enrollment rates among U.S. students were stagnant, while remediation rates for such subjects as algebra were high. At the same time, business and industry leaders expressed growing concern that students were not learning the skills they needed to succeed in the workplace.”

Rawls alluded to the fact that Louisiana’s main industries are not in finance as is the case in New York.

“Our gross product is in oil and gas, seafood and agriculture,” he said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense. In the deep South, the deep sea fishing and the oil and gas (are) where all our money is coming from.”

Proponents of Common Core, say CCSS is “needed because U.S. students continue to fall behind their international peers at a time when the world is growing increasingly competitive,” says the Louisiana Legislative Auditors.

Reynolds, who is not against CCSS, says he feels he has a solution to the arguments on both sides. He said the answer is to give the students and parents some stability, and to do that, it takes time to transition.

“We need to make smart decisions on curriculum,” he said. “I think the standards are fine. I’ve read them. The standards are not too much different than the Comprehensive Curriculum, except it steps it up a notch or two. When you talk to teachers, they will tell you the same thing.”

He went on to explain the “panic” comes from not only the lack of a curriculum, but also teacher evaluations, changes in testing and other factors.

“If we will address those issues this coming spring, and get on a stable path, I think we’ll be better off,” Reynolds said. “But we’re not going to be able to do that until the ‘antis’ and the ‘pros’ define what is acceptable on both (sides).”

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