Across the nation, teachers are going through convolutions to learn how to teach the Common Core. It’s the new set of guidelines on what students are expected to learn at each grade level in math and English that 46 states, including Ohio, have adopted.
These new guidelines are supposed to be harder than what Ohio schools – and schools in many other states – teach now. Eventually, it’s supposed to give us smarter, sharper, more responsible (ok, maybe not) high school graduates.
But the Common Core won’t fix everything that’s “wrong” with American schools.
The Common Core is just a set of expectations about what students should learn and be able to do. That’s it.
It doesn’t include new state funding for schools. It doesn’t include better training for teachers. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a Kentucky high school graduate will be at the same level as an Ohio graduate. And it doesn’t come with wrap-around social services for students and families.
“The Common Core will sit on top of the implemented and attained curriculums, and notwithstanding future efforts to beef up the standards’ power to penetrate to the core of schooling, they will probably fail to dramatically affect what goes on in the thousands of districts and tens of thousands of schools that they seek to influence.”
The Common Core is better than what Ohio teachers are supposed to be teaching in math and English today, the Fordham Institute says.
But what really matters are the new tests that will come with the Common Core, Fordham’s Emmy Partin says. Ohio hasn’t changed the scores required to pass state standardized tests since the early 2000s, Partin says.
And state schools chief Stan Heffner says those scores are ridiculously low. Thirty-two percent is a passing grade on the seventh grade math test, for example.
Partin says the theory is that if we set passing scores higher, and increase the levels schools must reach to get an “A” rating from the state, everyone will work harder to reach those new standards.
Testing, “that’s where the rubber hits the road in measuring what students are learning and what they’re able to do,” she told us.
But those higher standards may be a tough sell to some, she says.
Today, 82 percent of third graders pass the state reading test. Under the new tests, if Ohio sets the passing score where the national group organizing the new tests thinks it should be, only 26 percent would pass, according to Ohio Department of Education projections.
School district leaders and parents both like seeing an “Excellent” banner draped across the front of their school year after year, Partin says:
“A real fear is that we’ll have these good intentions, but when push comes to shove we may back down and not do it… People never want to hear that you’re not good at something.”
Several states have already tried to pull out of the Common Core, saying that their own standards are better. (The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council’s education “task force” has also approved model legislation opposing the Common Core, but it says it’s because the standards give the feds too much control over local schools.)
Plus, Brookings’ Tom Loveless says he didn’t find a connection between how high states set the scores required to pass their state tests and their performance on national standardized tests. And opposition to using the Common Core will grow, he says:
“… as NCLB illustrates, standards with real consequences are most popular when they are first proposed. Their popularity steadily declines from there, reaching a nadir when tests are given and consequences kick in. Just as the glow of consensus surrounding NCLB faded after a few years, cracks are now appearing in the wall of support for the Common Core.”