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Common Sense Vs. Common Core: How to Minimize the Damages of the Common Core

17 June 2012 245,488 68 Comments

The wonder drug has been invented, manufactured, packaged, and shipped. Doctors and nurses are being trained to administer the drug properly. Companies and consultants are offering products and services to help with the proper administering of this wonder drug. A national effort is underway to develop tools to monitor the improvement of the patients. The media are flooded with enthusiastic endorsement and euphoric predictions.

This cure-all wonder drug is the Common Core, short for the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Cooked up by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, this magic potion promises to cure America’s education ills, according to its Mission Statement:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

Specifically, the Common Core claims to cure the ills that have long plagued America’s education: inequality and inefficiency. “Common standards will help ensure that students are receiving a high quality education consistently, from school to school and state to state. Common standards will provide a greater opportunity to share experiences and best practices within and across states that will improve our ability to best serve the needs of students.”

So how wonderful is this wonder drug? There is no empirical evidence at the moment to make any judgment since no one has taken it yet. But common sense can help.

If it is too good to be true…

“If you had a stomach ache, if you were nervous, if you were lethargic, if you needed energy, if you had tuberculosis, if you had asthma, all sorts of things. It was going to cure what you had.” That was historian Dr. Howard Markel talking about cocaine, a wonder drug praised by the medical researchers, doctors, and great minds in the 1880s, including the likes of Thomas Edison, Queen Victoria and Pope Leo XIII. “I take very small doses of it regularly against depression and against indigestion and with the most brilliant of success,” wrote Sigmund Freud.

“A wonderful pain destroying compound.” “The strongest and best liniment known for the cure of all pain and lameness.” That is from the ad for Clark Stanley’s snake oil, which was supposed to treat  “rheumatism, neuralgia, sciatica, lame back, lumbago, contracted muscles, toothache, sprains, swellings, etc.” and cure “frost bites, chill blains, bruises, sore throat, and bites of animals, insects and reptiles.”

“And today begins a new era, a new time in public education in our country.  As of this hour, America’s schools will be on a new path of reform, and a new path of results.” That was President George W. Bush talking about the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. “Our schools will have higher expectations,” he continued,  “Our schools will have greater resources to help meet those goals. Parents will have more information about the schools, and more say in how their children are educated.  From this day forward, all students will have a better chance to learn, to excel, and to live out their dreams.”

Today, we know that cocaine is indeed potent, in fact, so potent that there is an ongoing expensive battle against it. Clark Stanley’s cure-all was mostly mineral oil plus red peppers, and “traces of turpentine and camphor for the medicine smell.” And Bush’s NCLB? Every state is trying to get out of it, some even willing to trade it with a worse set of demands from Arne Duncan.

Diane Ravitch has exposed many cases of education wonder drugs or silver bullets in her outstanding must-read book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education and other writings. She writes, “…in education, there are no shortcuts, no utopias, and no silver bullets.”

The Common Core has not been tested. If anything, standards and testing in the U.S. have not amounted much in curing the ills of inequality and inefficiency. “On the basis of past experience with standards, the most reasonable prediction is that the common core will have little to no effect on student achievement,” Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute predicts based on his analysis of America’s past experiences with standards.

There is no free lunch…

All medicine has side effects. When it cures, it can harm the body as well. Put it in another way, there is no free lunch. Everything comes at a cost. Education cannot escape this simple common sense law of nature for a number of reasons. First, time is a constant. When one spends it on one thing, it cannot be spent on others. Thus when all time is spent on studying and preparing for exams, it cannot be spent on visiting museums. By the same token, when time is spent on activities not necessarily related to academic subjects, less time is available for studying the school subjects and preparing for exams. Second, certain human qualities may be antithetical to each other. When one is taught to conform, it will be difficult for him to be creative. When one is punished for making mistakes, it will be hard for her to take risks. When one is told to be wrong or inadequate all the time, it will be difficult for her to maintain confidence. In contrast, when the students are allowed freedom to explore, they may question what they are asked to learn, and may decide not to comply. Finally, resources are a finite as well. When a school or society devotes all resources to certain things, they don’t have them for others. For example, when all resources are devoted to teaching math and language, schools will have to cut out other programs. When more money is spent on testing students, less will be available for actually helping them grow.

NCLB has led to a narrowing of curriculum, demoralization of teachers, explosion of cheating scandals, reduction of teaching to test-preparation, weakening of public education, and deprivation of the disadvantaged children of a meaningful education experience. The national standards movement in the U.S. has coincided with a significant decline in creativity over the last few decades. Of course, another side (or intended) effect is the increased wealth of publishing companies, tutoring services, and for-profit education ventures.

The Common Core, however dressed, shares the fundamental spirit with NCLB: standardization of curriculum enforced with high-stakes testing. In fact, the Common Core comes with more force on a larger scale. The side effects will be even more significant.

