Common Core Standards, Part 1: Busting the Myths

There are a lot of arguments against the Common Core standards out there nowadays. Some of these arguments are based on misinformation about Common Core. If you know me, you know I’m pro-Common Core, and I want to share why. In this post, I will address some of the ideas and myths floating around about these standards. In the second post, I will explain why I support Common Core and believe it will help our nation’s children. I will also talk about what I personally see as negatives of Common Core and will share what some of my teacher friends have said.

I am not an expert by any means. I am an instructional coach in a district that’s in its third year of working with Common Core standards and each year I am learning more and more about these standards along with everyone else. However, I do interact with the standards on an almost daily basis. In bold you will find some of the messages I have been hearing and reading about Common Core standards, and under each one I have written my answer or defense.

1. Common Core was created by the government and is just the government trying to control education.

Common Core was not created by the federal government. Is was created by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers with input from teachers. You can see how my state, Tennessee, was involved in the creation of Common Core here.

However, it is true that states who agreed to “adopt college and career readiness standards” got Race to the Top Money from the feds. So yes, in a sense, states did get “paid” for adopting Common Core standards. Nevertheless, people who are using this argument to slam Common Core are throwing the baby out with the bathwater in my opinion. Just because politics and federal money are involved does not mean that the standards themselves are bad. Many anti-Common Core stances are a response to the idea that the government is federalizing education, not a response to the standards themselves. Many protesters have never even read the standards! Whatever your political leanings are, I ask you to spend some time reading the actual standards before you throw them out.

2. Businesses and corporations are only pushing Common Core because the Gates Foundation gave them money. 

Now we have money from the private sector going to private corporations for backing Common Core. It’s basically an analogy of number 1. It is certainly true that the Gates Foundation has donated millions of dollars to developing and promoting Common Core standards. This educator and HuffPost blogger has several articles about how much money the Gates Foundation has put into Common Core. And yes, there are many businesses that support the Common Core standards. I cannot deny any of those things.

Yet I also think that marketing drives our economy. I’m no economist, so bear with me, but we are a consumer-driven nation. Manufacturers want you and me to buy their products. They will pay whatever they need to pay to market their products and to entice us to buy their stuff. Don’t you get sick of having to watch commercials when you go to YouTube? Don’t you get tired of all the Facebook ads? Me, too. But it shows you how invasive marketing is in all areas of our lives.

As unfortunate as it is, money and marketing influence education. But the education field has been mixed up with money and politics for a long time. I hope that these corporations are backing CCSS because they believe the standards will better prepare students for the workforce, not just because they got money from the Gates Foundation. But even if money is the only motivator here, I repeat what I said in number 1: If we reject Common Core standards simply because somebody gave somebody money to promote them, we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  

3. Common Core texts are inappropriate and promote ideas that I don’t support.

There are no such thing as “Common Core texts.” Common Core is a set of standards, NOT a set of materials or a curriculum. In the standards there are text exemplars, which are examples of text complexity and range of types of text. One of the anchor standards for reading is for students to be able to read and comprehend a variety of complex literary and informational text. (Anchor standard 10)

Text complexity involves reading level, text structure, levels of meaning, sophistication of language use, and also how those things relate to the reader’s level of background knowledge. In order to help teachers understand what is meant by the term “complex text,” the standards do give some title suggestions to illustrate text complexity, but that does not mean that teachers have to use those texts. They are examples, not curriculum. School districts and schools can choose their own texts and textbooks to support Common Core standards.

In addition, all the educational publishers are, of course, stamping “Common Core aligned” on their materials. Some of these materials are well-aligned to CCSS; others are not. Just because you see the words “Common Core” on something does not necessarily mean it truly supports and represents Common Core standards.

For example, this article has been making its rounds on Facebook. My response? Common Core strongly encourages using real books and published texts rather than worksheet stories. That’s the first clue that this is not actually CC-aligned. Secondly, I agree that the content is 1) not complex and 2) age-inappropriate. Second clue that the material is not truly CC-aligned.

4. Common Core assessments are too rigorous and levels of students proficiency on these assessments are plummeting. 

States who adopt Common Core are not required to test students on Common Core standards until the 2014-2015 school year. There are two consortia creating Common Core assessments: PARCC and Smarter Balanced, and those tests don’t begin until 2015. Many states have opted to wait until 2015 to administer Common Core assessments because they need to the time for both teachers and students to make the transition to the teaching and learning of more rigorous standards. These states are continuing to test students with the annual tests they’ve always used. However, a few states have opted to go ahead and align their state tests to Common Core. New York is one of those states, and they have already reported that their test scores went down.

Why are people surprised at that? Of course test scores went down! These are NEW standards!! These are deep, rich, broad standards that require a paradigm shift for everyone! Educational changes take time to implement and take root. There is no magic wand to wave over our teachers and students to make them Common Core experts. This is a process that will take time and require lots of reading, discussion, training, thought, and even trial-and-error in the classroom.

As far as during-the-year assessments, companies that make tests and assessments (such as Discovery Education and Pearson) are creating their own “Common-Core aligned” assessments or test-prep materials that some districts are using, but again, as I said above, just because something has “Common Core” stamped on it does not mean it’s truly reflective of the standards.

