Monday, November 25, 2013

When Did Common Core Become a Dirty Word?

When Did "Common Core" Become Dirty Words?

Twenty years ago I took my first of many graduate courses. This would eventually lead to two degrees and an educational journey that I'm still traveling on today. My first class was on curriculum and the first assignment was to review and evaluate a course curriculum I taught at the time.
Review the curriculum?  First I had to find it! I had taught World History for three years and until this point, had never once read or reviewed the curriculum.  By today's standard this would be considered incompetent, a dereliction and neglect of my professional responsibilities.  But in 1994 by most accounts this was more standard operating procedures than anything else.
In these adolescent years of education the greatest concern by my administrators was classroom management.  In short, if parents weren't complaining and students weren't being sent to the office I was doing my job.  Some may see this as an oversimplification, but nonetheless is the truth.
So my quest for a curriculum was at hand and I was intrigued as well as a bit ashamed that I hadn't made the effort to seek out what exactly I was to teach sooner.  But again, this was not something discussed during the Social Studies Department meetings (held 1-2 times a year during an inservice) nor was it something the administration made a priority or discussed.  
After inquiries with my Department Chair, and Curriculum Director, I found that no one knew where the course curriculum's were kept.  It wasn't until I was directed by my principal to look into a closet of one of our meeting rooms, that I may find the binder for my World History Curriculum. When I opened the door I found a large number of black binders on several shelves...there it was...I saw it, similar to the elusive Big Foot, or mythical Mermaid, until this point I began to believe this "curriculum" was more imaginary than real.  Like Indiana Jones I reached up for the dust covered binder labeled "World History" and to some extent expected a large boulder to begin rolling down a tract at me. I was excited and intrigued as to what information the binder had and determined that I would re-craft every lesson plan to meet the demands of the district approved curriculum.  That in essence I would no longer use my textbook as the only resource for classroom information and content resource.  Because with that binder I now had the curriculum I was suppose to teach.  A curriculum that was created by people much smarter and more versed in education than I.  So I opened the binder (imagine a choir of angels singing) and there it World History curriculum.......
WHAT?  WHAT?  Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!
Before me in that binder was a meticulous outline of my current textbook (that was  five years old at the time).  Almost 400 pages of an outline that someone within the district had typed by hand.  Remember this is 1994, before the deluge of technology, hardware and software in our schools.  
I felt betrayed and realized for the first time how deeply broken our system was.
So what is my point?
The current climate regarding the curriculum in our nations schools has digressed from an educational discussion to an agenda driven political debate.  Since this watershed moment in my professional growth I quickly navigated toward and agreed with educational professionals such as E.D. Hirsch Jr. that in terms of curriculum our nation's students deserved a much better product.
The Common Core State Standards give us just that.  I will not compromise here nor should anyone else. When compared to the history of curriculum in our nations schools,  the CCSS has the expectation for high performance and outcome from every child .  Compared to the deeply flawed previous paradigm in public education the CCSS gives  a national structure and common language while allowing for regional and local influence and considerations.  For the thousands of students who move from one section to another in a school, or from district to district, or state to state the benefits to a common curriculum cannot be understated.
Those who've dragged the Common Core into the political spotlight need to reconsider their reasons and motives for doing so.  It's unfortunate that today we have such a backlash to something that has such great potential for our children.
To the critiques and and opponents of the CCSS I have one question; Where have you been for the past 40 years?  Where was the public outcry for greater accountability for the curriculum presented to students in our nation's public schools over the past four decades?
Please note, I'm not sharing that I believe the CCSS to be a magic wand that will transform our schools into an educational Utopia.  I am sharing that it is the most in depth framework for performance standards that we've developed perhaps in the history of public school education.  Before this initiative is condemned as a failure, there needs to be several years of implementation in order to observe, measure and assess it's value.
The state of Wisconsin is currently re-examining it’s commitment to the Common Core.  A bipartisan committee has been assembled to hear testimony regarding the CCSS.
If you’re interested in reading my testimony to the committee please Click Here
Thank you for reading....


  1. The idea of a high quality curriculum created to challenge young minds is essential to our continued success as a nation. That being said, the process and controls of the curriculum creation is paramount. Also, shame on your school district for not having a more extensive curriculum - that is there job!
    For me, CCSS lost its integrity when the Federal Department of education got involved. Yes, they were involved, in a very Machiavellian way. Their involvement was very subdue but their influence was very rigid. For example, RTtT funds could only be given to states if they accepted the CCSS and for some states this before the standards were even created (sounds a little like the health care process of 2009). This process of forcing CCSS on states through RTtT funds violated three federal statues.
    Another issue is that the curriculum is mediocre for many states. Many states have more aggressive standards in place. CCSS places Algebra I in the 9th grades as opposed to 8th grade. This will make it difficult for many students to access higher level mathematics - something that many college professors will tell you is essential for future STEM careers. This will also redefine what many states have decided to be College Ready.
    Another issue is that the CCSS replaced traditional Euclidean geometry with an experimental approach. This approach has never been successful in any sizable system. In fact it failed in a school for the talented and gifted in Moscow.
    The ELS standards are greatly flawed as well. For example, the CCSS calls for over 50% of a students time reading must be nonfiction throughout all levels of education. The nonfiction suggestions being touted in the CCSS curriculum packages that schools buy include articles from the NY Times, EPA and one even includes a portion of play written by George Clooney???
    To early in the AM and I have too much work to do to continue on. To say the least, what I have stated is simply what came from rote memory and is a fraction of the documented issues with CCSS.
    Again, I believe we need a high quality and rigorous curriculum. However, this is not it!

  2. Dr. Martin, thank you for sharing these comments. You and I may not agree on this particular issue, but I appreciate your counterpoints and how you presented them.
    You're absolutely right about the Race to the Top Funds, but I wouldn't say the CCSS lost integrity because of the federal government efforts to promote the standards. Also, again you're correct regarding the ELA and Mathematic standards, but remember the CCSS is the floor not the ceiling.
    I struggle to understand why the CCSS is seen as this minimilist structure that promotes mediocrity when in fact it empowers educators and institutions to craft curriculums that are both relevant and rigorous to the student.
    A gentleman from the Fordham Institute shared their grades for both the CCSS and the Wisconsin Benchmarks (curriculum) in math and English. Wisconsin earned a D- and F, while the CCSS earned A- and B+. I'm not sharing the Fordham Institute should be the sole assessment to consider regarding the CCSS, but what he shared after was telling. I'll restate here and hopefully hear your thoughts.
    "For critiques of the CCSS I have one question, if not the Common Core, then what? What do you have that's so much better?"
    Again, thank you for sharing and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.