Editorials

The Pros and Cons of Common Core

Common Core began in the 1990’s and is aimed at providing students with a standardized education in order to prepare them for college course loads. Recently, there seems to be a great debate as to whether or not Common Core is doing its job, and like everything, there are pros and cons to it.

It is important to acknowledge the goal that Common Core set out to accomplish: helping teachers single out students who need help in certain areas. It was great in theory, but the execution could have been better.

Perhaps one of the biggest flaws of Common Core is that it requires routine “benchmark” tests in order to prove to school officials that students are on track. These tests are also used to determine if teachers who are already underpaid will receive bonuses or not. The teachers, who need this bonus in order to put food on their tables and to pay their rents or mortgages start to teach students only the information that will appear on their tests.

Another major flaw is the information the benchmark tests cover. Instead of including real-world skills, such as money management, the benchmark requires students to learn and reinforce their knowledge of areas that are useless. Additionally, the benchmark perhaps will never even be used again unless a student chooses to go into a very limited selection of careers.

On the opposing side of the argument, Common Core does do its job in certain areas. In the literature and English fields, it exposes students to a wide variety of classic and modern literature that they might not have been exposed to otherwise. Additionally, it equips them with the skills to read and analyze literature.

However, there is a downside to this aspect. All students read at different levels; so, making them read a novel that may be several hundred points above their specific level may cause them to become lost. Teachers expect all students to read at the same pace and to have read certain chapters by specific dates, but if a student is struggling with the content, he or she may fall behind possibly causing their grade to suffer.

Another big argument for Common Core is that it provides educational continuity across the nation. It allows students in California to get the exact same education and learn the exact same things as students in Florida or Georgia. However, this doesn’t take into account the individual needs of the students.

Students who don’t understand certain material are likely to fall behind. Most students who are great in one area typically fail in another, so although the standards do allow for a very limited amount of wiggle room, teachers generally stick to their previously planned outlines for their classes.

Teachers often pass students on to the next grade level without failing the ones who need to be held back in order to show that their students are succeeding in the curriculum. This causes students that are behind to be placed in classes that are above their level of comprehension rather than taking the remedial courses that they need.

The Common Core system isn’t perfect, but it’s also not completely broken. We don’t have to completely remove it, but there are some changes that would greatly improve it. Changes to the standards and removal of benchmark testing requirements are examples of changes that would improve Common Core overall.

Carol Burris, award-winning principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, New York, has offered her opinion on the steps that the Department of Education could take in order to help repair the Common Core system.

Her first suggestion is that each and every standard put forth by the Common Core system should be translated into a language that the common household could understand. She points out that the mathematics standards from Finland are “jargon-free” and don’t point out exactly how the teachers should go about instructing the topics.

Burris’ second suggestion is that the standards have to be run through child development experts before they’re implemented. Due to the way that Common Core is set up, it throws a lot of heavy topics at children in the earlier grades and lightens up as they move towards graduation. Several of the experts have openly opposed this, as it doesn’t respect students’ cognitive growth.

Her third and final suggestion is to completely remove informational texts from being used as a way to instruct students on how to read and analyze text. She states that this sort of information should only be used to supplement traditional texts per student interest or as deemed necessary by teachers. According to several studies, presenting informational texts early on in education has resulted in a decline of student interest in hands-on learning and casual reading.

The overemphasis of placing students into intellectual levels that they are not yet prepared to be in is not only degrading, but it is wildly inaccurate because it favors quantity over quality. Additionally, the overemphasis of getting students to hit certain benchmarks and then testing them on it is causing teachers to care less about the information being presented and more about ensuring that students are equipped only to pass the test. It may not need to go away forever, but Common Core definitely needs to be trimmed down.

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