By Mary Hood, Ph.D.
By now, most of you have probably heard something about Common Core. Many parents first noticed something was different when their small children began having difficulties with the math problems associated with the curriculum that is linked to Common Core. Even children who had been getting very good grades in math in the past were suddenly failing. As a result of night after night of meltdowns, many parents have recently made the decision to pull their children out of the public schools to teach them at home. A lot of these parents would never have dreamed of homeschooling just a short time ago.
Common Core, though, is much more than just a “new” way of doing math that makes it difficult for parents to help children with their homework!
So what, exactly, is it? By definition, Common Core is a set of national standards in language arts and math instruction. When I first heard about it, and started hearing an outcry from public school parents, I thought they probably were overreacting. After all, what is so wrong about having a consistent set of standards?
Then I started researching it, and realized it was about a lot more than just a set of standards. At that point, I thought it probably was just a phase. I’ve been around education for fifty-some years, and have seen many instructional fads come and go.
Then I researched it a little more, and wound up quitting my job in order to have more time to help combat Common Core and assist the newcomers making the switch to the field of homeschooling!
There are several things that I find uniquely repulsive about Common Core, when compared to other so-called “fads” in education.
1. First of all, it is a nationalized approach to education. The 10th Amendment specifically states that anything that isn’t mentioned in the Constitution is reserved to the states and the people within the states. It is illegal for the federal government to step into education in this manner. Not only the 10th Amendment, but also the Department of Education’s own organizational documents forbid such an intrusion on a national level.
The backers of Common Core claim it is a state-led initiative, based on the involvement of two organizations, the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. In reality, these are both Washington, D.C. based trade organizations. The governors were asked to agree to get involved with Common Core before the standards were even written, in order to receive large grants of money. Even if the governors were highly involved in the actual creation of the Common Core standards — which does not appear to be the case — they do not have the power to make sweeping changes to the entire educational system of their respective states without the involvement of the legislators. The idea that this was a state-created initiative is simply a fiction, set up because the framers know that, if it is a federal initiative, it is blatantly illegal. Once the money was in place, the legislators, understandably, have had a hard time making the decision to give back large chunks of funding.
2. The standards were written with very little involvement from K-12 educators, and virtually no involvement from parents. They were written and implemented over a very short time period, with no pre-testing to determine their validity. They are copyright by a private organization. Because of this, when parents, or even teachers, have problems with the implementation of the programs, they will likely be told there is nothing they can do about it, because the standards themselves are copyrighted.
3. The people who wrote the standards apparently know nothing about child development. They have blatantly ignored everything that true professionals understand about how young children think. The youngest children, those in grades 1-3, are being asked to do things that they simply cannot do, involving abstract thinking that is not developed until much later. As soon as the standards came out, the Alliance for Childhood issued a joint statement signed by hundreds of early childhood professionals, saying that the standards were highly inappropriate, in regards to literacy and math instruction. They were ignored.
4. Any parent knows that, even within a family, each individual child has different levels of readiness, unique styles of learning, and different needs and goals. If it is inappropriate to have exactly the same goals and standards for each child within a single family, how much less appropriate is it to expect every child in the nation to be on the same level at all times? The standards completely ignore differences between geographical areas, and ignore all individual differences among children. Gifted children are having their needs ignored, and are being used as peer tutors, rather than being challenged. IEPs for those with learning difficulties are also being ignored. This is not only a travesty, but it is illegal in itself.
5. Although Common Core is supposed to simply be a set of standards, it is giving rise to a nationalized curriculum. If someone showed you a chocolate cake, and told you that in a year they were going to come test you on your ability to bake one that is exactly the same, with the same texture, same taste, same ingredients, etc., how many recipes could you choose? Only one! Although the framers of Common Core claim that the teachers have wide leeway to create their own materials, in reality few teachers or administrators have the ability or the time to create such curriculum on their own. The temptation is strong to use the materials which are being offered to them.
6. There is a huge amount of profit being made by private individuals and corporations involving Common Core. All the new textbooks, the new computers and software, and the new tests and new test prep books that are being created are going to be costing state governments and taxpayers millions of dollars.
7. The standards that many tout as being “rigorous” are actually further dumbing down the curriculum. Much literature is being replaced by informational reading. The math standards are actually significantly lower than those that were in place in most areas prior to the implementation of Common Core. When the proponents state that their goal is to make children “college and career ready”, they fail to mention that they are talking primarily about being ready for non-selective junior colleges and technical careers. The standards do not appear to promote a philosophy of education that results in well-rounded, educated adults, but appear to be slanted in favor of the development of a workforce. In addition, middle-schoolers are being asked to select “tracks” that will guide their high school course selection. How many people really know what they want to do when they are 13 or 14? This is known in educational philosophy as “vocationalism”, and is the opposite of the kind of education we have typically had in America, where the majority of teachers and parents have desired an education that includes a great deal of classical literature, music, and art, in order to turn out well-educated, well-rounded individuals. Vocational specialization should be left until such a point when the students themselves are ready to make informed choices about their career paths — not done during the young teenage years!
8. Many parents will find that their own values are being challenged by the implementation of Common Core. Their own concerns with various aspects of the curriculum are being ignored, and their own ability to help their children with their homework is being compromised. Those with belief systems that are not reflected in the curricula have been leaving the schools in record numbers in order to educate their children at home, or in the private schools of the nation.
9. The Common Core standards have led to the implementation of a massive testing program. There is a great deal of student data being gathered, which is threatening the privacy of the families involved.
10. The standards are leading to a de-professionalization of the teaching profession. Large numbers of experienced teachers are leaving the system, and it appears that many of the newer teachers are being reduced to being “script readers”. The specifics are difficult to ascertain, since there is a lot of secrecy surrounding the creation and implementation of the various programs, and with the continuing education classes that the teachers are being asked to attend. This veil of secrecy, in itself, should be enough to worry parents!
So what should our response to all of this be, as homeschoolers?
First, we need to be vigilant, to become informed, and to help the public school parents fight this situation. It is leading to tighter controls on public education, and if it is not stopped, will eventually lead to intrusion into our own freedoms.
Second, we need to remember that it is our own goals as parents that should be driving our instruction, and not worry too much about what the standards are in the public school system.
Parents will, justifiably, be concerned about the possibility of testing programs changing to accommodate the Common Core standards. While this is certainly a valid concern, it is likely that most homeschooled students, who will still be reading quality literature and having a broader education than the ones who are tracked into specific career paths, will outperform their public school peers on these tests. When the tests change, the preparation books will also change. If, as homeschoolers, we turn out well-educated, well-rounded individuals, and also teach them test-taking procedures through prepping them for these new Common Core-laced tests, I’m sure they will do just fine.
As a Christian, I also believe strongly that God is ultimately in control, and I refuse to be fearful. I hope you don’t succumb to such fear, either, since, in the words of Winston Churchill, “The only thing to fear is fear itself!” MH
Dr. Mary Hood is a nationally-known homeschool conference speaker, author and mother of five grown homeschooled children. She is recognized as “The Relaxed Home Schooler®”. She is the author of such books as “The Relaxed Home School” and “The Joyful Home Schooler.” See her website for more information: http://www.archersforthelord.org/