Finding Common Ground: The Controversy Over Common Core Standards
The Common Core standards have been a majorly polarizing issue among politicians and citizens alike in the U.S. Just what are the standards, and what’s at the root of the debate?
Time for Reform?
Some think education is a state problem, while others argue it should be federally standardized. Regardless of the source of education reform, it seems obvious that something needs to be done.
Percentage of high school seniors who do not earn their diploma each year (1)
America’s place among 23 industrialized nations for high school graduation rates (1)
Percentage of U.S. public schools that did not meet federal achievement standards in 2011 (2)
What Is Common Core?
Common Core is legislation that mandates standard content for each grade level, including:
English-language arts (5)
- Speaking and listening
- Language and media, technology
In computer-based assessments done in 2011, 21% of high school seniors in the U.S. performed below basic in writing. (3)
- Make sense of problems
- Reason both abstractly and quantitatively
- Construct and critique arguments
- Model with mathematics
- Use appropriate tools
- Utilize precision in problem solving
- Use structure and repeated reasoning
70% of eighth-graders in the U.S. are performing below proficient in math.(4)
- Universal, computer-based assessments per grade level
Where Is It?
Approved Common Core standards (5)
Minnesota (ELA only)
Adopted but repealed (5)
Not adopted (6)
What’s the Difference?
Let’s take a look at a side-by-side comparison of standardized math questions at the middle school level. Common Core questions are generally longer and involve more reasoning and less simple memorization. (7)
A bird flew 20 miles in 100 minutes at a constant speed. At that speed, how long would it take the bird to fly 6 miles?
Common Core standards
A bird flew 20 miles in 100 minutes at constant speed. At that speed: (a) how long would it take the bird to fly 6 miles? (b) How far would the bird fly in 15 minutes? (c) How fast is the bird flying in mph? (d) What is the bird’s pace in minutes per mile?
The first question just requires one calculation using one formula. But the Common Core question requires multiple calculations and a certain level of reasoning. The student must understand how and why the formulas work.
What’s the Big Deal?
Some believe Common Core levels the playing field by providing standardized testing and clear benchmarks for each age group. But others argue that the standards are not fair representations of the different kinds of students in the classroom, and that the tests are too long and too hard.
Are standardized tests a good indicator of what students know? It’s hard to say.
Less than 1/3
Number of students who demonstrated proficiency in Common Core testing in New York in 2013 (8)
What teachers think (9)
In a 2011 survey of 20,000 teachers across the U.S. done by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, it was found that:
77% believed that Common Core standards will have a positive or very positive effect on student performance. Only 1% believed it would have a negative impact.
73% thought that implementing the standards will be challenging.
74% admitted implementation of new standards will require changes to teaching practices.
88% agreed that the rewards of implementation outweigh the challenges.
Many teachers were concerned about the students working two or more grades below grade level (40% of students) and those in special education (26%).