Of the many hot topics in education in today’s United States, few are more controversial than the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative which was announced in 2009 with the stated objective of providing “a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn” so that their parents and teachers will have a much clearer idea of what they need to do in order to help them.
But as with all federal education programs, it has drawn much criticism from parents and others who do not believe that it will make educational achievement any better than it is, and that in certain respects it will make things even worse.
This article will explore various aspects of the initiative in the light of current education issues—how it was first developed, why people are so opposed to it and what the alternatives are.
Background of one of the most important hot topics in education.
released a report called “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts” that lamented not only on how little today’s schoolchildren are achieving, but on how educational standards are measured. The grades that high school students often receive grades that “cannot be compared from school to school and often are based as much on effort as on the actual mastery of academic content.” The national exams taken by students who wish to go to college, similarly, are often out of alignment with both the material that they have studied in high school and the placement tests that they will take later, which themselves vary from one institution to another.
The report revealed even more disturbing facts. More than half of all college students need remedial help with English and math skills, and less than half even receive a degree. High school graduates also lack basic knowledge of reading, writing and math. Many other developed countries rank ahead of the United States in this areas: Pearson, an educational firm, ranked the United States 17th on a list of countries with the best educational systems.
Aggrieved by these findings, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers sponsored the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which was presented to each of the states for adoption.
Adoption by the States
As of now, all but five of the states, plus American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands, have formally adopted the Initiative. The exceptions are:
- Nebraska and Virginia are initiative members but will not adopt it.
- Minnesota adopted the English standard but not the math standard.
- Alaska and Texas are not initiative members.
- Puerto Rico has not adopted the initiative.
Objectives of the Initiative
The initiative has established standards in two broad areas—English Language Arts & Literacy and mathematics—by which the success of American schools may be measured. In each area there are a set of subjects to be mastered by all students at each grade level. The English standards include college & career readiness “anchor standards” for four areas—(1) reading, (2) writing, (3) speaking & listening and (4) language. They are further divided into a number of sub-fields, each with its own objectives. For example, by the time he has completed CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1, the student should be able to:
- distinguish between what a text explicitly states versus what is can be logically inferred from it; and
- use examples from the text to support the conclusions that they have drawn.
The full list of the requirements for each stage of education can be found on the Common Core website.
Opposition to the Initiative
One of the chief reasons for opposing the Common Core State Standards Initiative is that the standards which it imposes are too rigid and that it adds to the already-great burden of similar federal programs that also include the No Child Left Behind Act. Then, too, the very notion that there should even be such standards at all has been questioned—all that such an idea has been produced is a “one size fits all” Procrustean bed that cannot easily be adopted the individual needs and abilities of each child.
Worse still, Common Core is the latest in a long line of attempts by the federal government to usurp the authority of parents in determining what their children may learn, and how. In assessing the success or failure of the initiative, it needs to be realized that federal programs have had a solid history of failure. It was precisely because the Founding Fathers were well aware of the dangers of a strong central government that they created our federal system. And it is these principles which the country has been drifting away from for about a century now—and to them to which we must return if things are to get any better.