Common Core 101
By Sylvia Barnhart
Volume 29 Summer 2014 Issue 3
"Houston, We Have a Problem!"
Education for all American citizens has long been considered a cornerstone of our country. Our public school system is one of America’s oldest and most influential institutions, greatly impacting our nation and our future. Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” How and what we teach our children greatly determines the future of our country. In recent years, leaders in our nation have become concerned because of the performance of our nation’s workforce. Mathematical and problem-solving skills have dropped to be some of the weakest in the developed world, with adults in the U.S. scoring far below average compared to other competing countries. Some 60% of our students entering college need to take remedial courses of some sort just to catch up. Our ability to compete in the global economy is dropping, and we are losing ground.
Finding the Right Path
While it may be of great concern to our nation’s leaders, the falling test scores of our students is yet another symptom of our country’s great need to experience the transforming power of the Gospel in every aspect of our nation. We desperately need God to intervene in our school system as well as in our churches, our government, and our economy, etc. But while we are fervently praying for a full scale revival and another Great Awakening, we must also keep alert to what is happening right now in our nation, especially as it concerns our children.
What is “Common Core,” and is this federally endorsed education reform the best we can do, or is it simply a recipe for more trouble? Common Core is a set of nationalized standards for English and mathematics (science guidelines will also be added soon) written and copyrighted by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Its development was largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Before the fall of 2012, very little was known about the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Media outlets didn’t mention it. Parents had heard little about it. No public discussion of it existed. But in 2011, 45 states had already officially agreed to adopt the Common Core Standards sight unseen. How did such a comprehensive reform of public education slip in so unnoticed? Americans are now asking that question.
A Race to the Top or to the Bottom
Many states eagerly embraced the Common Core Standards in 2010 in order to qualify for Federal Stimulus money through the competitive Race to the Top initiative. The Race to the Top initiative awarded more than $4 billion dollars in federal grants to states that would commit to “education reform and innovation.” Many critics say, however, that “reform and innovation” was only defined as “Common Core Standards,” meaning states would have to agree to the Common Core in order to qualify for the Federal grant funding. While the prerequisite of “reform and innovation” was not limited to Common Core, extra points were, however, awarded in their Race to the Top application if states adopted Common Core standards by the given deadline. States were not coerced by the federal government to adopt CC Standards, but they were definitely enticed into doing so by a fat carrot of much needed federal grant dollars. Only Virginia and Texas chose to write their own standards, qualifying for Race to the Top funding without adopting the Common Core.
Why Haven't We Heard About it?
The development of the Common Core standards began as early as 2009, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the implementation of the Common Core began in earnest. Even then, 62% of Americans who were questioned said “they had never heard of Common Core.” However, as 2013 progressed and the standards were further implemented, a steady stream of questions began to rise. What is Common Core? Who does it affect? When did my state and my school district adopt this new program? Perhaps the great est concern of all, however, was, Why haven’t we heard about it? The process of education reform that had previously been a very public and much voted-on process had somehow been quietly swept in without notice until, suddenly, it was already in place. It was implemented without the votes of Congress or the taxpayers who must fund it and whose children will be impacted by it.
Are We Getting Facts or Propaganda?
Recently, however, Common Core has become a hotly debated subject, quickly gaining national attention. Most of us have heard of it by now. But WHAT have we heard? The Common Core has been sold to the American Public by its proponents, including the Obama Administration, as a “rigorous set of academic standards.” It has been hailed as a much needed national education reform that will push our students to the top and bring them out ahead and “among the best in the world.” But if that is the case, then why are we hearing that so many parents and education away from the hands of state governments and local school boards and giving it to the federal government. By law, the federal government is not allowed to create a national curricula, but through private funding and by the hands of others, Common Core is well on its way to becoming just that. While proponents of Common Core insist it is not a curriculum, curriculum companies will soon follow the standards. National tests such as the SAT and ACT will then need to reflect the Common Core standards as well. The fact that the NGA and CCSSO hold the copyright to Common Core material means that states (and teachers) are not allowed to neglect or alter any part of it and cannot add more than 15% in content, leaving very little room for teachers to be creative or to customize their teaching to fit their students.
Is Common Core Just Another Bite Out of Our Privacy?
Another alarming objection to the Common Core is its use of a student data tracking system. It has been said that the Race to the Top requires the collection of personally identifiable data from students. The Department of Education then asks the states to release the data to them before states can receive their grants. The concern is that student and family privacy is being compromised. While the federal government is prohibited from collecting such data, it gets around the law by asking the states to collect the data and then turn it over to the federal government. Information collected includes things like religious affiliation, family income range, disciplinary records, health history, and parent political affiliation, including over 300 bits of data. Such tracking indeed has the feel of a government overstep and a violation of our freedom. Some school officials argue, however, that while they do collect a large amount of student data, no new data will be collected under Common Core and no personally identifiable data is ever released to the federal government.
What Should Be Our Response to Common Core?
What should we do? Our biggest responsibility is to educate ourselves and others about what Common Core is. Find out what the standards actually are and the reasons why they might pose a long term threat for our nation. There are many informative websites as well as Youtube videos available on the internet that explain Common Core standards and its concerns in-depth. Pinpointing the truth is a bit of a challenge when each opposing view calls the other’s arguments “myths.” When we are informed, then we can contact our legislators and let our voices be heard.
Many legislators are only now finding out what Common Core really is. Education reform is indeed needed in America, but we must be sure that the responsibility for it is not taken out of the hands of the states and local districts and handed to the federal government. We must be watchful of the content that is being sown into the children of our nation. Conservative critics of Common Core see it as a seed-bed for the agendas of liberalism and socialism. If that is true, we must not turn our eyes and close our ears. We must stand for truth and watch carefully over the children of our nation, praying always for God’s protection and blessing to cover our schools as well as our children.