Education reform in K-12 schools has led to the common core state standards that are being implemented in 45 states including Washington (see the article in this week’s Empire Press about Orondo as one the local school districts leading the implementation).
Criticisms and concerns about the standards increased when the Republican National Committee opposed the standards last year, and liberal critics joined in. In my view their criticisms are invalid and the standards should be supported.
Republicans claim standards should be the responsibility of states and local school districts. But the need for education reform has been demanded from employers and colleges since the explosive 1983 report by President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education called, “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.”
States responded with standards and accountability in the 1990s, but soon the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association believed K-12 state standards were inconsistent and frequently weak.
The governors association hired Student Achievement Partners, a non-profit dedicated to standards and testing results for accountability, which proposed the common core standards for language arts and mathematics in 2009. The governors promoted them and textbook publishers have responded with new curriculum materials and testing organizations with new assessments .
Washington and most other states are scheduled to implement the common core standards with standardized tests in 2014-15.
One criticism is that the core standards are government mandated curriculum. The common core standards are not curriculum and not textbooks. School districts choose curriculum in Washington. Mrs. Alicia Lopez, the lead instructor on common core standards, a history teacher at Orondo and shown above with a student’s progress profile on the common core, likes the standards.
“I spend less time grading, filling out individual education plans and I’m not tied to curriculum,” she said.
Liberals criticize that classic literature and the arts are being deemphasized, but Orondo Superintendent and Principal Millie Watkins hasn’t experienced that problem. Instructors in literature and civics courses can choose their reading materials but are expected to enforcing the common core standards of critical thinking and analysis.
There is an increase in non-fiction/technical reading in the language arts, which she supports because success in careers and citizenship requires it.
Critics charge book publishers have developed expensive curricula for teachers to implement the standards at a time school district budgets are already tight. That is a legitimate concern, causing districts to avoid them when possible.
“In social studies, teachers can emphasize original documents, such as the Lewis and Clark Journals,” Watkins said.
The Internet offers free access to learning materials, although they’re notoriously unreliable. But that allows teachers to challenge students to critically analyze the validity of information by citing references from other sources to justify using them. Those skills are precisely what is required as the basic reading skill standard for 7th-graders (see the accompanying article in this week’s Empire Press).
I know one professor who refuses to assign textbooks and posts all assigned reading materials on the Internet, reducing costs and increasing affordability and access for his students. He’s won awards for teaching at four universities. In fairness, I must confess he’s my son, but he tells me more colleagues are doing the same.
Another way to curb the costs is for the states to avoid new reforms so school districts can absorb the costs of reform and develop skills to teach them.
Another major criticism is the implementation is linked to standardized testing of student performance. I have concerns about standardized testing as it occurs and is being proposed, including Washington. However testing is a different issue than the standards.
“It is important to stress that the adoption of Core Standards and how best to test students are two separate issues,” said Edward Frenkel and Hung-His Wu from the University of Berkley in a May 2013 article of the WSJ titled, Republicans Should Love the Common Core. “While testing is essential, standardized tests have their perils, not least that they often encourage mindless memorization. This issue needs to be further discussed, and special care has to be taken to design adequate tests.”
Support the common core state standards and give schools time to implement them without further reforms and focus more attention on better testing.