HICKS: Common Core State Standards raising questions for parents

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With the school year starting soon, here’s a sampling of questions from recent emails:

Q. Our school district is revamping the curriculum to comply with the new Common Core State Standards, but we don’t know what that will entail. Will my kids be behind since they have not had this curriculum from the beginning of their education? Is this really an improvement or is it intended to simply get students to do better on standardized tests?

Q. My daughters go to a Catholic school in Kentucky. I am hearing that Catholic schools are adopting the Common Core State Standards. Not sure what it’s all about but I’d like to find out. Can you direct me? Where can I find good information on what the Common Core system is about?

A. I feel sorry for parents of school-aged children these days. It’s not enough that you have to assure your kids are developing physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually; you also have to practically get a job in a newsroom to keep track of all the information that impacts your children’s education.

Americans spent approximately $151,000 per student educating the class of 2009 through the 12th grade — nearly three times the amount spent educating the class of 1970 (adjusted for inflation) — with overall achievement declining or stagnating, depending on the subject.

In the 2012 assessment administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranked 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math out of 65 countries on the Program for International Student Assessment. We’re not exactly killing it.

Educators have struggled for years to find ways to improve educational outcomes — which is to say, test scores, graduation rates, college entries and other things that can be measured — while also beefing up the standards that must be met in our classrooms. This is a difficult balance.

On the one hand, teachers don’t want to “teach to the test,” believing that such a strategy puts undue emphasis on assessment and not enough on learning. On the other hand, it’s tough to tell if children are learning anything if you don’t test them.

A few years ago, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offered hundreds of millions of dollars to create something called the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Developed mainly by Yale-, Oxford- and Cambridge-educated David Coleman — who is now president of the SAT-administering College Board — the initiative seeks to impose curricula that would be suitable for going to the sorts of schools he attended, which is to say the fanciest ones. Lots of solid educators believe his ideas for what should be taught in America’s classrooms reflect the fact that he has never been a teacher.

Nonetheless, working with the National Governors Association, the Gates Foundation has managed to get nearly all of our 50 states to sign on to developing curricula that’s meant to fulfill the broad educational objectives defined (loosely) in Common Core.

In states where the initiative is being implemented, districts will develop, over time, new material for classrooms. Be aware that there is a lot of wiggle room in Common Core — it’s not a specific road map but more like a suggested route that schools might take to churn out well-educated students.

For this reason, many parents are concerned that it opens the door to teachers making up their own educational agendas based on their personal ideologies or political worldview.

Parents of Catholic or parochial school children are understandably worried that the Common Core goals may undermine the objectives of religious education that undergird the educational philosophies of these schools. That’s probably a legitimate concern.

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