The conservative Foundation for Excellence in Education, whose board of directors is chaired by Jeb Bush, addressed Schlafly’s argument in a written position piece. About the confusion between standards and curriculum, the group said, “Common Core State Standards define what students need to know; they do not dictate how teachers should teach or how students should learn. That decision is left to each state. Common Core does not dictate what lesson plans, programs or textbooks teachers will use for curriculum. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards will continue to make important decisions about curriculum and how their school systems are operated.”
Regarding testing, the foundation said that measuring students’ performance against standards is a cornerstone of accountability.
“States make the decision as to whether or not they require an exit exam to earn a high school diploma. Many states have had exit exam requirements in place for decades,” the foundation wrote. “The SAT and the ACT are the universally accepted college admissions tests. Scores on college entrance exams are set by the institution or the state.”
Schlafly and other conservatives also dislike the reading lists in an appendix that debuted with Common Core. She criticized the increased emphasis on informational texts that could cut into study of literature. She cites non-fiction readings on global warming and suggested fiction that is “worthless and even pornographic.”
Petrilli points out that the reading lists are not part of Common Core, and were not adopted by states. “There are no requirements that those readings be assigned,” he said. “That remains the province of local school boards.”
Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education holds that increased focus on informational texts will better prepare students for college and real-world reading and writing. Informational texts could include Alexis de Tocqueville’s "Democracy in America," President Ronald Reagan’s “Address to Students at Moscow State University,” and “The Declaration of Independence.” Other examples of informational texts could include maps, charts, graphs and infographics.
Tests will be aligned to the standards themselves, and not to the appendix of reading lists and sample teaching materials, Petrilli said. The tests must include passages that are as rigorous and challenging as the standards require.
Another complaint about Common Core math is that it will discourage bright students by moving everyone through high school math concepts at the same mediocre rate.
The Common Core standards set the minimum level of math proficiency that all students must reach. Four model course pathways are included as suggestions for structuring high school math programs. One is the traditional U.S. model, which calls for two algebra courses and a geometry course. A compacted version of that model prepares students to take calculus or other college-level math courses in their senior year. Many U.S. public schools already offer both models.
Integrated course sequences based on those used in some European and Asian countries are also outlined. Decisions about which math classes to teach and how to structure them are made at state and local levels.
Are parents aware?
According to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll this fall, 52 percent of parents said they’d heard “only a little” or “nothing at all” about the standards. And according to summary of another recent poll, “of those who had heard of the Common Core, many were confused by or misunderstood the standards and their genesis.”
Perhaps the one thing that everyone can agree on is that the Common Core standards are controversial. They tap into older education battles over how math should be taught, what students should and shouldn’t read, and who should decide.
While corporations have published full-page advertisements to promote Common Core standards for enhancing college and career readiness in the United States, liberal and conservative critics say there are too many questions hanging in the air.
“Maybe the standards will be great. Maybe they will be a disaster,” wrote education historian Diane Ravitch in a Washington Post opinion piece. “Maybe they will improve achievement. Maybe they will widen the achievement gaps between haves and have-nots. Maybe they will cause the children who now struggle to give up altogether. Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences?”
An important frontier for the debate is within state Legislatures, often dividing Democrat against Democrat, and, especially, Republican against Republican. State legislative bills to roll back the standards haven’t succeeded, but Common Core opponents continue to push. In 2014, bills to repeal or de-fund Common Core are expected to come up in Oklahoma, Kansas, Florida and other states.
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