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What Homeschool Parents Need to Know about the Common Core

Common Core: Concepts and Misconceptions

Fads and Dangers in American Education

I have been sorely tempted to dismiss the entire kerfuffle about Common Core Standards as a fad (or perhaps several fads). But there is a problem here and a dangerous movement underway in American education. Let me explain.

The Common Core Standards controversy grows as conservatives and homeschoolers increasingly dig in their heels to denounce and oppose the standards. The opposition genuinely puzzles many elected officials and education bureaucrats. They’re scratching their heads because the Common Core Standards seem (to them) to be innocuous.

Home Educating Family Magazine

At the root of the varied reactions, I am convinced, is a problem of definition. There are powerful forces at work trying to make fundamental changes in the American education system. The Common Core Standards are one piece of a larger movement. In and of themselves they are not alarming. The larger movement is. My fear is that homeschoolers and conservatives, by focusing too much of their energy on opposing the standards, will be sidetracked, pigeon-holed, and all-too-easily dismissed.

There are other factors which must be understood in order to evaluate the Common Core standards and formulate an intelligent response to them.

One factor is the century-long effort to nationalize and standardize American education. The standardization efforts have their roots in Dewey, Cubberley, and the schools of education at Stanford and Columbia. They picked up steam in the 1960s and 1970s as the national teachers’ unions gained more power. They strengthened more when President Jimmy Carter fulfilled a promise to the NEA by creating a separate, cabinet-level Department of Education.

The educrats dream of a day when every student in America will receive exactly the same education, using the same textbooks and lesson plans. Those textbooks and lesson plans will, of course, be developed by the best and the brightest, who will pass them down on tablets of stone. The worker bees and drones will be programmed to follow them exactly. This is a nightmare scenario, one which anyone who believes in individual rights, local control, and federalism should oppose at every opportunity. The Common Core Standards become dangerous when they form a stepping stone which helps to move the educrats’ vision forward.

The standards themselves, however, are not inherently offensive or even controversial.

I strongly recommend that anyone who wishes to form an opinion on this topic take the time to read the standards themselves. They can be found at www.corestandards.org.

Here’s a sample:

One of the key requirements of the Common Core State Standards for Reading is that all students must be able to comprehend texts of steadily increasing complexity as they progress through school. By the time they complete the core, students must be able to read and comprehend independently and proficiently the kinds of complex texts commonly found in college and careers. The first part of this section makes a research-based case for why the complexity of what students read matters. In brief, while reading demands in college, workforce training programs, and life in general have held steady or increased over the last half century, K–12 texts have actually declined in sophistication, and relatively little attention has been paid to students’ ability to read complex texts independently. These conditions have left a serious gap between many high school seniors’ reading ability and the reading requirements they will face after graduation.

Homeschool parents, conservatives, and teachers of all stripes should have no quarrel with either the observation about text complexity or the recommendation that the curricula we use to teach our children should account for it.

Our objection and opposition should not be to the standards themselves. The standards are, in fact, simply common sense. They align with much of what homeschoolers have been saying about public education for twenty years. We should instead object to the premise that the current deficiencies can be addressed by a top-down solution imposed by any central authority.

One of the huge areas of confusion created by the implementation of the Common Core Standards is that several of the first curricula developed and implemented have been egregiously biased and amount to little more than progressive propaganda. They do align with the Common Core Standards because they consciously train children to read increasingly complex texts. They should be opposed for their content, not for their opportunistic use of the Common Core label.

There is another insidious national movement, coupled with the Common Core standards, which is far more frightening.

A national testing and comprehensive student database is being built to measure students’ progress, ostensibly in learning the skills laid out in the Common Core. The creation and use of this testing program and database was made a requirement for any state which wanted to receive education funding under the Stimulus Act. The educrats have run wild with the possibilities. A February 2013 draft report from the federal Department of Education has set off alarm bells. This report calls for gathering, collating, and analyzing a wide array of non-academic data in order to assist students in developing the character traits of “grit, tenacity, & perseverance.” This goes far beyond the Common Core Standards and should be denounced from the rooftops for all the obvious reasons.

