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Kelly O'BannonThe Common Core State Standards Initiative is an effort led by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers to establish a shared set of educational standards for English language arts and mathematics that states can voluntarily adopt.

There is growing concern that every child across the country should be provided the tools they need to succeed in college or move on to the workforce. Citing such challenges as disparate standards across states, high student mobility, increasing global competition, and the ever-changing skills needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow, those who advocate these standards believe the work is critical to “prepare students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and work,” “ensure consistent expectations regardless of a student’s zip code,” and “provide educators, parents, and students with clear, focused guideposts.”

According to developers the following criteria were considered when
developing the standards:

•Aligned with expectations for college and career success

•Clear, so that all educators and parents know what they need to do to help their students learn

•Consistent across all states

•Include both content and the application of knowledge through high-order skills

•Build upon the strengths of state standards and standards of top performing nations

•Realistic, for effective use in the classroom

•Create internationally benchmarked standards so that all students are prepared to  succeed in our global economy and society

•Evidence and research-based criteria

The Obama administration has pressed hard for the speedy acceptance of the so-called common core standards, arguing that the establishment of centralized norms replacing those in 50 states will raise the achievement of students who most need help. The opponents say that a system created in Washington will become captive to the education establishment, and that the standards, as currently written, will promote mediocrity across the board.

Critic Alfie Kohn, the author of a dozen books on education and human behavior, states “uniformity isn’t the same thing as excellence; high standards don’t require common standards. And neither does uniformity promote equity.”

Sandra Stotsky a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas takes a different approach, but reaches a similar conclusion:   “The Common Core standards may accomplish the  goal of equalizing education but not in a way the supporters initially hoped: they may lead to more uniformly mediocre student achievement than we now have. The national system is unlikely to accomplish the aim of raising academic achievement because it may reduce the number of high school students taking advanced mathematics and science courses in our high schools and make us much less competitive internationally than we now are.”

Neal P. McCluskey is the associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute and the author of “Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples and Compromises American Education” adds: “If anything, national standards will make this intolerable situation worse, pushing accountability-gutting forces up from 50 statehouses and focusing them all on Washington.”

Bruce Fuller is professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, suggested: “standards threaten to further routinize pedagogy, filling students with bits of reified knowledge — leaving behind the essence, the humanistic genius of liberal learning.” Then Fuller points out: “The strange thing in all this is that the political left is now preaching the virtues of systems, uniformity and sacred knowledge. Lost are the virtues of liberal learning, going back to the Enlightenment when progressives first nudged educators to nurture in children a sense of curiosity and how to question dominant doctrine persuasively.”

Michael Goldstein is the founder of MATCH Charter Public School in Boston believes “national standards could help millions of at-risk children.” But raises a note of caution: “Do I worry about who controls national standards? Sure. Some will try to replace substance with mush.”

Richard D. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation gives a historic perspective:  “Years ago, the legendary teacher union leader and education reformer Albert Shanker backed national standards, noting that virtually all the nations that beat us on international assessments had in place uniform standards of what students  should know and be able to do.”  Kahlenberg then offers this assessment: “While some worry that a strong system of uniform standards will rob educators of their creativity, leaders of the American Federation of Teachers have long backed a solid set of well-articulated standards because it makes a teacher’s job more manageable. And while state standards are often weak and incoherent, providing little guidance to teachers, a strong set of common standards would free teachers from both writing the script and performing it. They could, like actors, focus on interpretation and delivery.”

Other areas of concern are there adequate resources in place (financial and state level resources), that local districts have access to and are adequate professional development tools for teachers and administrators available?  Is the time line reasonable for implementation and will Common Core Standards force districts to totally redo curriculums?  What happens to the on-going efforts already underway in districts across the state?  There are lots of questions and opportunities for debate.  We hope you will engage in the discussion in your district and statewide.

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