The Washington State and Seattle Public School District can and has adopted the common core standards as part of its base Language Arts and Math curriculum. This was, and is, a good decision. The previous set of standards in both Language Arts and Social Studies was a joke. The Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs) were a mishmash of countless piecemeal curriculum pushes. The old standards gave educators and schools less freedom than the common core gives as well as being more swayed by political interests.
Many educators, policymakers, and parents worry about the Common Core. A classic topic of cocktail conversation is, “Are you worried about/upset by the Common Core?” Parents ask me this wide eyed as if this relatively innocuous list of skills was some sort of boogeyman coming for their child. They fear just as Greene did that the standards provided by the state will be inadequate. (Greene, 2011) They fear the social media memes are right and soon scripted lessons will be sent to me directly from the federal government every morning in some Orwellian-esque reenactment of Education for Death. (Disney, 1943) Some think that this push for national standards is the kind of evil mind control Holt outlined in “Escape from Childhood”. (1974) Luckily, those people are few and far between, but the cultural anxiety is real. This worry comes from two places, a fear of change and an ignorance of what was in the old standards.
Usdan and Sheekey argued that “state education agencies are ill-equipped to lead the national effort to reform and revitalize public education” and that this is largely due to underfunding.(2012) Washington State’s supreme court is currently suing the Washington State legislature for routinely and criminally underfunding schools for the last two decades. It was within this criminally underfunded organization that the old standards were written. They are hallmarked all over with reformers and legislative pet educations. Not that any of these things are bad to teach on their own, but they became an odd hodgepodge of whatever the latest educational vogue was. for example the study of the arts is linked to vocational training, the environment, and economics. Each at one point was the latest trend in education.
The Common Core is great for Washington State. It gives teachers, students and administration a guide for what to teach children. That said it is a very loose guide compared to the EALRs. The EALRs focused heavily on content for example:
2.3.1 Understands the role of government in the world’s economies through the creation of money, taxation, and spending in the past or present.
To teach this standard well would take a week of 6th grade. In comparison the Common Core asks for children to be able to perform skills. Alternately here is a Common Core Standard:
6.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
The major difference is that the EALRs are the kind of “know what” knowledge described in the Paideia plan whereas the CCS are the “know how”. (Adler, 1982)
The major problem with acceptance of the standards in Washington State is public perception. People are afraid of the scary new standards because of what they read on the internet. A campaign to introduce these standards to stakeholders should be adopted. This needn’t be a complex centralized plan. Much like the common core, educators can be given a rough skeleton of what people need to know and fill it out however they deem fit. My students go over their standards for the year with me in the first weeks of school. It is the first homework. The final product is a set of posters in kid friendly language describing what standards they will be covering in history class this year. These posters are hung by the time parents come for open house and one of the handouts parents receive is a copy of the friendly translation alongside the original language. It is by doing this that i have calmed parent fears and grown the acceptance of the new standards.
Adler, M. (n.d.). The Paideia Proposal: Rediscovering the Essence of Education. In Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Educational Issues (18th ed expanded., pp. 25-28.) McGraw-Hill.
Education for Death [Motion picture]. (1943). Disney.
Greene, P. (n.d.). Closing the Door on Innovation. In Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Educational Issues (18th ed., pp. 115-118). McGraw-Hill.
Hold, J. (n.d.). Escape from Childhood. In Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Educational Issues (18th ed expanded., pp. 29-31). McGraw-Hill.
Office of the Superintendent Public Instruction. (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2015, from http://standards.ospi.k12.wa.us/Default.aspx?subject=8,GLE
The Albert Shanker Institute. A Call for Common Content. In Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Educational Issues (18th ed expanded., pp. 119-122)
Usdan, M., & Sheekey, A. (2012, March 14). States Lack Capacity for Reform. Education Week.