My heartfelt recommendation to all involved in the struggle and public debate is this: carefully define your terms and identify the specific objectionable parts and principles which we must oppose.

We don’t oppose the development of the skills described in the Common Core Standards. They’re common sense. Parents and traditional textbooks and Christian curricula and worldview education have always identified them and exceeded them.

What we oppose is top-down federal control and the imposition of a national curriculum and national standards. (Click to tweet!) And we most deeply oppose the central government’s presumption in thinking that it can or should take over responsibility for shaping our children’s character and attitudes. Such a move is not merely impractical or unwise; it is tyranny. I care too much for my children and grandchildren to let it happen without a fight.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. – C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (1948)

– Rob Shearer
Director, the Francis Schaeffer Study Center, Mt. Juliet TN
& Publisher, Greenleaf Press

 

About Rob Shearer

Robert G. Shearer is the husband of Cyndy Shearer, the proud father of 11 children, an Elder at Abundant Life Church, Director of the Francis Schaeffer Study Center, Publisher of Greenleaf Press, and vice president of the Tennessee Association of Church-Related Schools. He has been a college professor, a marketing VP, a demographer, a healthcare planner, a publisher, an author, and a small business owner. He has been reading, writing about, pondering, musing, and reflecting on the lessons of history (Ancient, Medieval, & Modern) for over thirty years. You can find Rob on the internet at GreenLeafPress.com and RedHatRob.com.

28 comments

  1. If there is to be a “one size fits all (supposedly)” curriculum, I fear many students will be frustrated in their inability to “get it” and branded as stupid when the reality is that they just don’t learn (or express themselves) in the way this new cookie cutter curriculum expects them to. What will happen is that the students whose learning styles match those of the curriculum developers will pass with flying colors, while those with different learning personalities will fail miserably, regardless of their intelligence levels and ability to learn. I had to experiment with several curricula and methods of teaching when my daughter was younger, until I discovered what was best for her. One of the interesting things I found was that, while her reading comprehension answers on the written tests were about 80% wrong, when I asked her to explain what she had read, she was able to explain it quite well. Her reading comprehension was excellent. Her ability to communicate that on paper was lacking, not her comprehension of what she had read. We are working on that, of course, but I fear for the children like her who would just get a big fat “F” because they did so poorly on the written test, and the written test is the final word! I can only predict discouragement, frustration, and defeat in these poor kids.
    Another concern I have is the loss of natural talent in our society if “cookie-cutter” curriculum is implemented. Homeschool parents have the advantage of working with each child, one-on-one, and seeing where the child’s strength and weaknesses are. We can step up training in the weaker points, and that’s important, but even more importantly (I believe, anyway), we can encourage those strong points and cater the child’s education to them. Where was it written that every single child had to be exactly like every single other child? They aren’t born that way! I fear that, under the guise of “equal education”, this new system might very well prevent the next Michelangelo or Einstein or Curie or Plato from reaching his or her full potential! Children learn by exploring, children become who they are meant to be by exploring and following those things that interest them. I don’t understand why, with all the talk in business circles about how great it is to “think outside the box”, our government wants to throw our kids IN the box.
    There’s been no shortage of brilliant minds throughout the history of the world. How did THEY achieve what they did without this amazing “Common Core” initiative or even, in some cases, without textbooks at all? I can’t imagine.
    Instead of blaming the declining literacy and math scores on the curriculum, perhaps we should be looking elsewhere. Since some schools (and even individual classes within schools) do so much better than others, EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE USING THE SAME CURRICULUM, reason dictates the curriculum isn’t the problem. And if the curriculum isn’t the problem, “Common Core” curriculum isn’t going to fix it.

    • Agree completely. Even within a single family, there is no one size fits all. My three boys are all very different, and learn differently.

