By Melissa Uhles
“This is not going to be like kindergarten when you all were kids.” This is what my son’s kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Reed opened with on orientation night. She explained that the expectations of students and teachers would be much greater than it had been years ago. The days of eating paste and coloring outside the lines were back in the rearview mirror now. I wondered what had caused this shift.I learned later that what she was talking about was why common core is such a chore.
What is the Common Core?
The Common Core State Standards Initiative aims is to ensure that K-12 students learn what is needed to make them successful in college and in the working world. More specifically, the policy revamps math and English standards and expectations are much higher than they have been in the past.
In English, the focus is more on comprehension and ensuring students understand what they read. The old standards focused more on memorization. Math now requires more procedural and conceptual understanding.
So, what’s the problem?
This all sounds like a great idea, right? Unfortunately, despite the promise of every child learning vital things and more standardized testing to make sure it’s happening, teachers and parents are not happy.
Louis C.K.famously ranted via Twitter about the new standards. He tweeted, “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry.” But dark humored comedians aren’t the only one's railing against the Common Core. It has been hotly debated whether it is the standards themselves or how they have been implemented with the curriculum that is the problem. There is no specific curriculum required, the standards are benchmarks that each student must reach before progressing to the next grade level.
The new methodology for teaching math is one of the biggest frustrations for parents. Most parents were in grade school over twenty years ago. Back in the 80’s, “old” math memorization skills were taught to solve problems. Now there is a focus on conceptualization and learning in a way that makes sense for higher level math.
The new way of learning math might be better for the students, in the long run, the jury is still out on that. It’s just that most parents aren’t math teachers and are busy working and taking care of the family in other ways. Relearning years of math in a new way to help their kids with homework isn’t a practical expectation. Business Insider posted a good short video showing the difference between solving a subtraction problem the old way versus the new way.
In my own experience, when my seven-year-old son began asking for help with his math, I’d grab a pencil and show him how I’d work out a double digit subtraction problem by carrying and borrowing. He’d wrinkle his forehead like he’d just encountered Big-Foot. “That’s not how my teacher says to do it.” His eyes would well up with tears.
What followed were weeks of meltdowns and frustration. Finally, I got in touch with his teacher. After expressing my concerns, she said it was okay to teach him the way I learned math because they are learning multiple ways of solving problems. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then she began emailing worksheets explaining how he was learning to solve problems at school. I admit I was still scratching my head, maybe because I’d cried my way through high school algebra and now second-grade math was giving me flashbacks. I was grateful to have a teacher who was working so hard to help both of us. But the new method, in my opinion, was over complicating basic math.
Logan Albright, in a piece on Freedomworks reported that teachers had expressed a concern about the lack of playtime for young children who are now bombarded by batteries of tests. And one teacher who spoke out against Common Core was told to stop speaking out or she’d be fired, so she quit.
Albright added, “Applying an “equal” curriculum to a wide variety of students who each learn differently and at different paces is not fair to anyone.”
What’s the Solution?
Give teachers more freedom and flexibility. They are experts and are better equipped at how to best teach, reach and inspire their individual students. Eliminate constant assessments. In addition, reducing homework in the lower grades when children are incapable of doing it on their own would go a long way in easing the teacher/parent workload.
When I discussed the issues of Common Core recently with another mother we came to agree that especially in elementary school, there should be some joy in learning. The rigorous one size fits all standards may have the opposite outcome than was intended. As I write this, I wonder if my son will even want to think about going to college after suffering through the extreme pressure of Common Core for 12 years.
Some parents in my community have started homeschooling or have opted for private or charter schools. But not every family has the luxury of an alternative choice.
Another solution might be for the U.S. to look at other countries with better educational outcomes. Jennifer O’Neil wrote in an article on Global Citizen about the top countries for education:
“Finland, the Northern European nation mandates that their kids — who don’t begin studies until age 7 — have 15-minute outdoor free-play sessions for every hour of their five-hour school day. And though grades aren’t given until fourth grade (and schools don’t require any standardized tests until senior year), their students’ achievement is undoubted.” Finland was ranked #1 for educational outcomes in 2012.
So while it’s noble to aspire to make our educational system more effective, we may need to find a better way than Common Core. Going forward, it might also be important to remember that part of education is developing decent human beings who will make a positive contribution to their community. An incentive for students might be an educational system that values fun in learning, breaks and fewer tests.
What do you think about Common Core? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
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Melissa Uhles is a Freelance Writer, Co-Founder of Pen and Parent, and mom who has authored three books under her pen-name MJ Greenway. She writes under the clouds of the Pacific Northwest where sometimes her son and husband pop in to check on her.
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