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In recent years, a study on the American education system has shown that, as opposed to other countries with comparable socioeconomic status, the American education system lags horribly. A close study of student accomplishments shows that the United States rates just below the bottom quartile of such a comparison. It is clear that in recent years, test grades and studies have shown a substantial difference between students from low and high socioeconomic status states. The Bush administration adopted and passed the contentious No Child Left Behind Act based on this testimony. This Act essentially gave the federal government more oversight powers over schools, which was in itself an unprecedented development (No Child left behind 107). However, as it has been extensively been documented, the expected benefits that were expected to arise as a result of this law did not fully materialize. Nonetheless, a variety of positive educational reforms accrued to this Act but more interventions remained imperative.
It was because of a need for a stronger content-based curriculum that the common core standards were introduced and many states subsequently adopted them. The common core standards provide the necessary guidelines for principles and skills that learners at each grade must master so as to improve from an academic perspective. However, the introduction of the above standards elicited a nation-wide debate that continues to ripple on unabated in public discourse. The Common Core State Standards Initiative, as it is more commonly known has stirred substantial levels of debate and triggered opposition in equal measure. While there are numerous potential benefits that are likely to accrue to the adoption of a common education system, there is substantial evidence to argue that the Common Core State Standards still require a lot of improvement if their impact is to be felt (National Governor’s Association 19). One of the main downfalls of these standards is that they are essentially skill-based. To make them more effective and all-encompassing, there is an inherent need to make them more specific and content-based and not skill-based.
This analysis aims to critically analyze the Common Core State Standards, their benefits, and shortfalls and posit that without the necessary adjustments to their current form, they remain counterproductive and ineffective.
What are the Common Core State Standards?
The Common Core State Standards are first and foremost a creation of a group of governors who driven by a desire to come up with an unchanging system that would essentially determine what students would need to know by the time they enrolled in college and in the same way be career ready. It is worth noting that the initiative is primarily an initiative of the states (National Governor’s Association 19). The education experts who developed the initiative did not intend for the Common Core State Standards Initiative to serve as a national curriculum. The reason for this is that, as per the provision of the General Education Provision Act, it would be illegal. Conversely, the Common Core is supposed to serve as a system of guidelines which dictate the minimum achievable set of standards in both Mathematics, the English language, and the arts. The developers of these standards hoped to guarantee parents that their children in different schools in the states are engaged in a system that caters for all their educational needs in the same way other children in other states are receiving a good education.
The key driver of the Common Core Standards is the fact that a large majority of graduates coming from the American high school's system are half-baked that is they are not ready to make the step up to College and University levels. Sadly, this is not just an assertion but is factual. As Kendall notes, that about sixty percent of students from high school entering four-year colleges are forced to undertake remedial courses in either mathematics or English (Kendall 4). In addition to this, a massive seventy percent of high school students enrolling in two-year colleges are forced to undertake remedial course in one or both English and Mathematics. It is worth noting that billions of dollars of taxpayer, student, college, parent's money are re-invested into the above remedial courses. Needless to say, common sense dictates that if the students are not ready for the rigors and demands of college education, they would probably not be ready for the competitive and demanding workplace.
Faced with this challenge of needing to maintain the lofty education standards fit for a country of America’s socioeconomic standing, numerous states, forty-five to be exact, have taken the necessary steps to adopt Common Core Standards. Ultimately, it is hoped that by adopting the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the United States educational performance will improve effectively enhancing students’ preparedness for both college and the rigors of the workplace (Common Core State Standards Initiative 2). Furthermore, when it was adopted, the Common Core Initiative was intended to provide standard measures that would lay the foundation for academic success. Proponents of the Common Core Standards do not find these goals and the methods through which they are achieved controversial at all. However, there has been increased opposition to the Common Core in the recent past. It is worth noting that this opposition is mainly characterized by a case of ideology overcoming common sense. Nonetheless, the increased opposition to the Common Core from high levels indicative of the concern rife among the American populace that Common Core State Standards add an element of bureaucracy that is likely to remove power from the individuals who are more cognizant of the needs of the students' best (Ravitch). Furthermore, opponents of the Common Core contend that they are likely to worsen the already dire problems of America’s education system.
Why the Common Core hurts students
The Common Core is in many ways reminiscent of former U.S. President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act in that ever since it was established, Bush's Act set a precedent that sees numerous education stakeholders and reformers take steps to promote standardized testing, school choice, antagonism in the education sector as well as culpability. Culpability, in this case, implies a situation in which schools and teachers are punished as the main way of raising education levels (No Child left behind 108). The Act enacted by the Bush administration puts the shortfalls of the Common Core into perspective owing to the similarities in their shortcomings. The law set certain proficiency requirements which all schools had to adhere to. A hundred percent proficiency level was the minimum requirement for all schools. Failure to achieve this proficiency level, harsh punishments were meted out on individual teachers and schools never mind that achieving a hundred percent proficiency level was nothing short of impossible. As a result, standardized tests became the norm, the “be-all and end-all of education” as more and more states spent billions of dollars. Ravitch notes that the best indicator of test scores is a family’s income (Ravitch). However, even with this knowledge, most policy makers in the United States continued to encourage the laying off of many teachers as well as the close down of numerous underperforming schools. It is worth noting that most of the schools that were closed down originated mostly from poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods (Ravitch). The reasoning behind the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act was that equality for all students regardless of background would be enhanced. However, the opposite was true.