    • I’m a teacher in a Christian school, as well as a parent who is starting to homeschool my own children, I have to say that I don’t understand all the fuss over Common Core. Most of the “problems” of Common Core are not actually problems of Common Core, but of the curricula that are chosen which claim to be aligned to the Common Core. The Common Core is a set of standards that say what skills a child should be familiar with or be taught to use at a particular grade level. Common Core does NOT tell you how to teach, what specific content to teach, or what curricula to use. In fact, our school has been aligning ourselves to the Common Core without using any of the “Common Core aligned” curricula. Many in the homeschool arena are conflating the Common Core standards with the poorly written, left-leaning curricula that are being pushed as “Common Core curricula”.
      We should have a legitimate concern and argument with whatever government body that tries to interfere with our right to raise our children, and educate our children in alignment with our conscience. But we are in danger of devoting our energies to the wrong fight, and by the time we realize and respond, the real fight might already be over.
      For those of you who think I’m wrong, please cite for me the specific Common Core standards that you disagree with. (Please refer to them by their code so we can look them up ourselves, i.e. – RL.7.1)
      I’ve noticed that the author of this article has been asking people to do the same thing, but no one responds. I’m not trying to pick a fight with anyone, I already believe that we have a fight on our hands. I just want us all focusing on what we should be fighting, which is government control of curricula, and teaching methods, and bad philosophies of education being imposed on our children. I don’t think the Common Core standards are the thing we should be fighting.
      Grace & Peace

  2. The math and language standards aren’t that controversial (with the exception of replacing classic literary works with government documents, perhaps). However, what happens when the standards are out for history and an ‘expert’ has rewritten it to make it appear as though the pilgrims did not come seeking religious freedom; our founding fathers were not deeply Christian, etc. These history / science standards are also already agreed to be taught using whatever curriculum publisher is chosen. The history and science will be the more controversial.

    As far as math, I’ve read that math was too easy; then I read where one child cried because the math was too difficult on the assessment that goes along with these standards. I don’t see math standards being any more difficult than what is currently in place by any means. Algebra isn’t even taught as a class till high school.

    As a certified teacher, formerly employed by the public school system, I was required to teach by my state standards. Why are they now no longer good enough? Why can’t my own state revise these? Why is the federal government telling us the content standards now?

    The secular standards are not the only problem causing low rankings among our state / country; the students drive for learning is a major problem. [Mediocre teachers could sometimes a problem (even when I was in high school....).] Students have no real desire to learn for the love of learning – they may desire an “A”, but not really care about the material. Th is one of many reasons I chose to home educate my own children.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful commentary. Finally, someone other than myself seems to get it. It is not the standards that are the problem–it is the nationalization and tracking of students that is the problem. Hopefully others will listen to you. You pointed out the true danger of Common Core.

  4. While the majority of the standards are innocuous as you say, they have sneaked in a few that are code words for some things I seriously disagree with. For instance, ‘appreciate a variety of dialects’ is interpreted by many as, “There really isn’t one exactly correct way to speak or even write and it is an offense to multi-culturalism and diverstiy to try to impose a certain way of speaking or writing on others.” Therefore, there is a serious lack of emphasis placed on proper spelling, grammar, and mechanics in my opinion. These three items ought to be numbers one, two, and three on the list rather than randomly mentioned in the middle of number 6. I believe the educrats want people to be able to read well, so that they can suck up the propaganda, but would prefer that they don’t have the ability to form and express their own thoughts in a way that appears intelligent!

  5. I will have to respectfully disagree. The standards themselves are offensive and controversial. Prof. Milgram, who was on the CCSS Validation Committee for math, stated that by 8th grade children would be 2 years behind their peers internationally. Also, Sandra Stotsky, who was on the Validation Committee for the ELA standards, was not impressed with the standards at all. She had many suggestions and concerns with the standards, which were never addressed. She did a short interview available on Youtube.

    I agree, that the most important issue is the federal takeover of local education. But, from my research, the only way to get rid of the more incidious aspects of Common Core, is to get rid of Common Core entirely. There are a lot of smart people in Tennessee who could come up with a better plan than this federal takeover.

    I would love to speak with you about how we can get information out to homeschoolers about Common Core. With the DOJ taking their stance against the right to homeschool and this federal takeover of public schools, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see where things are going for future homeschoolers.