5. The standards are taking away literature and putting too much of an emphasis on informational text.

Common Core does not say that English teachers need to stop teaching literature. Since Common Core was created from the top down, which means they started with what high school graduates would need to be successful in college and career settings, the creators of Common Core realized through research that most of the reading required in college and career settings is informational, not literary. (Think about your college experience. Unless you were an English major, probably 90% of what you had to read was informational.) Therefore, the standards do focus on helping students be able to process through and understand informational texts.

This does not mean that English teachers forsake literature for informational text; instead, it means that content-area teachers (science, math, and social studies) help students develop the skills to read and comprehend science, history, and math texts. Think about which teachers truly help kids process through and understand text? It’s always the English teachers. The English teachers are the ones talking about text structure and vocabulary and metaphors and writing style. However, other content area teachers are often focused on teaching their content, not how to process through their texts. Common Core is asking all teachers to help their students develop skills for understanding and analyzing text.

The Common Core site states, “English teachers will still teach their students literature as well as literary non‐fiction. However, because college and career readiness overwhelming focuses on complex texts outside of literature, these standards also ensure students are being prepared to read, write, and research across the curriculum, including in history and science. These goals can be achieved by ensuring that teachers in other disciplines are also focusing on reading and writing to build knowledge within their subject areas.”

6. Common Core standards are really less rigorous than current standards. 

I suppose it depends on your state, but for the most part, I disagree. Let’s look at Tennessee. Here were our previous math standards for fractions for third grade:

  • Identify equivalent fractions given by various representations.
  • Recognize and use different interpretations of fractions.
  • Name fractions in various contexts that are less than, equal to, or greater than one. Recognize, compare, and order fractions (benchmark fractions, common numerators, or common denominators).
  • Add and subtract fractions with like denominators.

Here are the third grade Common Core standards on fractions:

  • Understand a fraction 1/b as the quantity formed by 1 part when a whole is partitioned into b equal parts; understand a fraction a/b as the quantity formed by a parts of size 1/b.
  • Understand a fraction as a number on the number line; represent fractions on a number line diagram.
  • Represent a fraction 1/b on a number line diagram by defining the interval from 0 to 1 as the whole and partitioning it into b equal parts. Recognize that each part has size 1/b and that the endpoint of the part based at 0 locates the number 1/b on the number line.
  • Represent a fraction a/b on a number line diagram by marking off a lengths 1/b from 0. Recognize that the resulting interval has size a/b and that its endpoint locates the number a/b on the number line.
  • Explain equivalence of fractions in special cases, and compare fractions by reasoning about their size.
  • Understand two fractions as equivalent (equal) if they are the same size, or the same point on a number line.
  • Recognize and generate simple equivalent fractions, e.g., 1/2 = 2/4, 4/6 = 2/3. Explain why the fractions are equivalent, e.g., by using a visual fraction model.
  • Express whole numbers as fractions, and recognize fractions that are equivalent to whole numbers. Examples: Express 3 in the form 3 = 3/1; recognize that 6/1 = 6; locate 4/4 and 1 at the same point of a number line diagram.
  • Compare two fractions with the same numerator or the same denominator by reasoning about their size. Recognize that comparisons are valid only when the two fractions refer to the same whole. Record the results of comparisons with the symbols >, =, or <, and justify the conclusions, e.g., by using a visual fraction model.

You tell me. Which set of standards goes deeper? The first set is more focused on procedure, while the second second is focused on helping kids understand the concept of fractions thoroughly. Also, I taught third grade for four years, and I NEVER taught fractions on a number line. I never thought about it. It’s a good visual aid for fractions, though. And it would really help kids with using rulers to measure as well. Plus, in addition to math standards, Common Core has Mathematical Practices, which are skills for problem solving.

7. Common Core teaches evolution and global warming. 

Absolutely false. People may be talking about Next Generation Science Standards, which were not created by the same people who created Common Core. It does look like there is some stuff about evolution and global warming in these science standards. But I learned about evolution when I was in high school in the mid 90s. It’s not like evolution curriculum is a new thing. The only specific verbage I found on global warming was this standard:

MS-ESS3-5. Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

Notice that the verb of what the student is supposed to do is “Ask questions.” I don’t know about you, but personally I want students to ask questions. I want them to have that scientific curiosity. That is how they learn. Even if it bothers you, though, my point is that these are not in the Common Core standards. And just because a state has adopted CCSS does not mean they have to or will adopt the Next Gen Science standards. In fact, Tennessee has chosen NOT to adopt the science standards.

Last thought: Don’t know if you noticed, but the majority of my answers/defenses here came from the Common Core State Standards themselves.

Part 2 is coming soon.


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2 comments

  1. Lori Birch says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I actually have been looking over the common core standards in forming my homeschool curriculum with my kids, and I agree that the standards seem really solid. They give me a great over arching sense of what the kids can and should be learning for their age. I think you did a great job articulating what they look like. It is good to hear from a professional educator with more experience with the cores. I have heard a lot of mixed sentiments, but most have been vague.

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