The LA Times just ran two Common Core editorials that are particularly good at putting the arguments in a concise, balanced way. California is one of the states doing a particularly good job of implementing the new standards, so these piecers reflect an informed view in an important state that has taken a sensible approach.
From In defense of Common Core, March 13:
What gets lost amid the political and administrative squabbling is the issue that ought to matter most: whether the Common Core standards are a solid improvement on what most states, including California, had before. And with a few caveats, they are. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics praises them for following a more logical track in building math skills. The standards are also more closely aligned with how the top-scoring nations in international tests teach math. Educators are pleased that students will do more writing under the standards; colleges have long complained about the poor writing skills of incoming students.
California’s old curriculum standards were particularly well known for being a mile wide and an inch deep. Here’s one small example: In the middle of second grade, students were taught about obtuse and acute angles even though they had no geometry background to understand the concept. Although they didn’t know what a right angle was or how many degrees it had, they would do a few work sheets and then drop the subject for several years.
The Common Core standards eliminate that sort of nonsense and build, from the earliest years, understanding of topics that now befuddle many students, such as multiplying and dividing fractions. In kindergarten, they might start very simply: folding paper in half, and in half again.
From The Common Core Learning Curve, March 14:
If a sentence contains the phrases “New York state” and “Common Core,” chances are that somewhere between the two is the word “botched.” New York and California have taken opposite approaches to implementing the new academic standards, which have been adopted by 45 states but are now the target of a backlash. California’s approach bucked the Obama administration’s rules, but as it turns out, California was right.
New York jumped feet first into the new standards, administering tests based on them — tests that, among other things, were supposed to be used in teacher evaluations. Unfortunately, the state’s teachers hadn’t been trained properly, and they lacked instructional materials that reflected the new curriculum. The resulting test scores were predictably abysmal. Parents and teachers rebelled, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan only worsened matters by dismissing the outcry as coming from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were.”
That remark wasn’t just snide. It was wrong. The new tests don’t measure intelligence or even whether students are more or less advanced than they were before; rather, the tests measure a certain set of skills that are markedly different from those that have been taught for years. In some ways, that’s good. Teachers can’t “teach to the test” when the tests measure deeper understanding — which is the underlying principle of the new standards — rather than rote knowledge. At the same time, students, especially older ones, aren’t going to make an overnight shift to a dramatically different way of thinking.
New York is now in repent-at-leisure mode, with the state Board of Regents putting off some aspects of Common Core, legislation calling for yet more delays and a panel convened by the governor to report on what went wrong.
In California, by contrast, there has been no backlash. The state began instruction using the new standards and related curriculum this school year. Gov. Jerry Brown set aside $1 billion for implementation, including teacher training, and plans to invest at least as much again next year. And schools and teachers will not be held accountable for results on the new standardized tests this year and possibly next, while they’re field-tested and schools learn more about how they work.
New Hampshire has implemented the Common Core in different but equally successful way. There have been no dedicated state or school district funds, but the State has taken a methodical step-by-step approach and is seeing the impact in classroom.