Date: Apr 16, 2013 2:38 PM
Author: Jerry P. Becker
Subject: 'Core' Curriculum Puts Education Experts At Odds
From NPR [National Public Radio], Sunday, April 14, 2013. See
'Core' Curriculum Puts Education Experts At Odds
By Claudio Sanchez
At 2 p.m., it's crunchtime for students who write for The Harginbger
Online [see http://smeharbinger.net/ ] the award-winning, student
news site at Shawnee Mission East High just outside Kansas City, Kan.
They've been investigating an initiative to develop common curriculum
and test guidelines for states.
The young reporters have pored over countless documents about the
Common Core State Standards [http://www.corestandards.org/ ] and
talked to Kansas state legislators who pushed for their adoption,
trying to understand why they're necessary.
"I think it's because we've known for years that there's something
wrong with our education system; that there's better ways to be doing
what we're doing," says Duncan MacLachlan, the 17-year-old co-editor
of the site.
New education standards place more emphasis on nonfiction reading and
writing over fiction works. Some say this could lead students away
from a passionate engagement with literature.
Although, that's not readily apparent at his school. After all, 98
percent of Shawnee Mission East High graduates go on to college. But
experts say high-achieving schools like this one are the exception,
not the rule. Most students finish school without the knowledge and
] necessary to succeed in college or the workplace.
The Common Core is an attempt to get all states to adopt the same,
rigorous standards, beginning with English and math. But MacLachlan
says its impact on learning in the classroom is unclear.
"Our coverage of that has been sparse because we don't know," he says.
Developing The Standards
David Coleman is considered to be the architect of the Common Core Standards.
"The most important thing to know is that it was actually teachers
who had the most important voice in the development of the Common
Core standards," he says.
He started working on the standards years ago, as one of the founders
of the private consulting group Student Achievement Partners. Today,
he's president of the College Board, which administers the SAT.
Coleman credits 45 governors thus far for putting their political
differences aside and moving to adopt Common Core.
"So you had states bringing their best work to the table, the best of
their work on their standards," he says.
Coleman says the Common Core standards - for kindergarten to 12th
grade - are tougher and go much deeper. He says their rigor is why
states that have field-tested them, like Kentucky, have seen kids'
test scores plummet by as much as 30 percent.
"Those kids who scored 30 percent lower, that's the number of kids
who are on their way to remediation in college," Coleman says. "So
they may have been passing previous state tests, those tests were
presenting kids as ready who were not."
Lack Of Consensus
To hear Coleman tell it, the Common Core standards will provide a
more accurate snapshot of what kids actually know and are able to do.
Not everybody thinks that's true.
Among them is Karl Krawitz, the principal at Shawnee Mission East.
"In fact, I think Common Core [is] going to set education back even
further because you're dictating curriculum," he says, "what people
are supposed to regurgitate on some kind of an assessment that's
supposed to gauge how well kids have learned the material and how
well teachers have taught the material. The reality is tests don't do
either one of those things."
Krawitz, who still teaches chemistry at his school, says Common Core
proponents also assume that there's a consensus about what should be
"Kansas is struggling right now. I mean, my goodness, we're still
trying to figure out whether or not evolution should be taught," he
To be clear, the Common Core standards are only a guide for states to
follow as they write their curricula. Still, critics argue that the
standards are too rigorous, too complex and developmentally
inappropriate, especially in the early grades. Some dispute that
teachers actually wrote the standards.
Is It Worth It?
Krawitz worries that Common Core will impose more testing.
"And there's a big thing people need to understand: Testing in this
country is big business," he says.
He says the testing industry stands to make tons of money.
"To me, the real question is not who makes money. The question is, is
it worth it?" Krawitz says.
Coleman says it is worth it because too many students, especially
poor minority children, aren't being challenged.
"These standards are the most serious attempt this country has yet
made to come to grips with those early sources of inequality," he
Many school reformers say that's one big reason they support the
Common Core standards. Convincing educators in the trenches, like
Krawitz, is another matter.
"I would do everything I can to keep Common Core out of this school," he says.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244