Common Core: Everyone for lower standards, raise your hands

Brittany LaPointe \
May 22, 2015
There’s a political debate that’s heated up across our nation and right in our own state about the Common Core State Standards, a set of learning benchmarks that Ohio adopted back in 2010. Ohio was one of 46 states to do so. Like so many political debates, this one has been over-dramatized. The extreme camp opposing Common Core standards would have us all believe that Common Core is a conspiratorial attempt by the federal government to control curriculum choices and teaching methods.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.


The real and central issues in the debate on Common Core are that 1.) teachers in many under-resourced schools have not had adequate training on the new curriculum that their own districts have written, and 2.) the state has imposed far too many tests to determine the outcomes of their curricular choices.  New curricula developed by local districts is rightfully tied to the new learning standards. But curriculum, teaching methods and professional development is not the same as the standards identifying what we want students to learn. Many voices opposing the standards are blurring these issues and trying to capitalize upon frustration with the testing requirements. In short, those voices are pointing to the tests as evidence that the standards are bad.  Their logic doesn’t hold.


The standards define what we want students to know, not what or how they are taught. Let’s be clear on the underlying reality: the new standards are higher- the learning standards ask our students to think more deeply, and to connect their learning across various contexts. It’s simply harder. The standards are a clear move away from the traditional mile-wide and inch-deep  kind of content that we’ve all been used to for 100 years of public education. The tests that have been developed nationally through primarily two major consortia (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) are necessarily tied to the learning standards—to the new, deeper “what” that we want students to know.


But schools and districts, not the national testing consortia, have developed their own curriculum and professional development to help teachers shift their own knowledge and methods. Because of the relatively short time to implementation for the standards, it is no wonder that there is some resistance to the tests if educators have not been given adequate time to make significant changes to the way they work.


If someone told you that you had to forget your own professional practice and learned standards, and adopt a new way of working without adequate time and support or incentive, how would you respond?


In fact, teachers overwhelmingly respond positively to the new standards when given adequate support and training, and when they know they have time to implement their new teaching practices. Because the standards are higher and tougher, questions on tests are tougher. Ohio has also chosen to impose computer testing, not the old paper and pencil form. (Some current legislative proposals would remove this particular barrier so students and districts would have more time to get up to new educational technology standards, which makes good sense.) But given the United States’ decline in many sectors of global economic competitiveness, why would we ever state that we don’t want or need higher standards of learning for our students and our schools?


At a time when the U.S. ranks only in the middle of the developed-nation pack on literacy and mathematics, and worse on hard sciences, our learning standards needed to be raised, not lowered.


Let’s not throw out the baby (higher standards) with the bath water (burdensome testing) in this debate. We need our students – and they want to have – higher standards and expectations for learning in an increasingly complex world. Our higher education institutions know that they need to accept applicants into their programs who have the thinking-skills and knowledge to succeed as truly college or career ready. Let’s make sure we are supporting the standards we know will strengthen our future.