By: Jeffrey VillarAs a parent, former superintendent, professional educator for the past two decades, and a Connecticut citizen–I am alarmed by the misinformation campaign that has been perpetuated about Common Core in our state. It’s obvious that our academic standards have been too low for too long. One third of low-income students fail to graduate high school in four years. Of those students who do graduate, 66% are not college- or career-ready. One in five freshmen in college needs to take remediation courses before being allowed to enroll in regular college courses. If we want the system to improve, it’s time to shake things up–now. There’s no time for delay. Below, is a comparison of some myths and facts about the Common Core. We’ve provided you with sourcing to set the record straight. You can also find a link to my written testimony before the education committee about the process of Common Core’s adoption in 2010 and the need to proceed with timely implementation today.
Myth #1: The Connecticut State Department of Education is solely responsible for implementing the Common Core.
Fact: The State Department of Education and local school districts are responsible for distinct aspects of implementing the Common Core. The State Department of Education is responsible for setting the standards and providing districts with technical assistance and training on those standards. Public school districts are responsible for writing and implementing their own curriculum aligned to those standards for each grade level. Connecticut is a “local control” state, which grants to local and regional boards of education the authority to set curriculum standards and the instructional programs in their schools. The standards, adopted in 2010, will provide direction to local curriculum committees as they develop grade-by-grade and course level curriculum.
Myth #2: Common Core is an unfunded and unnecessary mandate.
Fact: Establishing state standards for education is not a new idea; Connecticut has had standards for a long time, and they have been revised regularly. (See a 2002 example here.) This is because standards need to be revised and updated over time, rather than remaining stagnant.
However, while state standards set expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed, educators still decide how these standards are to be met. School administrators are responsible for keeping school curriculums up-to-date in a timely manner. (Regs. Conn. State Board of Education §10-145d-400b(b)(13)). Because this is something that should already have been happening in our schools, it isn’t fair to say the costs associated with updating curriculums is an “extra” cost caused by the Common Core.
It is true that Common Core and Smarter Balanced (SBAC) assessments will require some schools to add additional technology to their buildings. However, schools should already be making the types of technology and infrastructure upgrades that are required in order to engage students in 21st century learning.
Myth #3: Standardized testing is bad for students and bad for the education system.
Fact: Standardized tests certainly are not the only way that students’ learning should be measured. However, standardized tests are one important method by which school systems can determine the extent to which children know and are able to do what is expected of them. These tests provide an important, independent, objective measure that tells us how each of our children is doing.
And if a child falls behind, assessments can provide detailed information so that teachers and principals can make adjustments in instruction to better meet individual learning needs.
Beyond being an important tool to keep individual students on track, standardized testing is also important to the health of the education system at large. Assessment information helps drive critical conversations about the curriculum, pedagogy, and state and district policies. We need to constantly evaluate our system of education so that we can keep all kids on the path to success.
Myth #4: The Common Core State Standards are too hard for our students.
Fact: Today, standardized tests across the country are holding students to different and inconsistent standards. The Common Core State Standards raise expectations for all students to the same high level, and research shows that students will achieve at higher levels when higher expectations are set for them. The reality is that the far lower education standards we had set for our students prior to Common Core have not prepared them for college. Today, 1 in 5 freshmen need to take remediation courses before being allowed to enroll in regular college courses. Common Core standards emphasize critical thinking and analytical skills, as opposed to rote learning. They are internationally benchmarked and will enable U.S. students to better compete in the global marketplace.
Myth #5: Smarter Balanced (SBAC) assessments assume students are comfortable taking tests on a computer, even if they do not own one.
Fact: Being able to use a computer is a critical 21st century skill demanded by institutions of higher education and employers. Refraining from teaching students to use technology is no longer an option if schools are going to prepare students for college and career.
Myth #6: Teachers do not support Common Core.
Fact: The majority of teachers polled across the country support the Common Core State Standards. A recent Harrison Group survey of 279 Connecticut teachers found that “nearly three in four (73 percent) English language arts, science, and/or social studies teachers in Connecticut are enthusiastic about the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in their classroom.” These results are consistent with national findings that–although they anticipate that Common Core implementation will be difficult–teachers generally agree that it will make a positive difference for most students.
Myth #7: Common Core State Standards dictate what texts teachers will use for instruction.
Fact: The Common Core State Standards define what students in each grade need to know and be able to do; they do not define what teachers should teach or how students should learn. In other words, although the standards do establish expectations of content mastery and skills, they do not tell teachers that they must teach them in a specific way. The standards preserve what the American Federation of Teachers calls the “freedom for curriculum choice,”as local teachers, principals, superintendents, and school boards continue to make decisions about curriculum and how their school systems operate.
Myth #8: Testing takes too much time away from instruction.
Fact: For grades 3-8, CMT and CAPT testing used approximately 7 hours of instructional time during the school year. Smarter Balanced (SBAC) assessments are estimated to take approximately 7 to 8½ hours. Neither is a significant amount of time to invest in obtaining benchmarks for students, and SBAC certainly does not take up much more time than the old form of testing.
Myth #9: Common Core doesn’t have room for art and poetry; the Common Core creates “workers rather than thinkers”; it doesn’t help children create and learn.
Fact: Common Core is about standards. This is not a curriculum. Districts can and should design curriculums that are engaging and encourage students to be creative. Nothing in Common Core prevents this.