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So What's the Big Debate About the Common Core?

A couple of weeks ago a good friend posted a picture of a math problem on Facebook that was originally posted by the Australian Tea Party and reputed to be an example of a Common Core (CCSS) lesson. I was intrigued by the post (I admit that I couldn't make sense of the math problem), partly because I wasn't aware that Australia had adopted the US Common Core State Standards,  and partly because in all my experience with the CCSS I had never experienced or seen anything like the problem that was being shown. 

I decided that I would do some research into the main objections regarding the adoption of the CCSS, with the goal of answering those objections in this blog. What I discovered is that the majority of the objections appear to be political in nature (federal government interfering in education, etc.). I am in no way qualified to speak to any kind of political concern or weigh in on a political debate, so I'm not going to touch that area with the infamous "ten-foot pole." I am, however, fairly knowledgeable about education, so I believe I might humbly weigh in on the debate in that arena. I have a feeling that this will extend into several blog posts, and I'm sincerely hoping that others will comment so that we actually have a dialogue about this content.

My focus today will be on the question of "why." Specifically, I want to discuss why some of us feel that the CCSS are a good idea for the field of education. 

In the late 1990s, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) required states to develop content standards and to assess students on their mastery of those standards. As a result of NCLB, states across the country developed their own educational standards and then assessed their students based on their level of proficiency. Schools were then held accountable for bringing 100% of each sub-group of students to proficiency by the year 2014. Sounds good, right? Well, the concept is an interesting one, especially since students in different states were being measured according to different criteria. In California, where standards were reportedly on the more stringent end, schools struggled to bring all students to a level of proficiency. In other states, where content standards were set a lower level, proficiency was not such a big problem.

Throughout this time, institutes of higher education (colleges and universities) and employers were decrying the fact that graduates were not leaving school with the skills necessary to be successful in higher education and/or the world of work. Students were learning isolated skills, but they were not being taught how to think deeply, work with others, and solve problems.

Let me state here, for the record, that I believe that we have made some very good gains under NCLB. The idea of having state-wide standards of achievement and measuring progress towards those standards is, in my opinion, a good one. However, there are few people who would not agree that we still have room for growth. If our young people are going to learn to succeed in the 21st century, they need to master certain skills and learn to be deep thinkers, problem solvers, and collaborative workers. In my opinion, the authors of the CCSS strove to develop standards that push schools to teach in a way that does just that.

Your turn - what do you think about the changes in education since the passage of NCLB? Do you think education has improved, stayed the same, or gotten worse? Do you think education needs to change? If so, in what ways? Take this opportunity to join the conversation!

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