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October 16, 2012
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The latest in a series of anti–Common Core scare tactics came from Michelle Malkin yesterday, when she implored,
It is not easy to stand up and challenge sovereignty-undermining, curriculum-usurping, privacy-sabotaging education orthodoxy, especially when it is plied by a toxic alliance of both Big Government and Big Business interests. But if we don’t do it, who will?
The post goes on to share stories from parents who complain that local principals have refused to listen to their anti-CCSS complaints and that they’ve had “gag orders” put on them when they’ve tried to question “what the Common Core is doing to our children.”
The specific criticisms mostly point to assignments that children are bringing home from school. Earlier this year, for instance, two Indianapolis moms launched a campaign against the standards in their home state of Indiana. According to an NRO article written in May, “Heather [Crossin] suddenly noticed a sharp decline in the math homework her eight-year-old daughter was bringing home from Catholic school.”
Instead of many arithmetic problems, the homework would contain only three or four questions, and two of those would be “explain your answer.” Like, “One bridge is 412 feet long and the other bridge is 206 feet long. Which bridge is longer? How do you know?”
Last month, an article on TownHall.com showed a truly confusing math question that was part of a supposedly Common Core–aligned math program. In short order, it spread like wildfire through social media. And parents in states like Ohio and Arizona were up in arms when their high school–aged children were asked to read books like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye or Christina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban.
Such complaints are not new. They are part of a carefully manufactured backlash that has encouraged parents to believe that all of the things they don’t like about what their children are learning in school—from the books they read to the math curriculum they follow—is a direct result of the state’s decision to adopt the Common Core. Unfortunately, these arguments are grounded in (at least) two substantive and logical flaws.
First, up to now, the go-to strategy for most CCSS opponents has been to argue that the new standards represent broad federal overreach and that they were going to lead to nationalized curriculum that would take usurp control from state and local leaders and from parents.
The latest backlash, however, focused on the curricula and the instructional resources that local leaders have chosen in the name of Common Core alignment.
Let me explain: While there is no shortage of programs that are emblazoned with a shiny new “Common Core Aligned!” sticker, the reality is that anyone can claim alignment. And while the Common Core is a convenient and politically expedient scapegoat for programs that lack coherence and rigor, it is up to school boards, principals, teachers, and parents to choose the curricula and the texts that will guide daily teaching and learning in the classroom. Indeed, parents have exactly as much input into the curricular decisions made at their children’s schools as they did prior to 2010.
Second, most of the criticisms are being leveled against curricula that are not well aligned to the standards themselves. On the math side, for example, the Common Core require all students to master their basic math facts—to memorize multiplication tables, to learn the standard algorithms, and to demonstrate computational accuracy and precision. While programs that deemphasize this critical content and these important skills can claim alignment, the truth is that they are not aligned.
Further, let’s not forget that on the math side, prior to Common Core adoption, only 11 states required students to learn standard algorithms and only 7 states required students to memorize their basic math facts. Thanks to the Common Core, 45 state standards now require mastery of these essential content and skills. Indeed, the Common Core is unambiguous in its expectation that students learn arithmetic content and skills cold before moving on to more rigorous content. That’s why both CCSS assessment consortia will require students in the early grades to demonstrate mastery of arithmetic content without the help of calculators.
Similarly, on the English language arts side, let’s not forget that there is no “required reading list” attached to the Common Core. There is guidance included in two appendices—neither of which was adopted by states—that aim to help teachers figure out how to select texts that meet the complexity and rigor demands of the Core. But the standards themselves include only 4 “required readings”: the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and a Shakespearean play. Every other text selection is made at the state or local level. If your child is reading a text you don’t like, it’s not because the Common Core demands it.
Of course, this also means that parents like Heather Crossin, her friend Erin Tuttle, and the scores of others who want to influence what their children are learning in school are right to be concerned about curricula that do not emphasize mastery of critical math content. And they’re right to try to push schools to assign appropriate reading that includes classic works of literature. But those are concerns that still need to be brought to local school boards, principals, and teachers. After all, even in the Common Core era, it is these local leaders and school-level educators who will determine the programs that get taught and the books that get assigned in schools across the country.
And if Michelle Malkin is really worried about the assignments given to American schoolchildren, she will need to have a substantive conversation in local communities across the country about how to raise the rigor in their classrooms. Which, ironically, is exactly how Common Core State Standards Initiative got started in the first place.