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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Opinion

Common Core program causes frustration in the common student


A Facebook post made by a father frustrated with his son’s Common Core program math homework has been attracting widespread attention on social media.

Jeff Severt posted a photo of his son’s math worksheet to Facebook. The worksheet asked students to use a convoluted formula to solve the problem “427-316″ rather than simply subtracting 316 from 427.

Severt’s response read, “I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electronics Engineering, which included extensive study in differential equations and other higher math applications. Even I cannot explain the Common Core mathematics approach, nor get the answer correct. In the real world, simplification is valued over complication.”

Severt’s post is timely and highly relevant, following on the heels of Indiana’s decision to withdraw from Common Core educational standards.

Many opponents of Common Core have been attacking the program for fear of federal intrusion on state and local educational policy. They might be focusing on the wrong aspect of the Common Core.

The concept at the heart of the Common Core program isn’t necessarily bad. The federal system gives state and local governments a lot of power to determine school curriculum and set educational standards. Although the freedom to set local school curriculum is a valuable power, the system opens the door to serious discrepancies in the educational performance of students from different states.

These discrepancies in state educational practices exacerbate existing socioeconomic problems. The U.S. Department of Education report on state-by-state educational performance reveals that students from wealthier states, such as Massachusetts, are two to three times more likely to be proficient on national educational assessments than students from poorer states, such as Mississippi.

Significantly, these gaps between states persist even when student results are adjusted for factors such as race and family income. African-American students in Mississippi still perform substandard in comparison to their Massachusetts peers.

While demography might be important, state policy clearly plays a major role in determining educational outcomes. States that lag at the bottom in some measures of student performance top the charts in others. Policy accounts for this interesting variation in state performance.

The Common Core represented a major opportunity for educational reformers and policymakers. Common Core standards established national educational benchmarks that had the potential to level the educational playing field between states while preserving local authority over school curriculum.

However, Severt’s response to his son’s homework assignment poses more interesting questions concerning the future of Common Core. Changing standards might do more harm than good if educators do not carefully consider the learning methods used to teach students required Common Core skills.

Other parents and educators in Chicago have raised complaints about poorly designed and counterintuitive Common Core instructional material.

The teacher’s advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence offered some practical suggestions to fix Common Core implementation in New York. Among their suggestions were paid teacher development sessions focusing on teaching strategies for new Common Core material and state review of Common Core-suggested teaching materials.

Texas, Alaska, Virginia, Nebraska and recently Indiana have opted out of the Common Core; Minnesota adopted only the English language standards. However, the vast majority of states elected to adopt Common Core standards.

The Common Core will not go away. It might be more productive to discuss changes to the Common Core rather than abolish the program entirely.

The Common Core is a useful blunt-force tool to raise national educational standards, but the program and associated learning materials will require reworking in the future if educators hope to create cohesive educational programs.

Opinion columnist Megan Kallus is a pre-business freshman and may be reached at [email protected]


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