The Not-So-Common Core?

Tim Van SoelenSchool LeadersLeave a Comment

Photo Credit: Tina Aylin (cc)

Photo Credit: Tina Aylin (cc)

It is difficult to subscribe to any type of education newsfeed without seeing an article, blog post, or political response (for/against) the Common Core State Standards. What began as a seemingly unified attempt to address the United States’ “middle-of-the-pack” performance on international tests (e.g. PISA, TIMSS) as well as create a rigorous set of national standards that would raise achievement levels and insure that we maintain our place as world economic leader, has changed. While forty-five states have adopted the Common Core standards in math and English, few have fully implemented the standards. The pendulum appears to be swinging again but this time, not in the direction of those advocating for implementing the Common Core. A few notable examples for your consideration…

In the November 4, 2013, issue of the New York Times, Richard Perez-Pena penned an article entitled, A Plea for Catholic Schools to Ignore New Guidelines” . He noted how a group of Roman Catholic scholars were calling upon Catholic schools to ignore the Common Core. This group of over 100 professors and university administrators argued that the “Common Core would actually lower standards, that it would move parochial schools away from their grounding in the church, and that its emphasis on increased nonfiction reading across many subjects would translate into less focus on literary and philosophical classics and moral teaching.”

Thus the voice of one group of scholars-but what about those who are actually in the educational trenches, implementing these standards?Glad you asked.

The board of the New York state teachers union, representing about 600,000 teachers, unanimously withdrew its support for the Common Core standards they have been implementing – a big blow to those advocating that teachers are in support of the standards.  This decision puts the New York union at odds with the national teacher unions, who have been steadfast in their support of the standards. Some of the common complaints have come from parents and teachers, grumbling that the standards push young students too fast and simply focusing on cognitive abilities. At the high school level, math teachers have been objecting to the Common Core implementation, stating that the Common Core leaves out key math concepts and does not push students to take higher level mathematics such as Calculus.

Diane Ratvich, author/professor of Education at New York University and former Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, posted to her blog an interesting piece entitled, “Why I Cannot Support the Common Core Standards. A person who has long stood for and advocated for voluntary national standards, Diane states that “such standards should be voluntary, not imposed by the federal government…they should be thoroughly tested to see how they work in real classrooms; and they should be free of any mandates that tell teachers how to teach because there are many ways to be a good teacher, not just one.” She stated that for the past two years she was “agnostic” to the standards, waiting to see how they worked in practice, wanting to know whether they would improve education and reduce the achievement gaps that we see among racial, ethnic, and socio-economic groups.  Her conclusion: “the Common Core standards effort is fundamentally flawed by the process in which they have been foisted upon the nation.”

Diane’s conclusion is that the implementation process is the problem. The Catholic scholars are critiquing the actual standards, opposing the push for nonfiction in English. High school Math teachers in New York feel as if key mathematical concepts are left out. It is fascinating to watch this critical debate happen across the nation – within state departments of education, at the local school board level or after church on Sunday morning.

How are we as promoters, innovators, and sustainers of Christian education to respond?  We welcome your comments! How are you as a classroom teacher, school administrator, or parent responding to the Common Core movement?

Stay tuned as we post your responses as well as some requested responses from different Christian school thought leaders from around North America.


  • Tim Van Soelen

    Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.

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