Since the rolling out of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, federal tests reminiscent of the standardized tests that were the norm during the Bush era are now here. Owing to the negative effects of the No Child Left Behind Act, one can only be apprehensive. The key reasons behind poor student performance in the United States are the historical issues of poverty and racial segregation (Bogatin 6). However, the seemingly endless pursuit of an all-encompassing national curriculum might just be another excuse to avoid making concerted efforts to alleviate the more pertinent issues stated above.
When the policy makers drafted the Common Core Standards, they were marketed to the American citizens as a way of enhancing achievement and bridge the education gap between the affluent and the less affluent in society, the majority whites and minority blacks. However, on current evidence, the promises are far from materializing. It is worth noting that even in states that indicate a high level of common standards and tests, there are still significant achievement gaps that persist along racial lines. For instance, according to a report by the National Education Committee on Education, the average score for mathematics on the National Assessment of Education Progress fell for the first time since the 1990s (Lopez 19). Funded solely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Common Core’s development was lopsided and not well developed. This fact is all too evident in the end product which essentially disregards the plight and wants of children living with disabilities, individuals learning the English language as well as those children in the earlier grades. As a result, many people continue to elicit reservations, and of late the opposition to the Common Core continues to rise.
Ever since President Obama publicized the Race to the Top competition involving $4.35 billion federal grant money, billions of dollars have been spent to date in a bid to ease in the standards (Ravitch). Most of the efforts have primarily been aimed at preparing students to take the federal tests and acquiring technology to administer the said tests online. However, the results of these interventions are yet to be felt, and only negative effects are discernible. The competition negatively affected teachers as most of them were demoralized, a shortage of teachers ensued while subjects that were not included in the tests, as well as arts, were well underfunded. The numerous amounts of money spent on the Race to the Top, the development, and institution of the Common Core would have been better used to address other more immediate issues. For instance, providing universal early childhood education, reducing class sizes, rebuilding collapsing schools and more importantly restoring the arts as well as physical education all take precedent ahead of investing in a program aimed at standardizing the national curriculum (Lee 228).
Furthermore, it is worth noting that the standardized tests of the Common Core Initiative highlight the level of disparities that exist between the affluent and less affluent in American society. While students who come from the higher echelons of society perform better in the Federal tests, those from poor backgrounds often struggle and score points in the bottom half. Therefore, this beats logic because the main aim of developing the Common Core State Standards Initiative was to bridge the achievement gaps for people with different living standards (Rothman 22). The standardized tests continue to ignore the skewed learning conditions of students in America’s education system. While some have access to the best learning facilities available in the country, some of the students have to contend with poor learning conditions. It is for this reason that the failure rates on the Common Core tests are surprisingly high for children from the black, Hispanic, and disabled minority groups. In addition to this, learners who are only learning the English language also find themselves at a disadvantage (Ravitch). Psychologically, continuous failure on hardened tests leads to the rise of a sense of failure as well as feelings of ineptness that hampers development as it lowers a student’s confidence.
The uniform education standards proposed under the Common Core, are not likely to improve the American education system. All education systems in the world are backed up by in-depth studies and are often peer reviewed by education specialists, teachers and other stakeholders like parents. Before the implementation of any education system, input from stakeholders on the way forward during development and implementation is paramount. However, the Common Core is not like any other education system as it is imposed by the state (Rothman 19). In addition to this, there is no documented evidence that by instituting a uniform educational system in the United States will lead to a citizenry that is more educated. On the contrary, it is more likely to be counterproductive. While there are countries with a uniform education sector currently ranked above the United States, there are numerous other countries that rank lower that the United States. As such, the problem, in this case, is not the absence of common standards rather than a collection of other factors such as poverty and racial segregation which remains an issue in the United States (Ravitch). Therefore, by continually narrowing down education performance to one numerical score attained on a standardized test is only likely to be counterproductive to students.
Proponents of the Common Core State Standards initiative contend that the initiative is only likely to be beneficial to students. They argue that since the standards are internationally benchmarked, the standards will be similar to those in countries already performing better than the United States. This will, in turn, improve the country's rankings about others on the same socioeconomic ranking. Another argument is that since there is a tool that teachers can use to monitor a student's progress, Common Core will help instructors efficiently track a student's academic progress and not make comparisons to other students.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that opposition to the Common Core is on the rise as evidenced by recent events. Granted, the American education system requires a lot of reforms. However, the best form of intervention both the Federal and State governments would be to come up with a curriculum based on content and one that covers numerous areas of learning. Unlike the Common Core system which solely focuses on math and reading skills, a content-based system would ensure that graduates from the education system are well-rounded in all areas. As such, the Common Core State Standards as it is counterproductive and hurts the student more than it benefits them.
Behind, No Child Left. "Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-110, § 115." Stat 1425 (2002): 107-110.
Bogatin, Kevin. "Common Core State Standards."
Common Core State Standards Initiative. "Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM). Washington, DC: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers." (2010).
Common Core State Standards Initiative. Common core state standards for mathematics. 2011.
Kendall, John S. Understanding common core state standards. ASCD, 2011.
Lee, Okhee, Helen Quinn, and Guadalupe Valdés. "Science and language for English language learners in relation to Next Generation Science Standards and with implications for Common Core State Standards for English language arts and mathematics." Educational Researcher 42.4 (2013): 223-233.
Lopez, Omar. "Common Core state standards." (2013).
National Governors Association. "Common core state standards." Light, J 19 (2010): 19.
Ravitch, Diane. "The Common Core Costs Billions And Hurts Students." The New York Times, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/24/opinion/sunday/the-common-core-costs-billions-and-hurts-students.html?_r=0.
Rothman, Robert. Something in Common: The Common Core Standards and the Next Chapter in American Education. Harvard Education Press. 8 Story Street First Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138, 2011.
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