COMMON CORE MEETS COMMON SENSE–The Need for Education Reform (Part 1 of 3)

Educators, like most adults I know, are tempted to form opinions based on political rhetoric and/or media reports, the line between which has been blurred in recent decades.  Our opinions regarding Common Core State Standards are no different.  Most of us are at least honest enough to admit that our CC beliefs have been shaped by the comments of others.  That’s a healthy approach to forming an opinion about most anything, provided we are willing to hear both sides of an argument.  Where we get into trouble is when our beliefs are determined by the comments of others.  Put more practically and directly, are your CC opinions based exclusively on what you hear on your favorite “news” channel or what you read on your favorite website?  That’s dangerous.  That’s called motivated reasoning or confirmation bias, and it enables people to ignore facts that run counter to their preconceived notions–notions that may be nothing more than opinions they adopted (or stole) from another person or institution.

Let me just come right out and ask some very difficult questions:  Do you dislike CC because of what you heard on Fox News?  Are you a CC supporter because CNN persuaded you to be one?  Are you convinced that CC is actually “Communist Core” because you stumbled across a Drudge Report article linking this new “state-sponsored curriculum” to Bill Ayers by way of Barack Obama?  Last one, I promise….  Would you consider CC the salvation of American education because MSNBC broadcast a special report which concluded the same?  Let me challenge you.  Bill O’Reilly, Anderson Cooper, Matt Drudge, and Rachel Maddow all have agendas, and they all pander to audiences of like-minded people.  And I love that.  Their ulterior motives actually help me arrive at my own conclusions regarding many topics, especially CC.  As an educator, I also have the luxury of refining my CC beliefs through the filter of experience.  Research and practical application are a wonderful combination.

I am regularly asked about my opinions regarding Common Core.  The following words are neither an endorsement for, nor a condemnation of, CC in general.  My motive is simply to share with stakeholders what I honestly believe about CC–beliefs galvanized through research and experience–and to provide some resources, when appropriate.  Readers are encouraged to draw their own conclusions.  If you are in search of evidence that supports what you have already concluded, however, you are likely to be disappointed.  Advantages and disadvantages will both be discussed.  Part one of this three-part undertaking begins simply enough by considering the need for education reform.  Next week, part two examines Reading/Language Arts (RLA) through the lens of CC.  Part three, scheduled to be posted in two weeks, is an open invitation for you to witness my personal wrestling match with CC Math standards and our Bridges Math curriculum.  Let’s first establish the need for education reform.

Do we really need Common Core?  I believe that’s the wrong question to ask.  Here are two better questions:  1) Do we really need education reform in America?  2) Do we really need education reform in Tennessee?  Who among us would say we don’t? Depending on which study you read–and there are seemingly thousands–U. S. students lag well behind other industrialized nations in math, science, and reading.  Interestingly, some of those same studies rank American students first in one category–self-esteem.  I blame participation trophies, but that’s another blog for another day.  So, how about our state?  Sadly, in an educationally underperforming nation, Tennessee is underperforming educationally as a state.  Several national studies rank Tennessee in the bottom ten states in virtually every academic category, including reading, math, and science.  Ouch.  I want better for my kids.  I want better for your kids.

Clearly, our education system is broken.  Enter Common Core State Standards.  Is CC perfect?  Nope.  Is it better than the diluted standards Tennessee rode to the bottom of the United States’ educational rankings?  Ab-so-lute-ly.  CC is ridiculously rigorous.  Given the fact that we have an education problem in America and in Tennessee, and given the fact that CC is available, I am certainly willing to approach these new, rigorous standards with an open mind.  Doing so requires me to evaluate both parts of Common Core–RLA and Math.  Stakeholders are encouraged to do the same.  To learn more about what CC looks like in Tennessee, please click here and consider bookmarking the page for future reference.  If a national perspective is preferred, additional information is available here.  For conspiracy theorists like me who are naturally inclined to suspect propaganda, grab a cup of coffee and research Common Core Problems (I’ve already typed in the search criteria, so just click on the hyperlink above).

Presenting both sides of the CC debate may not be the politically correct thing for a principal to do, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my professional credibility on the altar of political correctness.  I’m not here to sell you a bill of goods.  Take some time, and learn as much as you can…from both sides of the debate.  Set aside all preconceived notions and embrace your cognitive dissonance.  It’s healthy.  You have a week to complete your research.  Homework isn’t just for kids….

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