The American Education Crisis: Common Core

Governors and state commissioners of education, who are not present in the schools to know what is best for students is grades kindergarten to twelfth grade, designed the change that would become known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The goal of these standards is to develop a set of standards, in Math and English, across the United States to ensure that all students are held to the same level of expectations to increase creativity and achievement levels in the classroom and also to prepare students for college. These standards do not dictate how teachers teach their students but it does impose what their students need to learn at the end of each grade level, however, seven years later and Common Core has still not lived up to its high standards. Students are still lacking in creativity, are not prepared for college and have poor achievement rates. In order to fix the American education system, these strict standards must be loosened, time restrictions should be applied and the standards themselves should be more realistic for schools.

Common Core State Standards, a curriculum developed to even the playing field among high school students and prepare them for college, was initiated in 2007, but was not implemented into the American education system until 2009. By 2102, forty-six out of fifty states had adopted the Common Core State Standards. “The ‘core’ of the Common Core is to raise the bar for the performance of students K-12 and to set them up for the most success during college,” says Courtney Johnson from Pace University. Common Core promised to unify the United States’ educational system, save billions of dollars, and boost America in the educational race around the world by increasing creativity, preparing students for college and increase a child’s drive to do well in school.

As of 2015, twenty-three states that adopted the standards have also dropped the standards, believing that CCSS tests were complete failures.

Statistic courtesy of hechingerreport.org

Carol Burris, the principle of South Side High School on Long Island, told reporter Jan Crawford, “there’s nothing wrong with having standards, schools should have standards. States should have standards. But they’ve got to be good standards, and they have to be realistic standards” and ones that are developmentally appropriate. Sam Meisels, a childhood development expert at the University of Nebraska, notes that a major problem with the English standards is that “it’s unrealistic to have an expectation about young children- all young children- being able to read” and that many third and fourth graders struggle with reading. The standards should simply be replaced with standards that are more suitable for students.

Quote by North Carolina Republican Senator Jerry Tillman. Courtesy of WUNC.org

The numbers of students not reaching the Common Core benchmark has reached its highest numbers, which in turn means many students feel they do not need to put effort into school. By hardening these tests, the number of students in the eighth grade who passed the math exam dropped by 50%, a number that under President Obama’s No Child Left Behind Law is unacceptable.

Chart of the percent of schools not making progress under NCLB. Courtesy of boledebate.com

With the majority of students failing the CCSS tests, especially those at key developmental phases in their lives, students loose their drive to try in school and ultimately loose confidence in their abilities and themselves. Many students at the middle and high school level have developed severe test anxiety due to the lengthy and time-consuming nature of CCSS standardized tests. Schools are held to these higher standards the require students to achieve high scores, they cut out valuable programs like the arts in order to afford the costs of administering the new tests, eliminating creative activities that allow kids to express themselves in schools. By spending time and money on tests that do not accurately determine whether a student it prepares for college or not, America is wasting precious time and money that could be used to push the arts in schools. . In New York City, between the years of 2006 and 2013, schools saw 84% of their spending had been cut for art supplies and equipment and an additional 20% of schools did not have an arts program. This extra money is spent on teaching students how to take a test and not on broadening their knowledge of art, music or theater.

Many of America’s teachers believe that loosening Common Core’s strict standards, including its time restrictions, would benefit students in America. When learning the order of operations in math class, were you taught the classic mnemonic device “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally?” Chances are you like many other students in the United States were taught this mnemonic device in elementary school. Mnemonic devices created by teachers for their students use, such as “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” are frowned upon by the Common Core State Standards and have been replaced with more complicated methods. The new English Language Arts requirements do not require children to read any forms of classic literature; instead they focus on learning from nonfiction and educational manuals. Literary works used to be discussed in class to convey life messages and depict life experiences, but with the new CCSS these works are merely discussed because teachers are following the current curriculum.

Each year students will have sat through roughly 1,000 hours of instruction, and now because of the CCSS teachers must race to complete their ridged curriculum. Each year there are multiple exams within the Common Core curriculum, and with the extremely fast pace of the new curriculum it becomes easy for students to fall behind. Teachers cannot help the students who fall far behind because they must keep up with the fast pace and continue moving forward with those students who are not struggling. The leaders of our education system would rather see more material covered in a school year than have teachers pause class to help struggling students. Covering this much material in a short amount of time is not healthy for students and will not be beneficial in the long run when they start studying for tests and have too much material to review.

Without a college degree people are faced with working poor paying jobs and even unemployment. According to the Employment Projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median usual weekly earnings for an employee in 2015 without a college degree were roughly $738; the unemployment rate for those without college degrees in 2015 was 5%.

Earnings and unemployment in 2015. Courtesy of The Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Core students are covering material one-year behind the grade they are currently in. In New York City, the Common Core standards for fourth graders have been previously set for third graders. Covering material a year behind students’ respective grade levels is not helping to prepare them for college.

All students, no matter their ability, financial situation or race, were put on same “playing field,” but since teachers cannot waste time helping their struggling students, those with money can seek assistance via a tutor while those without the finances cannot do so. The wide achievement gap would close because teachers are able to help those students who have fallen drastically behind, leveling the playing field among students.

Achievement gap chart. Courtesy of SCPR.org

Common Core shows promise in the future, but at the moment it is only separating student achievement levels, diminishing creativity, and leaving students unprepared for college. Loosening these standards would allow for the creative flow to come back into classrooms across America and for teachers to revert back to the methods that previously worked for them. Loosening the CCSS time restrictions will allow for students to spend more time learning the new complicated methods; therefore, better preparing them for the exams leveling out the achievement among students. The Common Core State Standards will need some long-term adjustments if it wishes to succeed in the future, but for the moment losing the standards and time restrictions may be a plausible short-term solution to suppress the issue at hand.

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