Common Core at a crossroads?
Many public school districts in North Carolina are experiencing a hard time maintaining traditional arts programs in their schools. According to Stuart Langley, former school board member and former President of the North Carolina State Association of Educators, they are sometimes threatened with closure and often face huge cuts in funding.
“It’s a real disservice,” says Langley. “What the state legislature does by cutting the arts makes North Carolina students and teachers more competitive in their very competitive global marketplace.”
Recently, the latest source of animosity was the implementation of Common Core State Standards, a set of education standards similar to the standards previously used. Teachers have different opinions on the Common Core, but it is clear that the standards do have some positive impacts on education. Common Core certainly does encourage a greater emphasis on critical thinking. Still, some teachers are finding Common Core to be difficult to understand and effective.
Supporters of Common Core feel that many parents are still unaware of the standards. This is especially true when it comes to focusing the classroom time on the main subject rather than the students’ other interests. In some classrooms, the student has only a few minutes to use their creative talents to create art, dance, play instruments, or learn a new language, all while they are learning the skills required to get by.
“Students that do not get to do multiple subjects well, as we as teachers often struggle to do, will often suffer because these various subject areas need to be taught in sequence,” says Assistant Principal Mrs. Emily Williams, who is in charge of the Visual Arts Program at Riverside Middle School in Chapel Hill. “All the other teachers are focused on their specific subjects, so we really need to know why we are adding additional content to our learning schedule.”
The problem is not just implementation. Some students may not understand the lesson plans required for all of the content sections of Common Core. Using a number of classes to learn an expanded curriculum can be very frustrating to students who are used to flipping through a math book with their parents at lunch.
As a result, some schools have turned to the Common Core as an easy solution to the problem of continued underfunding of arts education. Representatives from all over the state are planning to start a new group that will advocate for increased funding for Arts education in North Carolina public schools.
“Right now, my students only have an hour to learn an instrument,” says teacher Ms. Ellie Sprouse, “but by developing our curriculum into a more engaging experience, we can keep the room full of our students, and we will still learn that the arts really can be a part of what we are studying.”