How to Minimize the Damages?

As it stands now, America has passed the point of no return. The Common Core will reach our classrooms soon. Our children’s education experience will be altered by the Common Core and assessed by the Common Assessment because our schools and teachers will be held accountable for teaching to the Common Assessment, currently being developed by two consortia.

The Common Core is unstoppable now. But there are a few things we, as parents, educators, and taxpayers, can do to minimize its damages on our children:

1. Don’t be fooled

Don’t be fooled by the claims of the Common Core advocates. The Common Core will not make your children ready for college or a career. The future needs passionate, creative, collaborative innovators and entrepreneurs, not compliant, uniform test takers. The Common Core will not help the disadvantaged children do better either because the real problem is poverty, not standards in the classrooms.

Don’t be fooled by the tiny improvement you see in the standards themselves. Yes, some teachers may find the Common Core contain certain things that are better than other curriculum or standards, in which case, learn from it, but that does not justify the imposition of the entire standards upon all children across the whole nation.

Don’t be fooled by the flashy charts, dancing graphs, or other colorful interactive displays of student data you are sure to be shown by some companies who claim to help you align your curriculum with the Common Core, improve your teaching effectiveness, and enhance your students learning. The best way to know your children is to look into their eyes, talk with them, and work with them. The best way to help your children is to believe in them, care about them, support them, and value them as individual human beings rather than professional test takers

2. Don’t narrow your curriculum

Don’t cut arts, music, sports, recess, field trips, debate teams, or other programs in order to align with the Common Core. Nothing is more core than a child’s interest and passion. A well-balanced, broad curriculum that meets the needs of each child is a much better bet for your children’s future than one devoted to two subjects standardized and prescribed by people who have no knowledge of your community or your children.

3. Don’t standardize the teachers

Don’t force the teachers to become Common Core machines. Don’t make them standardized knowledge transmitters. The most powerful and effective teachers are those who inspire and motivate their students, who are personable and enthusiastic about their work, and who trust and believe in their students. The best teachers are not those who can dispense knowledge or provide explanation as good as YouTube videos, Wikipedia articles, or Google searches. They are those who give students a reason to watch the YouTube video, read the Wikipedia article, and search for information on Google.

4. Don’t waste your money

Don’t waste your precious dollars on the numerous Common Core products and services purport to help with your children’s college and career readiness. A better bet is on the people in your schools—spend the money on teachers and school leaders—excite them with opportunities and support for their innovation, inspire them with high quality professional development programs, minimize the bureaucratic burden placed on them, reduce their class sizes, and give them time to learn and collaborate with their colleagues.

5. Don’t judge your students or teachers based on test scores

Finally, don’t judge the worth and value of your children based on their test scores. No matter how wonderful a standardized test in math or reading is, it cannot measure your children’s character, interest, passion, friendship, wisdom, creativity, or mental health. It cannot predict your children’s future either. Instead, look for their strength, support their interest, and help them explore and experiment. Behind what they cannot do may well be something they are great at!

Don’t judge teachers by their students’ scores. Test scores are a poor measure of a child’s quality and an even worse measure of the quality of teaching. Moreover students’ performance on tests is the result of many factors, many of which are beyond the control the teacher. Thus it is not only unfair to judge a teacher based on test scores, but also ineffective—research has shown that test-based incentive programs do not lead to improvement of student achievement.

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  • Mr. Lynch said:

    People seem to have missed one of the positive features of the common core: if students enter college knowing a lot of the same things, they will by definition form a more cohesive culture (i.e., the “cultural literacy” idea of Hirsh, et. al.) This isn’t to say that they will be clones of each other, but does suggest that they will have some guaranteed common points of reference when it comes to history and literature. It has been frustrating to me to enter an academic setting in which no two people have read the same book. Everybody wants to talk about what they have read, and when that shared experience is not present, they are deprived of a certain kind of intellectual comraderie.

    This can be a boon, particularly if the core is not the “be all and end all” but truly a minimum, *beyond which students and schools are expected to go*.

  • B2slugger said:

    Teachers should be smarter than to react in a negative manner. The only way CCSS will save schools is if teachers make a change. Other standards have failed, but it was because too many teachers did not implement change. Common Core language is great, and I have made terrific gains with my students since applying the new standards. If you are a teacher that does not like it, you should retire or go teach in a private school. We challenge our kids to open their minds, but can we do the same?

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  • Evelyn said:

    The problem is that we are, and have been trying to fix what was not broke when this country started out.
    If you look back at the children 200 years ago, our kids can’t hold a candle to them.
    Sure we have technology, but our kids depend on it. They average teenager is a walking cell phone/mp3, and they are more concerned about the next new iphone, not the state of the country that is on the verge of inslaving them. Infact they will let themselves be inslaved to get the next new iphone.
    Our kids have already been dumbed down, and endoctrinated.

