In a piece published by the website Counter Punch, documentary filmmaker Andrew Stewart suggests “neoliberal education policies” like the Common Core contribute to school violence. Such allegations are as offensive as they are misinformed. They have no place in constructive policy discussions.
Stewart makes a number of other woefully unsubstantiated claims, including that the Common Core State Standards “broke math” and students who participate in exams aligned to the standards are “involved in a union busting effort.”
It’s not clear how Stewart arrives at his conclusion, but it’s worth setting the record straight about what the Common Core is and does. Common Core State Standards are a set of academic benchmarks for English language arts and math. They set clear, rigorous and consistent learning goals that identify the skills and knowledge students need at each grade level in order to ultimately graduate high school fully prepared for college or a career.
In math, the Common Core emphasizes conceptual understanding and fluency with numbers and functions. Starting at early grades students are encouraged to explore multiple problem-solving techniques, in addition to traditional approaches, in order to build a strong foundation of fundamental skills.
Parents and teachers alike are seeing benefits to the shifts in math instruction. “Is there a PURPOSE for exposing students to this kind of thinking early on? Totally!” an Idaho teacher wrote earlier this year on Facebook.
One Maryland mother explained recently, “Like many parents in the early years, we were confused by the math in particular and not very supportive…[But now my twin daughters] understand math concepts so completely after learning ‘that crazy way’ in elementary school that I am a huge believer. They reason and understand. They do not memorize and move on.”
Stewart argues Common Core State Standards “serve as a cash cow for the textbook printers.” Some publishers have disingenuously branded materials as “Common Core aligned,” but as former Alabama Governor Bob Riley wrote previously, local school boards and teachers have full control over what books and lesson plans to use, and a responsibility to determine which are well-aligned to their standards.
“If an Alabama parent or group of parents has an issue with a specific book in their local school, they do not have to lobby Washington for change. They don’t even have to call Montgomery. All they have to do is tell their concerns to the local school administration,” Riley explains.
Last year former Education Secretary Bill Bennett noted misinformation has largely drowned out constructive debate about education standards. “It is time for integrity and truth in this debate. The issue of honest standards of learning for our children is too important to be buried in an avalanche of misinformation and demonization.”
Individuals like Stewart, who look to stir up false alarm, would be wise to take heed of that advice.