In December of 2012, University of Illinois professor Timothy Shanahan published a fine essay entitled, “The Common Core Ate My Baby and Other Urban Legends.” In it, he pointed out that some educators’ anxieties had “fueled the flames of misperception, confusion, and rumor. “ He went on to “explore some of those legends in the hope of slowing their spread.” If only he had been successful. Instead of a decrease in these “misperceptions,” the past 18 months have seen a dizzying increase of these “legends,” which now feature the wildest of claims, including the Core standards’ ability to influence sexual identity.
While we all know the now-infamous, oft-misattributed definition of insanity (‘doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result’) for the sake of American students, I must join Professor Shanahan and list the “Top Five Myths of the Common Core” Standards in hopes that more thinking Americans will resist the unsubstantiated claims of those who oppose these standards, and seek to replace the myths with truth. A close investigation of the standards themselves will lead us to see that these clear, rigorous standards bring with them the promise of true educational improvement, and not the apocalyptic myths that follow.
Myth #1: The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were created by the Obama administration (they are sometimes called ‘Obamacore’) and reflect the federal government’s desire to control our children’s education.
Debunking Fact #1: Developing national educational standards for K-12 education has had its fits and starts for more than a decade, and was not created by the present administration. In fact, I was one of dozens of people who worked on a common standards endeavor called the American Diploma Project, a precursor of sorts for CCSS. The CCSS Math development team alone featured 32 mathematicians or education professors (and President Obama was not among them). States are not required to adopt the standards. A few have not done so, and a few others have opted out or slowed the process.
Myth#2: The CCSS display a clear liberal bias, and are an attempt to indoctrinate our children with “the Left’s agenda.”
Debunking Fact #2: Let’s allow one of the standards—for 3rd grade geometry—speak for itself: “Partition shapes into parts with equal areas. Express the area of each part as a unit fraction of the whole. For example, partition a shape into 4 parts with equal area, and describe the area of each part as 1/4 of the area of the shape.” Hardly a liberal manifesto.
Myth#3: The CCSS are “just an expensive experiment,” and there is no proof that they will work. Uber-anti-CCSS activist Joy Pullman expresses it this way: “Common Core passed based on the audacity of its aspirations rather than evidence of likely accomplishment.”
Debunking Fact #3: The research behind theCCSS is extraordinary and conclusive. An extensive body of research led language experts to place more emphasis on “text complexity,” while math scientists “normed” CCSS against the best in the world. In an online PowerPoint, even CCSS-opposer Pullman had to admit that the “CCSS research on reading was very, very strong.”
Myth #4: The CCSS has basically established a national curriculum for American schools.
Debunking Fact #4: This myth is one of the most pervasive of all. Standards do not equate to curriculum. What is taught and how it will be taught is up to local teachers and others who know their students best and can individualize instruction. It is one thing to set a standard that says that every 8th grader should “Know that straight lines are widely used to model relationships between two quantitative variables.” How that critical knowledge is conveyed and assessed will be up to local teachers.
Myth #5: Developing common standards is “dumbing down” to the lowest common educational denominator.
Debunking Fact #5: To a person, those involved in the creation and implementation of these standards have clearly expressed that lowering standards is anathema, and relied on the most advanced thinking available to create tough, clear standards.
One of the 6th grade writing standards says this: “Support claim(s) with clear reasons and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.” If every writer who focused on the Core Standards followed that dictum, we would be focused more on the excellent standards themselves, and leave the political wrangling to other venues. Let’s not let myths impede our children’s learning another day. Surely that is one “standard” upon which we can all agree.