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Common Core: It’s Here to Stay

Common Core: It’s Here to Stay

by Meagan Hensley

The Common Core State Standards appear to have been designed with a big “KICK ME” sign taped to their back.  It seemed like the first day on the playground the national news media bullied those standards, instantly turning the new kid in school into “that smelly kid” no one wants to sit by.

But no one got to know Common Core standards for what they are, and like so many elementary kids on the playground, we took those bully’s words and went about our day like they were the Gospel.  Many people don’t fully understand what Common Core is or why they’re needed.  No one’s going to ask those questions either, because it’s been made very clear that Common Core is stinky and no one needs to be its friend.  But isn’t that backwards?  In our house, we don’t condone bullying, but instead encourage our child to ask questions in order to understand the people and situations around her. So, let’s ignore the bully and ask the two questions that are burning when it comes to education: what are Common Core State Standards and why do we need them?

What is common core?

The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. 

What are common core standards and why do we need them?

Common Core State Standards are the academic standards adopted by 43 states, including Arkansas, but excluding Oklahoma and Texas, for English language arts/literacy (ELA) and math.  These standards, whether Common Core or others adopted by other states, are challenging our students to think outside a math fact or plot diagram.  Rigor is an educational buzz word that’s almost become a curse word said between gritted teeth.  Society is evolving at a rate so fast paced we’re having difficulty keeping up.  Students no longer need to just know their math facts, but can they quickly apply them in a given situation?  What good is a plot diagram if the conflict cannot be analyzed to find other resolutions than the one given by the author?  This rigor that being taught in classrooms today is the rigor at which students will need to think in order to succeed in our society.  It may seem new and scary now, but these are the 21st century skills needed for a successful future.  Wait, what about science and social studies?  Common Core State Standards have literacy standards for these subject areas starting around grade 6, but there are no formal Common Core science or social studies standards.  Most of the states that have adopted Common Core follow the New Generation Science Standards for science and write their own social studies standards, sometimes called frameworks or student expectations.  The New Generation Science Standards are another set of national standards many states use to teach science, they just somehow managed to lay low on the playground and not catch the eye of the bully.  Social studies standards, however, are written on a state per state basis since each state has its own history.  Once basic community and state history is taught and mastered, around grades 4 or 5, then students move onto US history, world history, and geography which are all taught in the middle and high school grades and Common Core supports these standards in their literacy standards.

We seemed to have had a good thing going before Common Core came to our school, so why do we have to let them in our class?  The makeup of a student body in most schools is different today than it was a decade or so ago.  There are many factors for this, but a major one is student mobility.  Students move more now that they did before.  It’s not a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just the thing.  Parents divorce, get transferred, or change careers or jobs requiring a move and a new school to go with it.  When that happens, a student’s education can be affected.  This seemingly uneventful move may leave a tiny crack or a gaping whole in the foundation of a student’s education.  With most states having adopted Common Core (don’t tell those other states, but their own standards align pretty tightly with the Common Core standards) when a student moves from one school to another these cracks and gaps are more controlled because every classroom is following the scope (how wide and deep a concept is taught) and sequence (the order it’s taught) set out by the Common Core standards.

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To put all this into perspective, let’s pretend to be George, a 3rd grade student who struggles in math.  Your dad just got a new job and your family is moving across the state.  Your last day of class at your old school, your teacher told the class the in the next lesson you would be learning to multiply two numbers together.  Now, here’s the fork in the road: What’s the year?  Are we pre-Common Core or in 2016?  Pre-Common Core, you would have stepped into your new classroom a struggling math student to see division problems on the board, because at your new school they learned multiplication earlier in the year, or possibly the year before, and everyone except you is set to learn how to divide 892 by 7.  That creates a big gap in your math education, but it’s only that bad dream where you show up to school not wearing pants, because it’s 2016 and Common Core is in effect. In reality, when you walk into your new school, guess what?  You’re learning to multiply two numbers together along side every other student.

Common Core–it’s smelly and we should really all get to know these standards before we start calling them names.  They’re what we want students to know before going to the next grade.  They were always there, but now they align not only across a school district, but across the nation, and are in place to benefit our students and their future.

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