  • campj said:

    So, I keep hearing how common core creates thinkers and is more rigorous then most school curriculums. However, I have noticed that in our state, which used to encourage/have kids go through Algebra in 8th grade has now switched Algebra to 9th grade. Common core lowered our standards and puts kids at a disadvantage coming out of high school not taking calculus. How can this be better for our kids?

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  • kathleen warfield said:

    Common core, from the little I know, is a reasons for me to educate my granddaughter at home. I believe many people have pulled their children out of the public school system for many reasons. One reason, in my eyes, is the request to children to vomit back the information they received from their teachers, test results.
    Children are very smart, they learn how to walk, talk and eat by themselves and can you believe, they did not need to take a test mandated by the government.

  • Marc Severson said:

    Again I am not advocating throwing out the bathwater without first checking to see if the baby is in it. I still think national objectives that are developmentally appropriate and rigorous are a good idea as long as they are not chained to more ridiculous testing mandates. We need to critically look at how we educate and ensure that every child is supported and given an equitable opportunity to demonstrate their skills. And what’s more, we should see that every teacher is supported, encouraged and . . . listened to. In order to assess we need portfolios, kept on each student that reflect that child’s growth in a given year not their progress compared to others. This would demand rethinking how we start children in schools by not looking only at a series of birthdays to provide a guideline but a developmental checklist for each child indicating readiness for school. This in turn would necessitate a well supported national drive to provide adequate preschool for all who need it, including well-trained, early childhood focused educators. In other word it would take our whole country choosing to support public education, families and children.

  • JIM said:

    The problem is quite simple: the public education system is curriculum based instead of competency based. The system is obsolete. It is ludicrous to think that ANY curriculum design will have a major impact on student learning. As long as students are expected to complete learning based on a timeframe the success rates will continue to be measured on a standard bell curve. Unfortunately, the system has been in place since the mid 1800’s and ingrained in too many minds to expect that change will happen.

    Those who can afford it should put their children in private school. At least there the focus is not on testing and the teacher student ratio typically lends itself to more productive classrooms. Some charter schools are also on the right track, especially those that focus on project based learning. (In many years in private industry before entering education I never had one boss ask me to take out a piece of paper and pencil and quiz me on my knowledge. I did, however, complete many projects.)

    Anyone have any guesses on how long McCore will last?

  • James said:

    An entire article that seems predicated on a misunderstanding: “The Common Core, however dressed, shares the fundamental spirit with NCLB: standardization of curriculum enforced with high-stakes testing.”. The CCSS is not a curriculum – it is a set of standards/performance expectations of what students need to be able to DO. A curriculum ‘is the means and materials required for achieving identified educational outcomes’. If such a simple concept cannot be understood the author has no authority challenging the CCSS. Having that out of the way I agree with the author on not wasting money. This is not the problem with the CCSS this is driven by marketing executives of ‘educational companies’. Not the CCSS. Also the statement ‘The future needs passionate, creative, collaborative innovators and entrepreneurs’ is exactly what the CCSS is attempting to do by providing space for teachers to design a curriculum that encourages the exact skills the author claims needs to happen. I’ve already explained the CCSS is not a curriculum. [see above]. It does not standardize teachers because IT IS NOT A CURRICULUM. And finally the 5th point is valid – and also not a CCSS expectation. Standardized testing is a state mandate or not – not a CCSS one. If an author wants to claim a position of trust with the readers the author needs to establish a clear understanding of what the CCSS are.

  • James said:

    WOW. Call me naive. But this “It is naive to think this is not prompted by greed, privatization and control of the masses of people in this country. What a clever way to pluck our children out of the home at 3 or 4, place them in a tightly controlled environment, use the illusion of “fairness and equality” of education while keeping a tight grip on the information, all while giving those with incomes high enough to escape this the very best opportunities to thrive” is a ridiculously paranoid statement.
    If people cannot appreciate the utter failure of past math education to actually teach number literacy and think the CCSS is backwards they have no validity being a critique. [I’ll stick to math and science because its my field]. I’m amazed at the mythology permeating all these posts. Almost every attack is actually diametrically opposed to what the math and science standards purport to do. They are not a curriculum. They do not lock step teachers. They do not encourage testing. They are not an attempt to segregate. Here’s what they can do for ME [as a science teacher] – focus on higher level thinking skills. Design my curriculum to focus on practices of science: research, knowledge, design, collection, analysis, evaluation. [In a nutshell]. I can tailor my curriculum to meet the needs of each student. In fact I have designed my current biology course to allow each student to have an individualized curriculum focused on their issue/topic. I have students choosing to study: HIV, sports physiology, abortion [justification of pain recognition and viability of premature births], brain parasites, use of PCR in research, sex change, effectiveness of different exercise routines and more. In each case the student chose their topic and with my help we have begun devising what they need to study. In HIV as an example – viral structure and classification, life cycle, genetic composition, pathology, etc. All of these topics are able to meet many of the performance expectations of the NGSS. They will be designing, explaining, modeling, investigations, evaluating and learning to learn. If those are not learning skills – nothing are. The NGSS are simply what they need to be able to show me they can do – They and I collaboratively design the curriculum.

