Writing in the Southwest Florida News-Press, Louisa Penta – a local school board candidate – claims Common Core State Standards were imposed on states by the federal government and have “dumbed down” education.
“Spontaneity, open dialog and discussion have been practically removed from the classroom… Teaching to the test is the norm. Rigor and standards have been lowered,” Penta argues. “The Common Core experiment has been an epic failure, resulting in the dumbing-down of our children at enormous taxpayer expense.”
But does the Common Core really lower the bar, dictate what teachers can teach, or take the joy out of learning, as Penta suggests? Not by most teachers’ accounts.
“The Common Core is not a federal takeover of our schools, nor does it force teachers into a rigid model for classroom instruction,” 21 State Teachers of the Year wrote last year. “In fact, under the Common Core, teachers have greater flexibility to design their classroom lessons—and can, for the first time, take advantage of the best practices from great teachers in other states.”
Joe Fatheree, a teacher and filmmaker, wrote earlier this year that his experience with the Common Core left the opposite impression as Penta. “The outcome that excited me the most was having the opportunity to see how many different creative ways the instructors were using the Common Core State Standards to empower their students with the skills they need to find success in the 21st century,” Fatheree wrote.
“I use the Common Core to raise the bar for students, and also for myself,” says Julia King, a Washington, DC teacher interviewed by Fatheree. “The misconception is that the Common Core tells you exactly how to teach things. And in fact, it’s just setting a very high bar for what to teach, but the teacher has a lot of autonomy about how to adapt that to student needs.”
It’s worth noting the Common Core still requires students to master traditional skills, the bedrock of “classical education,” which Penta calls for. Jason Zimba, a lead writer of the Common Core math standards, explains opponents have mischaracterized the Common Core as a move away from traditional problem-solving skills, but those are still emphasized by the standards. For example, students are expected to know their multiplication tables and be fluent with standard algorithms.
Like Florida, states across the country face a decision: They can reject political rhetoric and defend higher standards, or they can capitulate to a few loud voices by lowering the bar. To prepare students for college and careers, it is important they reaffirm their commitment to the Common Core.