15 Oct 2014

 

What Is Common Core?

The Common Core State Standards is a set of standards defining the knowledge and skills that students pre-kindergarten through high school need to master each year to be prepared for the next grade and ultimately college or work. Creating common academic standards across the country was a state-led initiative involving a coalition of governors and educators and has been funded by a number of non-profit organizations and the US Department of Education.

The National Governors Association (NGA) went public with the Common Core State Standards (CC) for English arts and mathematics in 2010. This was the introduction of CC, and at this point, only these two subjects are included, but other subjects will be added. The United States Department of Education has funded the CC standards through education funding to states that adopt CC and by providing money to non-profit organizations to develop assessments tied to CC. North Carolina adopted CC in 2010. By 2012, the NC public school curriculum and assessments for English arts and mathematics had been implemented. The NC General Assembly (GA) stopped funding for the implementation of CC assessments in 2013, and in 2014, it passed a law that charges the State Board of Education to develop standards specifically for NC students. Nothing prevents State Board of Education from selecting CC standards as those best for NC students. The new law also requires that “the assessment instrument or instruments shall be nationally normed, aligned with the North Carolina Standard Course of Study and field-tested.” The GA must approve of any assessment program before it is purchased.

What Problems Have Been Identified?

Recently there has been a lot of negative news about CC. Even strong supporters such a New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, have become critics. Some teachers’ unions have been critical of CC implementation. Critics of the one-size-fits-all curriculum, where every student learns the same things at the same pace, point out that people don’t all mature at the same rate and don’t have identical aptitudes, interests and career goals. They also say that a single curriculum can’t adequately prepare a student for college studies and a non-college career at the same time. Others point out the high failure rates of students taking CC exams. Less than one-third of New York students passed the 2012 exams. Still others are saying the standards are being set too low.

While Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, originally supported the idea of CC, he sued the Obama administration on August 27, 2014, hoping to strike a blow against the controversial Common Core education standards. “The federal government has hijacked and destroyed the Common Core initiative,” Jindal said in a statement. “Common Core is the latest effort by big government disciples to strip away state rights and put Washington, D.C., in control of everything.” This was the first time that the federal government had attempted to control state education standards by holding grant money over their heads.

The New Hanover County School Board of Education (Wilmington, NC) passed a resolution on August 19 petitioning “the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent, June Atkinson, to request the College Board to delay the implementation of the APUSH Framework (AP history course) for at least a year.” The board further requests the legislature to investigate further. Why did they do this? They found that, among other issues, “the Framework excludes discussion of the US military (no battles, commanders or heroes) and omits many other individuals, groups and events that greatly shaped our nation’s history (for  example, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, George Washington, Albert Einstein, George Washington  Carver, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Tuskegee Airmen, the Holocaust).”

So far, only public school students in forty-five states have been directly affected by CC, but non-public students will soon be indirectly affected. Many assessment tests such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Terra Nova, the SAT, the ACT and the GED are being modified to conform with CC. David Coleman, one of the driving forces behind CC, is now the president of College Board, the non-profit organization that publishes the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, PSAT Tests, CLEP and AP courses and tests. Many news sources are reporting that Mr. Coleman is now aligning every College Board product with CC. The problem is that these assessments are moving even further away from the core beliefs of most homeschoolers. In order to score well on these instruments, homeschool students will need to answer the test questions with answers they know are not true.

It is estimated that 40% of all college students must take remedial math courses to prepare them for the more rigorous college level math. State universities and colleges in CC states have signed an agreement that they will not require any student that has passed CC assessments to take remedial courses. Instead of state universities determining entrance requirements to public school students, the CC standards will dictate public university entrance requirements. This agreement will put pressure on the state universities to dumb-down their courses to accommodate students who have passed CC tests. Right now, private universities and colleges are not bound by this agreement, but they could be pressured to sign on in the future. The bottom line is this, homeschooled students who have been well prepared for challenging college level courses, may find that they are disappointed and bored with their public university course work.

Every state has longitudinal databases in place to track their students’ scores on assessments in place, and CC is pushing for the increased collection of student data from preschool through the workforce and the uniting of all the states’ data into one database. The US Department of Education will have unfettered access without parents’ permission to this data even down to students SSN and other personal information. Armed with this type of data on every student in the US, the Department of Education will have the power to usurp the parents’ and students’ ability to make decisions about their future. Central planning will have experts make decisions about what type of education the students would receive and for what type of job they would be trained. In the future, other government agencies could be granted access to the database making government misconduct a very real possibility.

CC standards have been developed with the goal of improving education standards throughout the US, and these standards may be imposed on non-public students in the near future. However, the academic success of homeschooling and school choice is ample evidence that competing standards that are developed or approved by parents are more effective in encouraging innovation and academic excellence than would be a monolithic national standard that makes no allowances for students’ individual abilities, desires or interests. CC is not just a concern for homeschoolers; it should be a concern for all citizens who care about our children and their education.

What Can You Do?

First, thank NC legislators who sponsored SB 812 and HB1061. Senators are: Tillman, Soucek, Brock, Cook, Curtis, Daniel, Hunt, Krawiec, Randleman and Sanderson. Representatives are: Speciale, Holloway, Pittman, J. Bell, Brody, Dixon, Elmore, Ford, Hardister, Hastings, Hurley, Iler, Jones, Malone, S. Martin, McElraft, T. Moore, Presnell, Riddell, Stam, Steinburg, Stone, Warren, Whitmire and Younts. Both bills were designed to replace CC with a state developed standard, and SB 812 became law on July 22, 2014.

Contact your federal senators and representative and ask that they introduce legislation that will cut off Race to the Top funding and eliminate additional funding for CC.

Contact NC Superintendent of Public Schools, June Atkinson, to let her know what you think of CC.

Spencer Mason and his wife, Debbie, homeschooled their four children from birth through high school, starting in 1981. Now their five grandchildren are being homeschooled. Spencer has served on the NCHE board for thirty-three years—serving in several different positions, including twice as president. He now serves as law and policy director where he managed the successful campaign to improve our homeschool law in 2013. Under his leadership, NCHE maintains a respected voice on both sides of the aisle in the legislature. In addition to his board position, he is now serving as the NCHE executive office manager.