Tonawanda News

April 20, 2014

DUVALL: In defense of the Common Core

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — They’ve become the two dirtiest words in education, but the Common Core is very much worth defending.

There exists much misinformation about what the Common Core actually is and what it does. To start defending it, first you must understand it.

So what actually is the Common Core? It’s an effort supported by wide swaths of the business and political establishment. It creates a set of benchmarks for students in all grades, a baseline for what skills children should have at the end of each school year.

It was an important step because it replaced — in 44 states, anyway — a state-by-state system of evaluation that left many children unprepared for college or the professional workplace. Students in New York, which had some of the toughest school standards in the nation thanks to the implementation of mandatory Regents diplomas for high school graduates, were better off than most.

But consider a child from, say, Alabama, where school standards were much more lax. Though a graduate there might have the same GPA as a student in New York, it’s highly likely the New York student was farther along the learning spectrum. What is a C or a B here is an A somewhere else.

That’s no way to educate children in an advanced society.

One common criticism of the Common Core comes from Republicans who say it amounts to a federal takeover of schools. This could not be farther from the truth.

While Common Core does set a uniform benchmark it does not tell states or individual school districts what to teach children or how to teach it. Your child’s curriculum is ultimately the responsibility of your local school district and your child’s teacher and Common Core does nothing to change this. 

Furthermore, with no national standard how can we judge ourselves and the skills we teach our children against the rest of the world?

It’s an accepted fact, sadly, that American students are losing ground against students in other countries, especially in math. Another of the most important reasons to like the Common Core is its benchmarks are meant to make American students more competitive in the ever-shrinking world economy. 

In New York, when lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo adopted the Common Core standards it was generally greeted with a yawn outside, say, a school board meeting.

So how did something go from education policy wonkiness to a hot-button political issue?

Well, for starters, no parent wants to feel like their kid is dumb. Moving the goal line farther down the field is inevitably going to mean more students fall behind.

If we’re raising expectations that’s an unavoidable problem and we all need to step back, take a breath and realize that, in the long run, this is a good thing. 

Teachers rightly panicked, as well. Part of the Common Core is using test results as part of a their evaluation. If scores go down, so will a teacher’s job evaluation.

In response to the uproar from parents and teachers, Cuomo and lawmakers have agreed to take a step back. The tests are still being administered but they aren’t being counted on a student’s permanent record. It is likely that the Common Core tests will not be part of teacher evaluations in the short term, either — Cuomo said he favored holding off on using them as a metric earlier this month.

I understand the apprehension from all sides about sweeping changes in how we educate our children. Now is not the time to take steps backward. If we don’t up the expectations of our young people we will continue to lose ground to other nations. The end result will be a workforce that isn’t competitive — and a generation of Americans who aren’t as smart as the rest of the world.

That is a risk we can’t take.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.