EDITOR’S NOTE: Kay Bivens of Lake Wylie examines Common Core State Standards in math and English Language Arts being implemented in public schools in many states including South Carolina. These views are Bivens, and not those of the Lake Wylie Pilot.
Do you remember the television show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” Americans enjoy quiz shows, because we love challenges and competing to see if we can make the grade.
See if you can solve a math problem from an 1877 elementary grade math test. Remember teachers, who probably didn’t have a college degree, taught math in one-room schools, and students learned to do math mentally – no calculators, chalk or slate allowed.
A boat worth $864, and insured for $500, was lost. One-eight of the boat belonged to Bill, ¼ belonged to John, and the rest to Daniel. What loss did each sustain?
How did you do? Could today’s elementary students do math problems like this (or read Greek and Roman classics in their original language like students did in the 1700s)? It’s a thought-provoking question.
Now compare 1877 math to this problem in a Nebraska third grade class: Mr. Lemke has 5 guitars, 4 banjos and 2 mandolins. What is the total number of strings on the instruments?
After seeing examples of other math problems like this, and as a former fifth and sixth grade science teacher, I wanted to check out the sweeping education reforms in the Common Core standards 45 states promised to adopt. Were you, like me, unaware South Carolina had adopted CC in 2010, with an implementation completion date of 2014-2015?
I also wanted to explore the theory the decline of education has paralleled the decline of federalism so I began to research the pros and cons of yet another new approach to education.
After doing extensive research and attending CC forums, I will share my findings, questions and concerns, but please, do your own homework. There is conflicting information and confusing generalized statements on CC that need to be examined. This is timely because in two recent polls, only 52 percent and 62 percent (respectively) of parents had heard “only a little” or “nothing at all” about CC.
Another poll stated: “Of those who had heard of CC, many were confused by or misunderstood the standards and their genesis.” It is curious there has been so little communication about such a drastic change in education.
Historical factors changing education may surprise you. “Big business” had and continues to have a powerful influence on the goals of education.
1. By the late 1800s/early 1900s, industrialists Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford needed robot-like, compliant factory workers, so fueled by their influence and money, education changed to facilitate achieving that need. Rockefeller’s letter on education stated: “In our dream ... people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands.” Carnegie supported educational experimentation. Even President Woodrow Wilson voiced his thinking saying one class should have a liberal education, another much larger class, should forgo a liberal education and prepare to perform specific difficult manual tasks.
2. 1914: Universities got on board to train teachers, effort to control textbook content and standardized testing began.
3. 1920s: H. H. Goddard, standardized test architect, wrote about standardized testing’s goal: Make lower classes recognize their inferiority – discourage their ambition and having children. Textbooks: History being blurred and rewritten to reflect author’s bias; omission of quotes by people like our founding fathers.
4. 1954 Congressional Committee uncovered a gigantic project to rewrite American history and incorporate it into new school textbooks.
5. 1979: Department of Education was established followed by unconstitutional federal intrusions into state control of education – using tax dollars to influence changes. This loss of federalism does parallel our continued loss of world rankings in both economics and education.
6. Teachers’ unions have tremendous lobbying power (influence) regarding education policy.
7. Poverty, single-parent families, removing God from our lives, and public apathy have contributed to declining school and world rankings, not addressed as factors that need to be considered in any reforms in education.
8. As reforms to reverse the downward spiral have been tried, some have resorted to lowering standards to get improved test scores, but No. 1 tells us these changes focus on the need for workers, not what’s best for students.
The idea of reform reminds me of “New Math” in the 1960s. My college roommate was told it was going to revolutionize math because the old method was no longer effective. I was skeptical, but my roommate’s professor had assured her it would work.
Well, poor student performance made schools recognize it as a failure so New Math went away (almost), but could it be that another version of it has emerged under a new name? Today’s CC math criticisms are strikingly similar to New Math criticisms: “Frustrated, angry parents and teachers said New Math was outside of students’ ordinary experiences and not worth taking time away from more traditional topics, such as arithmetic. Parents didn’t understand it and couldn’t help with their children’s homework.” The preface of Professor George F. Simmons’ book “Pre-calculus Mathematics in a Nutshell,” summed it up: New Math students knew commutative law, but not multiplication tables.
The core issue about CC comes down to trust:
1. Can we trust that CC is focused on the best interests of our children, not big business’ needs?
2. Can we trust CC to reverse decades of a downward spiral in education in America since schools have never been asked to conduct business as CC requires? Check out the comments from teachers on the NEA’s website: neatoday.org/2013/10/16/10-things-you-should-know-about-the-common-core/.
• Diane Ravich, a proponent of voluntary national standards: washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/18/everything-you-need-to-know-about-common-core-ravitch/.
• Bill Gates’ UNESCO alliance and his involvement in CC’s development: crossroad.to/articles2/0013/common-core/bill_gates_teams_up_with_unesco.htm.
Kay Bivens of Lake Wylie is a former science teacher with more than 12 years teaching experience. After retiring, she began leading a series of U.S. Army Family Support Group in the Carolinas, which led to her planning, developing curriculum and teaching classes at several FSG Leadership Training Academies in Florida, Texas and South Carolina.