Jones column: Why teachers should hate Common Core

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Guest columnist Dillon Jones is a policy analyst at the S.C. Policy Council.

“Common Core has nothing to do with curriculum, instruction or testing.” No matter how many times Common Core’s most prominent supporters make that claim, it’s still false. Like any set of strict academic standards, Common Core standards directly affect these areas, and thus remove the ability of teachers to use their talents to the fullest.
Academic standards are benchmarks of what students at different grade levels should know. When standards are changed, then curriculum, instruction and assessments all must change to align with these new standards. If, say, you decide that every fifth-grade student must know how to waltz, the curriculum must change accordingly.
But Common Core affects curriculum choices in explicit ways, too. Official state and federal documents outlining Common Core repeatedly reference curriculums. Take a look, for example, at the Education Oversight Committee and State Board of Education report on Common Core – dramatic curriculum changes are referenced throughout.
Former senior policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Education, Ze’ev Wurman, has expressed serious concerns with the standards. Wurman argues that:
• Common Core replaces the traditional foundations of Euclidean geometry with an experimental approach. This approach has never been successfully used in any sizable system; in fact, it failed even in the school for gifted and talented students in Moscow, where it was originally invented. Yet Common Core effectively imposes this experimental approach on the entire country, without any piloting.
• Common Core excludes certain algebra II and geometry content that is currently a prerequisite at almost every four-year state college.
This effectively redefines “college-readiness” to mean readiness for a nonselective community college, as a member of the Common Core writing team acknowledged in his testimony before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
• Common Core fails to teach prime factorization and consequently does not include teaching about least common denominators or greatest common factors.
Common Core, then, isn’t just unrelated to curriculums. It’s largely dictating them.
As curriculum and instruction are restricted by Common Core standards, assessments will be too. Whether South Carolina uses Smarter Balanced, ACT or anything else as its mandatory assessment to evaluate students and teachers, any test will need to be Common Core-aligned. And since students and teachers are assessed on how well they do on these tests, it follows that textbooks, curriculums and specific teaching practices will all have to be aligned with Common Core.
To further counter the argument that these standards have nothing to do with curriculum or the freedom to teach, South Carolina school districts have spent millions of dollars on professional development in regards to Common Core. If curriculum and teaching aren’t affected, why would districts need to spend millions to bring teachers up to date on the Common Core standards and train them on how to best teach to these standards?
Not only will teachers be restricted in their instruction practices by these standards, they’ll be assessed on how well they will do under these restrictions.
The Smarter Balanced contract with the federal government states that the tests will produce data that will be used to determine the effectiveness of teachers, principals and schools.
Now, even if South Carolina doesn’t use Smarter Balanced assessments, the test the state chooses will be used to grade teacher effectiveness on how they teach to Common Core standards.
Students deserve to have teachers who can be more flexible in their teaching because not every child learns the same way. Common Core’s one-size-fits all method of testing to specific standards greatly restricts teachers’ ability to cater instruction to individual student needs.