The ups and downs of Common Core in schools
LITTLE ROCK, AR (Reuters) – More schools are starting to think about how to make teaching students more relevant based on their academic abilities, rather than just their skills.
A new grade level may be higher than the last. Fewer students may be required to work on standardized tests than last year. And fewer students may be sent to summer school than last year.
In a report, this month, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation used Common Core standards to argue that some of the changes that have already become commonplace are possible through things like allowing individual teachers to assign more electives or to decide whether to hold summer school or specialized classes.
But there’s much more than the Common Core that can affect a school’s ability to adapt its curriculum to students’ different abilities. For example, high school students might be taking an advanced course on intro physics or extra instruction on American history. But those students with one lower-level math class might not need to take a specific algebra class to be better prepared for college.
State departments of education, however, haven’t set out to re-educate teachers and students. They merely feel that many students can learn more efficiently and effectively, and thus change will only help.
“Common Core is a real standard,” said Jennifer Ulibarri, a former state education commissioner who now leads the Arkansas Association of School Administrators. “These changes are about districts making a determination that it’s in their best interest to go this way.”
THE ‘RUN OF CULMINATION’
Many educators say American education has been perverted since the 1960s, when there were far fewer state standards. Instead, they emphasized standardized tests that marked students’ progress. Parents held their kids back in some states and even prevented other children from entering high school because they were behind.
This caused a serious erosion of individual students’ abilities, and didn’t produce the results education leaders had hoped for.
In the 1990s, when states began using more rigorous college-prep classes, they encouraged higher standards for scores, rather than the other way around. That increased the number of students qualifying for advanced classes. But it also raised anxiety over how to assess them and what they knew.
This crisis, which developed gradually, is now showing up in classrooms across the country, said Robert Chase, a senior policy analyst at the National Council of State Legislatures, which studies education issues. “It was going to come some day,” he said.
In a report released last week, the Education Trust, a nonprofit, looked at what the organization called the “run of the conclusion” in school districts nationwide. Its study examined more than 600,000 sample questionnaires from school districts that went through the “demographic, racial, geographic, and class changes brought about by the Common Core State Standards.”
Without the Common Core, the report said, “it’s conceivable that the number of elementary students with a score of 550 on the state literacy test would have reached 15 percent of students.” But instead, it reached only 7 percent.
In the report, ECLC found that only 15 states are working to make sure all elementary teachers are knowledgeable in an individual student’s specific skills, and some states are adopting those ideas.
“They’re changing the ways they relate to their teaching population,” said Lawrence Rumsey, a Philadelphia educator who served as a Common Core adviser and helped develop Pennsylvania’s State Board of Education. “You can’t just say, ‘Our standards are the same as yours.’ If you do that, everything becomes cookie-cutter.”