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Will Common Core dictate math and ELA curriculum?

May 18, 2014 

Common Core supporters reject calling the standards “curriculum.” The standards are copyrighted (unchangeable), and they represent at least 85 percent of state standards. The remaining 15 percent flexibility to add content allows states to say they control the standards. This is like dictating that all new homes in America be built exactly the same and then letting homeowners add three family pictures to personalize it.

Finding curriculum models that stray from the percent rule will be difficult since tests will only cover the 85 percent specified in the standards. This stifles teachers’ creativity and makes them little more than robotic facilitators. It creates a stranglehold on addressing student individuality and leads to “teaching to the tests.” Teachers fear for their job security if students perform poorly on tests. In January, a New York teachers’ union withdrew its support of Common Core because teacher evaluations will be partially based on students’ test scores and “major course corrections” are needed.

The standards have students reading boring, nonfiction, informational texts like government manuals on insulation and the history of the paper bag. To accommodate this requirement, time for a deep study of classical literature (where students learn critical thinking and analysis in satire and poetry) must be sacrificed. It replaces reading, that once sparked the creative imagination of young minds, with boring material deemed necessary to make them career ready.

Since teachers have no incentive to go beyond the standards, and new teachers following a script may not know any better, parents are left to correct mistakes and to fill in the facts an assignment omits or misrepresents. Jeremiah Chaffee, a New York state teacher, exposed how, in one Common Core text, it pushed social justice and prevented any deep understanding of the Gettysburg Address. The scripted instructions said students should not be given background context so they would rely on the text to “level the playing field for all.” Translation: Spare underprivileged students from feeling inferior to those who already know about Abe Lincoln.

With anecdotes like this, critics offer a troubling fact: Curriculum content, much of it progressive in nature, is left to publishers and a few special interest groups (many with federal government connections and conveniently headquartered in Washington, D.C.).

At a Chicago school district meeting on Common Core’s math philosophy, the curriculum director said: Correct answers are less important than “procedure” and “reasoning.” We focus on the how and why. She said a student could get credit if they could explain, in acceptable words and pictures, how 3x4 equals 11 or they could “collaborate” and convince others that 11, not 12 is correct. Asked if wrong answers would be corrected, she said yes (which must really confuse students).

If students are taught wrong answers can be acceptable, then how do you feel about engineers designing bridges with nearly correct specs or accepting somewhat accurate bank statements? These are absurd examples with life-altering consequences.

Another consequence of the new way to solve math problems (that normally can be done in seconds) is the unnecessary, time-consuming steps that leave students frustrated, crying and hating math because they don’t understand these new methods. Having young students laboriously draw and add boxes, cubes, sticks and dots leads to doubts about the value and purpose of this new math concept. In the following method of adding, it requires that students already know 7 + 3 = 10. In Common Core, however, to solve 7 + 5 = ?; a student must break down the 5 into 3 + 2, add the 3 to 7 to make 10, and then add the 2 to get 12! Finally, could you help third graders solve 7 + 7 (3,4) = 10 + 4 = ______? by “using number bonds to help you skip-count by seven by making ten or adding to the ones?” Parents are supposed to believe these concepts will translate to higher math and is superior to just learning basic addition.

Why is Common Core math so confusing parents cannot help with homework? Critics say it has to do with disconnecting parents from their children and the process by placing school and government authorities in a more powerful role. In the early 1990s, Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania told his Legislature: “We must never forget that you and I ... elected representatives of the people – and not anyone else – have the ultimate responsibility to assure the future of our children.” Casey was on board with an outcome-based education model similar to Common Core where the focus is on attitudes and feelings, not content. Supporters admit wanting to change our children’s values and attitudes about societal and workplace issues even though these changes are often in conflict with Christian values and principles.

David Craig, a 34-year Maryland educator, believes Common Core is a backdoor way of nationalizing education where children are to be churned out of schools on conveyor belts into the workforce, and he says it will never work. Are you willing to patiently wait, without question, the 10 years we’re told it will take to find out?

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.

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