Common Core Myths

There has been much talk recently about a bill in the Ohio House of Representatives that would remove the Common Core as Ohio’s standards for its 1.8 million children. While there are serious questions about the Common Core, its assessments and their use for accountability purposes, there are also several pieces of misinformation that have made it into the debate.

We at Innovation Ohio felt it necessary to clear up some of the misconceptions about these standards so that a more informed discussion of their merits and demerits could occur.

  1. Common Core is “Obama-Core”

One of the more popular Tea Party talking points is that Common Core is an attempt by the federal government to take over education: Obamacare for education, so to  speak. However, the standards were developed before Obama ever became President by State Superintendents beginning in 2007, who interestingly first broached the topic at their annual conference in Columbus, of all places.

  1. Obama’s Race to the Top (RttT) Program Forced Ohio To Adopt Common Core

The Race to the Top application included a section on “Standards and Assessments” which made up 70 out of a total of 500 points. Forty of those points were awarded for “Developing and adoption common standards.”

Ohio won its Race to the Top (RttT) grant in the second round of applications. Despite having been singled out for its adoption of Common Core standards in its Round Two application while there was no mention of Common Core by reviewers in Round One, Ohio received the same score on the Standards and Assessment section in both rounds: a perfect 70. In other words, the state’s lack of Common Core adoption in Round One of RttT did not cost Ohio the grant.

So, while the RttT application did require the development and adoption of “common standards”, it did not specifically require Common Core to meet that requirement.

  1. Common Core forces every school to use the same curriculum

Standards are not curriculum. Standards state what students should know at each grade level. Curriculum is “how” they gain that knowledge. There aren’t Common Core curricula, per se. Each district, just like now, decides for itself the curricula that will help its students to reach the standards. And they will continue to pick all textbooks and other materials.

As for the standards, it is difficult to disagree with the standards when you read the plain language. For example, here are the standards 4th graders should be able to meet in reading literature:

Key Ideas and Details: 1) Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text. 2) Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text. 3) Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).

Craft and Structure: 4) Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g., Herculean). 5) Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text. 6) Compare and contrast the point of view from which different stories are narrated, including the difference between first- and third-person narrations.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 7) Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text. 8) Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:  9) By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

It is difficult to find fault with these. Are they perfect? No. No standards are. But all these expectations are just that: Expectations. They do not prescribe how to teach kids to “compare and contrast the point of view from which different stories are narrated,” for example, but simply mandate that students must be able to perform that task, regardless of the curriculum used.

  1. Common Core Leads to More and Worse Tests

Common Core requires the same number of tests. But the test are actually much better than the current crop (whether testing should be so elemental to our educational structure is a matter of real, fierce debate). The tests require students to show their work and think critically and attempts to measure critical thinking skills. The tests are rigorous and represent a vast improvement over the current round of OAAs.

The issue has been the tests are more involved and require greater state investment than they’ve so far received. But the tests themselves are an improvement over the old testing structure.

While there remain serious issues about how they’re used (teacher evaluation, school rankings, etc.), those issues would be there with — or without — Common Core.

  1. Common Core is Being Pushed by Extremist Elements

In fact, Common Core has enjoyed remarkable, bipartisan support from Barack Obama to Jeb Bush, as well as support from teachers unions and free-market reformers. It has been, in fact, one of the few major issues which unite the disparate sides on education reform.

Below is a sampling of organizational supporters of Common Core:

  • Achieve
  • ACT, Inc.
  • Alliance for Excellent Education
  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
  • American Council on Education
  • American Statistical Association
  • Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE)
  • Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics (ASSM)
  • The Business-Higher Education Forum
  • The College Board
  • Coalition for a College and Career Ready America (CCCRA)
  • Council of Administrators of Special Education (CASE)
  • Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
  • Council of the Great City Schools
  • Hunt Institute
  • Military Child Education Coalition
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)
  • National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)
  • National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM)
  • National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)
  • National Education Association (NEA)
  • National Higher Education Organizations
  • National Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
  • National School Boards Association (NSBA)
  • Partnership for 21st Century Skills
  • State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO)
  • The United States Army

This is not a list of crazy, radical organizations. And, in fact, many represent the teachers and administrators who have to most directly deal with the fallout from the change in standards. Does this mean that the standards are perfect? No. But folks whose job it will be to instruct and implement the standards have pretty much all been on record supporting the Common Core.