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Common Core Gets an Undeserved Beating

The common-core standards were intended to produce a generation of young people prepared for college and careers ("Massachusetts's Rejection of Common Core Test Signals Shift in U.S.," The New York Times, Nov. 22). But whatever support they may once have enjoyed has largely vanished because of the way the standards were implemented.  Even Massachusetts, which pioneered uniform standards and tests starting in 1993 with the Massachusetts Education Reform Act, has joined the list of states that have jumped ship.  

I think that's a mistake. Whenever there is a paradigm shift in any important policy, it is rare that all will proceed smoothly. Certainly that is the case in a country as large and diverse as the United States, where education has been locally controlled for so very long. Yes, students are individuals with unique needs and interests.  But I fail to see why addressing these are incompatible with definitions about competency in literacy and numeracy.

Criticism of the common core reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between curriculum (ends) and instruction (means).  For example, some educators maintain that the common core "may inadvertently penalize introverted students who prefer to work quietly on their own" ("Does Common Core hurt introverted students?" District Administration, Nov. 6).  But I see no reason why teachers can't individualize instruction.  Long before the common core existed, I designed lessons that allowed students to work according to their needs and interests.  Some worked in groups, while others worked independently.  One student was so advanced that I let him go to the library and work on a special project he was interested in.  It was essentially independent study for the entire semester. He went on to graduate college in three years and was accepted at medical school.

I'm not going to argue that national standards and a new test called PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) are a panacea for the ills afflicting public education in this country.  There are too many factors beyond the control of even the best teachers. But I believe that the demands of the global economy make continuing along the same path indefensible.  Before throwing in the towel, let's remember that other countries whose educational systems we admire have national standards.  If they have been successful, why can't we?

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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