    Blessings,

    Brenda Causey
    Stop Common Core in Tennessee

  6. Hello,

    I agree that the biggest issue is one of tyranny and control. But, I disagree that the standards themselves are innocuous. One MIGHT be able to make the case that the math and ELA standards are so, but no one can claim that about the science and history standards which are coming.

    In fact, the science standards have already been written. They just haven’t been officially labeled as CCSS, yet.

    http://www.nextgenscience.org/frequently-asked-questions#4.1

    “To reap the benefits of the science standards, states should adopt them in whole, without alteration. States can use the NGSS, as they are using the CCSS in English language arts and mathematics, to align curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional preparation and development.”

    To read their website, one would think that they just had our best interests at heart, but one knows full well that secret poison is best given disguised as sugar and candy.

    These science standards ARE controversial and there’s no getting around that. Period. We have to fight CCSS on all points, not just one.

  7. I have spent countless hours researching Common Core. I am a public school teacher. I am committed to taking CC down by defunding this curriculum in our state. The collection of metadata is, I believe, the true motivation of the CC creators. I posted the perils of this data collection on my blog, and my investigation continues. http://jennyontheright.blogspot.com/2013/06/collection-of-metadata-pre-k-through.html

    • Can anyone recommend any homeschool programs that don’t use the common core principals>

      • Amy: That would be difficult, if not impossible.
        The Common Core standards include a large number of basic reading and learning skills.
        If a curriculum did not use any of them, it would hardly be worth purchasing.

        It’s really the wrong question to be asking.

      • Rebekah Sundvall

        There are plenty of different types of curriculum you can buy that are not common core and ARE worth buying. Rob’s one-sided opinion seems to be fueled by common core. What he said is simply not true.

  8. As a member of the state committee that rewrote the Texas math standards in 2011, I can tell you I was thrilled that Texas and Alaska were two states (the only two) that didn’t jump on the Common Core bandwagon in 2009. We were free to write our own standards. We were not fooled by the carrot-stick-Race-to-the-Top federal grants offered to cash-strapped states. All the other states had signed onto the standards by 2010, before they were even written! The National PTA endorsed them before they written –after they received $1 million from the feds. The Gates Foundation and others were promoting them in conjunction with the feds.

    Now, three states have pulled out of the program and many other parents and teachers across the country are fighting it, not only because of the intrusive actions of the federal government’s plans for data mining of students’ personal lives, but because the standards will NOT increase proficiency among students. They are COMMON, which means they are for equity, not for excellence. Jim Milgram refused to sign off on the math standards and Sandra Stotsky refused to sign off on the English standards, partly for that reason–they will not produce excellence in academic performance. The story now, even from the CC-supporting Fordham Institute, is that the new CC science standards are awful.

    Homeschool parents have a huge worry with which to contend, not only about potential data mining of their students’ behaviors and actions when/if they ever attend a school outside of the home. That is, the president of SAT and ACT testing programs is an avid CC supporter and is having those tests redesigned to follow the CC standards. Textbooks are being redesigned. (Some companies used by homeschooling parents are supposedly going out of business because of the costs of retooling the curricular programs.) Teacher training materials are being redesigned. Of course, teacher training programs are being redesigned, as well.

    The only solution is to stop Common Core. How we stop buying textbooks that have been redesigned to follow Common Core will be a big issue. Gov. Rick Perry just signed a bill last week prohibiting any Texas school from using Common Core curriculum, materials and training programs. (The feds had said they could go around the states’ leadership and go directly to school districts. Dallas and Houston fell for it.) The educational leadership in America has long been the voice of “reform” through “control.” They go into the shadows for decades, if necessary, and then come roaring back when the national leadership agrees with their agenda. That’s where we are today. It will take strong citizens and state leaders to buck them off our backs. We’ll also have to be on our own for curricula and materials. The hope is that colleges and universities will turn away from using SAT and ACT scores as a primary method to measure incoming students.

    We have much to do!

  9. I can’t help but wonder what will happen to the students with learning disabilities, whether minor or significant. One of my daughters has 3 different disabilities in addition to some emotional disorders. She would most likely have been placed in a classroom where she would have never been able to flourish and overcome her learning disorders as she has been allowed to do at home.

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