  • NY Math Teacher said:


    Google search ENGAGENY Grade 7 Math Module 1 and read ALL of the teacher materials. We’re beyond common standards/curriculum buddy. Lesson plans with parenthetic listings of precicely how many minutes to spend on each “activity” are provided and used by teachers who fear the wrath associated with possibly low State derived teacher growth scores.

    People… if you take the time to pursue this document’s offerings, and read it carefully, you will become sickened by the UNreal “real world” connections. P. 162 sets up a word problem by prefacing with the following:

    Your friend has a pool in his yard. The dimensions of the pool are “150 ft. x 400 ft.”. As a teacher, I feel that I MUST stop the “lesson” in order to inform my students of the magnitude of such a pool. Lest I allow such dimensions to be supplanted in the subconsious abyss of their minds as usual or reasonable. This IS merely the tip of the ICEBERG.

    Notice that the Module is supposed to be about Ratios and Proportions, but, try to find even one example where a proportion is “set up” such as n/7 = 20/28 in order to solve a problem. Not anymore I guess.

    Thank you Mr. Zhou! I studied my students for days before the first day of school. I greeted each one of them by their actual names as they walked through the door for the first time. Now they wan’t to know ME better and they are DECIDING to be fantastic learners!

    PS I AM a parent and I am not impressed. My son attends Public School, but, you had better believe that I am certain to HOME SCHOOL him as well. His teachers are not to blame and I will always be HIS childhood PRIMARY teacher.

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  • Puget Sound Parent said:

    “All industries need accountability and education is no different.”

    This very sentence says it all for shills like Karen Mahon, who are paid to carry the water for big corporations who want to control our public schools and use our tax dollars to benefit their executives and shareholders at the expense of our kids.

    Mahon is also among the many who live off of billionaires and hedge funders who simply think they know best and want to establish corporate control over public education.

    The first, essential step is to try and discredit our public schools, which they’ve been doing for some time now. And too many people believe their consciously developed Big Lies.

    Karen Mahon demonstrates all the symptoms of a classic neophyte; she drinks a lot of the Privatizer Kool-Aid and as a result is now behaving like the proselyte she’s being paid to be.

    It’s very telling when a pip-squeak like Mahon utters the name of “Diane Ravitch” like a rude sixth grader. She demonstrates her ignorance by showing such disrespect and outright contempt for the woman who is widely regarded as the preeminent education analyst and historian alive today.

  • mark mojesky said:

    I read some of the above comments and I must say,”if you are a believer in NCLB, race to the top, or testing over the common core then you don not comprehend what is going on in American Education. What is most surprising is not one time in the topic of college education majors.
    These young men and women must be trained to be effective teachers. They should be be trained prior to their degree what topics in their area of focus should be taught and how to get there. As a chemistry teacher for 18+ years, I know what topics need to be taught. I do not need the common core to explain to me that a unit of chemical reactions must be covered!
    Furthermore, I was give the opportunity to visit a consortium of NYC schools and listen to a lecture given by Diane Ravitch. She and others made me a believer of the NEW REFORM. Do not make any judgments until you read her latest book, Reigh of Error. Open your minds, do your own research and make your own decisions on the future of public education.
    Do not let the privatization of education take the leading role in education. We have great educators in our schools let them open the minds of our children. Allow the creativity to take the lead role, not testing and holding teaches accountable for the results. Become an innovator, a creator, a motivator, an inventor….be a real teacher.

  • Donna said:

    As math coordinator for my district, I spent two years helping the teachers understand the new standards and how to teach a conceptual understanding of math. We went to 100% Common Core this year, and although it hasn’t been easy and we have had to actually practice the perseverance we want our students to practice, we are seeing amazing change. Teachers and parents stop me on a regular basis to tell me that their children understand and do math like never before. For too long, we let our children down in math, and if it takes Common Core to reverse that, then I’m all for it.

  • Millie said:

    The battle is NOT over! We CAN change this. Parents teachers and principals can make a difference! We do not have to CONFORM, our students should not conform. We have great minds and spirits and we are not manufactured like robots that are programmed to do what you want them to. Arise and stand up for our kids. show them an example that WE can make a difference if we act! We just can’t stand by idle while this goes on when we have power to do something about it. We are a free country with rights and our first ammendment and free speech. Use it speak out and make a difference for the better.

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