Lack of classroom testing, cost, quick approval worry Common Core critics

Philip Elliott

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 3 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

In this Nov. 7, 2013 file photo, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, left, speaks to reporters at Malcolm X Elementary School in Washington. Critics are relentless in warning about what they see as the folly of the new Common Core academic standards. The standards were written in private and never tested in real classrooms, they say. Educators aren’t familiar enough with the standards to use them. They’ll cost billions to put into place. Washington Mayor Vincent Gray is at right.

Associated Press

This is the third of four articles exploring how teachers are incorporating Common Core State Standards. See the first article here, and the second article here.

WASHINGTON — Critics are relentless in warning about what they see as the folly of the new Common Core academic standards, designed to prepare students for college or a job by the time they graduate from high school.

The standards are being implemented in 45 states and the District of Columbia, but critics say they were written in private and never tested in real classrooms, and that educators aren't familiar enough with the standards to use them. The standards also come with a multi-billion dollar price tag.

"Children are coming home with worksheets and their parents don't recognize it," said Emmett McGroarty, a director at the American Principles Project, a conservative group that opposes the standards. "Common Core is reckless in what it's doing to children."

Common Core's supporters think the worries are overblown and miss nuances of the sweeping changes that spell out the reading and math skills that students should have at each grade level, from kindergarten through high school.

But even the most vocal supporters admit they cannot guarantee the standards will succeed.

There's one thing both sides agree on: When fully implemented, Common Core stands to reshape the vast majority of American classrooms.

Critics — parents, teachers and tea partyers alike — argue that states were pressured to sign onto the Common Core standards to get federal economic stimulus money to keep teachers on the job.

In fact, to qualify for more than $4 billion in aid, states had to put into place standards to prepare students for life after high school and test student performance. Common Core wasn't specifically prescribed, but the Obama administration clearly signaled it was the preferred option starting in 2009.

"Normally, to go through standards it would take years," said Bill Evers, a researcher at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "In California, we had six weeks."

Such quick approval resulted in new standards that some didn't fully understand.

For instance, the standards include tougher approaches to math — such as rigid motion in geometry — over more common approaches. "It has never successfully been used in K-12 education in the United States, in any state, in any country," Evers said of rigid motion.

At the same time, Common Core puts a greater emphasis on critical thinking needed as adults. There is a greater emphasis on non-fiction and technical selections, more likely needed in the workplace than sonnets.

To critics, it smacks of a federal reading list.

Teachers can still pick their own passages but Common Core provides examples as suggestions. If teachers have better ideas, they're free to use them. Literature and history aren't abandoned. For example, the recommended reading has a Pablo Neruda poem listed on the same page as the Constitution's Bill of Rights and a Ralph Waldo Emerson essay.

"There is no prescription as to how these should be taught. There's no one pedagogical standard how these should be taught," said William Schmidt, who heads the Center for the Study of Curriculum at Michigan State University.

Adds Robert Rothman, a senior fellow at Alliance for Excellent Education: "There's no such thing as a reading list."

But critics aren't buying it.

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