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My view: This is why I oppose Common Core

By Sandra Stotsky

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, July 25 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

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The notion that Common Core's college and career readiness standards are "rigorous" needs to be publicly put to bed by Arne Duncan, his friends at the Fordham Institute and the media. Two of Common Core's own mathematics standards writers have publicly stated how weak Common Core's college readiness mathematics standards are. At a public meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in March 2010, physics professor Jason Zimba said, "The concept of college readiness is minimal and focuses on non-selective colleges." Mathematics professor William McCallum told a group of mathematicians in January 2010, "The overall standards would not be too high, certainly not in comparison (to) other nations, including East Asia, where math education excels." What words don't Duncan, Finn, Petrilli and the media understand? Why keep on pretending that Fordham Institute's A- for Common Core's math standards was an honest grade?

Common Core supporters still can't figure out how to deal with legitimate criticisms of its English language arts (ELA) standards. So they just keep parroting the line that Common Core's ELA skills are actually standards, are rigorous and prioritize literary study, when it's quite obvious to any English teacher that they are none of the above.

Common Core was/is not about high-quality national education standards. It was/is not about getting low-income, high-achieving students into advanced math and science courses in high school and then into college. CCSSI was and is about how to lower the academic level of what states require for high school diplomas and for admission to public colleges.

Of course, Common Core proponents can't say that lowering academic standards is their goal. Instead, they claim that its standards will reduce the seemingly terrible problems we have with interstate mobility (actually less than 2 percent nationally) or enable Massachusetts teachers to know how Mississippi students compare to theirs (something they never said they were eager to learn), or facilitate nationally the sale of high-tech products to the public schools (something the P-21 skills folks were eager for). They have looked desperately for motivating issues and these are the best cards in their deck, as poor as they are.

Their major selling point is how poor our K-12 public education system is in too many states. But it needs to be strengthened, not weakened. We continue to need capable doctors and engineers who build bridges and tunnels that won't collapse. So let's have the political conversation. Are we as a society really ready to agree to Common Core's low-expectations for college readiness (as professors Zimba and McCallum indicate)? Are we willing to lower the bar as a way of closing the achievement gap?

What kind of answers might state legislators come up with? Some would pull their states out of Common Core and establish a real process to develop high-quality academic standards, involving subject area experts from their best colleges as well as teachers. To ensure public input, they would have a long public comment period and transparency about how they structured their draft standards.

But there are many different paths they could take. Perhaps some states would opt to offer differential high school diplomas. Others could require all high schools to offer advanced math, science, and English coursework, available without exception to all who qualify, that would lead to the academically advanced diploma, with all others qualifying for the Common Core diploma if they pass Common Core's minimal competencies.

And, yes, there will be a few states that decide simply to give everyone a college diploma when they complete grade 12 (instead of a high school diploma). After seeing Common Core's low aspirations for our kids, they might just think that it is a much cheaper way of achieving the same goal.

Sandra Stotsky is a professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas.

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