GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Since Michigan adopted the Common Core State Standards into our classrooms, they have become highly politicized and very controversial. Parents and teachers alike have concerns and some have led to myths about what these teaching standards actually are.
Common Core State Standards are a set of English language arts and math standards that specify what K-12 students need to know at each grade level. Think of them as a road map for teachers to plan and create their curriculum.
They are a first-of-their-kind national standards that the National Governors Association and non-partisan group, the Council of Chief State School Officers, created, along with state educators. They are also internationally bench marked.
The Michigan Board of Education adopted Common Core in June 2010. Now, 42 states use them in full: four states have not adopted the standards (AK, TX, NE, VA); three states adopted and then withdrew from participation (OK, IN, SC); and Minnesota has only adopted the ELA standards.
A widely held concern is that Common Core tells teachers how to teach.
“It’s forcing the teachers to require all the children learn at the same pace, and children do not learn at the same pace,” said Melanie Kurdys, the co-founder of Stop Common Core in Michigan.
Kurdys is a former Portage School Board member and is now a math tutor who believes Common Core has taken the control out of the classroom. However, educators like Michelle Goodwin disagree, and believe it is still up to teachers to determine how to teach.
“The standards are not curriculum,” said Goodwin.
Goodwin is the Associate Superintendent for Instruction with the Montcalm Area ISD and was involved with the adoption of Common Core. Through her position, she helps teachers understand what these standards mean and what it looks like in student work.
Goodwin said these standards are not a national curriculum and do not determine what materials teachers can use.
“To me, here are the standards. It’s my role as a teacher, as an educator, to understand what those standards mean, and bridge from what needs to happen and what needs to be learned for each individual kid. That’s differentiation,” said Goodwin. “That’s what we’ve always tried to do, and I don’t think it’s any different.”
“Our own Governor Snyder has talked about a P-20 seamless system creating human capital for the workforce,’” said Kurdys.
Governor Snyder has talked about his support of the P-20 concept: an educational system running from prenatal to lifelong learning, which is founded on the principle that the earliest years of life have an important impact on adult success. Kurdys worries this would result in data collection that funnels students into pre-determined career paths.
“It’ll track what students take, how good their scores are, and all of these performance behaviors, and this data system will be available to employers so that they can look at the data records of students coming in, coming through, to propose hiring them,” said Kurdys.
But Goodwin said the P-20 data collection is independent of Common Core, and as far as funneling students into career paths, she believes the opposite: that it actually levels the playing field for students going into the workforce.
“There’s nothing in the Common Core state standards that predetermines a career path or a life path that a student has to take,” said Goodwin. “These standards, there’s fewer of them, they go deeper, they are things we all need to know and be able to do.”
And throughout all of this, many parents, like Tina Yost, are concerned that they have been cut out of the learning process, believing Common Core requires students to learn English and math in a new, specific way.
“There used to be a system where parents help their kids with their homework,” said Yost. “I’ve talked to math majors that couldn’t help some of their elementary kids with their homework because they didn’t understand it.”
Goodwin said Common Core State Standards are more integrated and writing is interwoven into all subjects like math, but there is not simply one way to solve problems.
“Parents can also go back and teach kids the way they know,” said Goodwin. “If we’re talking math, there’s not one way necessarily that something has to be solved.”
It’s clear common core has varying support.
“The purpose of education being to prepare and inspire children to be American, freedom-loving, citizens is going away, and that is profound,” said Kurdys.
“The role of education is to prepare students for what lies ahead, and we need to equip them, and I think the Common Core does that,” said Goodwin.
But what is still unanimous: educators and parents alike pushing for an equal opportunity for all children.
Another concern some educators have is that after all of the work they’ve put into deconstructing these standards, Common Core would be replaced. There’s pending legislation in Lansing that would discontinue Common Core and its assessments in Michigan. House Bill 4143 was introduced last year, but still has no movement.
Here are some resources for families to better understand Common Core: