By coincidence, I recently witnessed a public meeting of Chester County against Common Core, a grassroots organization aiming to educate the county’s citizens about Common Core and what the group believes to be the intrinsic problems of the plan.
Common Core refers to the Common Core State Standards, an initiative coordinated by the National Governors Association and recently renamed the PA Core Standards. The intention of the program is to enact national control of K-12 educational standards to which assessments and curriculum will be tied.
The initiative has drawn controversy because of the shift of power from local school boards and parents, to federal control. Also, say the group’s representatives, educators can’t agree whether these standards—publicized as preparing children for the global marketplace upon graduation—are actually more or less rigorous than existing state standards.
Then there’s the fiscal component, where Pennsylvania’s implementation of Common Core could incur significant costs for taxpayers, they say. Both sides of the political fence—conservatives and liberals—have expressed opposition. The group also says the Pennsylvania Department of Education didn’t provide a complete fiscal analysis of Common Core, as requested by Pennsylvania legislators.
The Pennsylvania Dept. of Education may refute these arguments, but some parents’ outrage for this is evident throughout the country, not just in Pennsylvania. YouTube videos of public meetings where parents and educators have made their opinions known are widely circulating online. The biggest concern, they agree, is for the children who will essentially be trying out this program before any real measure of its success has been revealed. Some say the standards are simply nothing more than guesswork.
A friend recently posted on Facebook a photo of her child’s homework, with illustrations of money where children are required to add the values of coins. Such an example is an age-appropriate skill second graders, but it’s speculated that under Common Core this may be a required skill for kindergarteners.
Some are already experiencing the effects of Common Core, which started being implemented in Pennsylvania last July.
“I knew something was wrong when my third grader started to come home with math homework that I found confusing, chaotic and developmentally inappropriate,” says Susan Buzin, a resident in the Downingtown Area School District.
The problem was compounded, says Buzin, when she couldn’t help her son. “He kept telling me that the way I was doing simple addition and subtraction was wrong. I was upset that we parents were not told that this fundamental change to our education system was taking place. ”
On its face, Common Core’s aim to prepare students for greater success in college and careers is positive. Proponents of Common Core say students should use higher levels of thinking, not just rote memorization, in subject areas like math. However, the massive execution and communication of these vague standards, including their one-size-fits-all approach, may be causing the most frustration for parents, teachers and even legislators.
Another integral problem with Common Core—purportedly backed by private corporations and foundations, namely the Gates Foundation—is that citizens will not even be able to file Freedom of Information Act requests to learn who actually wrote these standards.
Some educators remain baffled.
"The people who wrote these standards do not appear to have any background in child development or early childhood education,” wrote Stephanie Feeney, Chair of the Advocacy Committee of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators, after her review of these standards.
Joanne Yurchak, a retired teacher and member of the Chester County group, has conveyed her worries, pointing to what’s currently happening in her grandsons’ Algebra I classes in a middle school in Delaware County.
“The teacher functions as a facilitator, presenting a topic to the class for about 10 to 15 minutes. For the remainder of the class period, students are given problems to solve among themselves in groups. Unfinished problems are taken home for help from their parents, which in itself is problematic because they have no books, only worksheets,” says Yurchak.
Other parents, like Buzin and Yurchak, fear that Common Core will cause an excessive focus on assessments and testing, putting unnecessary stress on students. They, like many, still feel like they’re in the dark about Common Core’s overall implications.
Here’s what we do know. The Pa. State Board of Education adopted federally controlled Common Core State Standards in Math and English on July 1, 2010, with an effective date of July 1, 2013. In May 2013, Gov. Corbett issued a temporary stay of new state board Common Core regulations, and on the same day the Pa. Dept. of Education announced that the July 1, 2013, implementation date would remain in effect.
For more information, visit Chester County against Common Core on Facebook, or go to www.whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com. You can also send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org for links to articles and videos about Common Core.
Julia Sherwin is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Chester County. She is a former college journalism instructor who enjoys running, biking, swimming, traveling and cooking.
Email her at email@example.com and followe her on Twitter @JuliaSherwinPoP. You can also follow her other parenting articles at juliasherwin.wordpress.com.
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