Are We Getting Carried Away With Common Core Curriculum Phobia?
I was reading a Facebook post recently where someone expressed concerns that some well-known homeschooling books were now aligned to Common Core Standards (CCS). The comments after the post made it clear that many of the parents, without reviewing the books, were crossing that book publisher off their fall shopping list. Are these parents right to keep their children safe from all books that might be tainted by the dreaded Common Core or is this an overreaction?
In case you've been living under a rock or on Kiribati, 1650 miles from civilization, CCS is the set of national education standards that have been adopted by forty-five states. It was heavily promoted by the National Governor's Association and backed by testing companies (who stand to make huge profits from the heavy testing requirements) and other corporate and philanthropic interests. In addition to the heavy testing, many parents say that the standards are dumbed-down and will cause children to fall further behind in school. The standards also rely on national data tracking, a concern for many parents. Michelle Malkin has done a fabulous job of documenting the many problems with the new standards.
Does this mean that any book or worksheet that says it is aligned with Common Core is automatically bad and part of the Statist Conspiracy to take over education? I don't mean to minimize concerns about CCS -- I share them and am supporting efforts in my own state to repeal Common Core. But it's important to know that there is sometimes a difference between books that are designed to fall in line with Common Core and those that happen to tick off a few items on a checklist so the publishers can slap a Common Core label on them for marketing purposes.
Michael McShane of the American Enterprise Institute explains:
As it turns out, pretty much anyone can slap a “Common Core Aligned” sticker onto a textbook, professional development module, or supplemental resource. It is incumbent on states, districts, and schools to wade through all of these, but given the enormous volume of resources out there, they’re drinking from a fire hose. Without some meaningful vetting process, all of the benefits of the nationwide market for new tools will be washed away in the flood of misaligned materials.
McShane said that teachers and schools often even go through their existing materials to see if they're already aligned.
As it turns out, when the National Governor's Association created the Common Core standards, they decided that the onus would be on "the publishing community ... to provide some level of assurance to states that are considering the materials that they are aligned to the standards." Schools -- and homeschoolers -- are responsible for wading through the many materials wearing the Common Core label to determine whether or not they are aligned with Common Core or any other standards. Caveat emptor -- let the buyer beware.
But understand that right now, with almost the entire country revamping curriculum, publishers, who are in business to make a profit, understandably want a piece of that sizable pie. If they discover that their previously-published materials happen to be aligned with some CCS standards, they're going to slap a sticker on it to increase sales. And who could blame them? This doesn't necessarily mean the materials are bad or have even changed from a few years ago, it just means they somehow matched a few items on a Common Core checklist. Of course, many are going further and changing their books and other materials to be in compliance with the standards, so caution is warranted.
I found a website called the Educational Freedom Coalition that contains a list of 1400+ educational materials that were researched to see if they're connected to Common Core. Whew! That is a lot of work and props to the site coordinator, Tina Hollenbeck, a homeschooling mom, for all the time and effort she put into contacting publishers and researching materials! I think she makes some great distinctions that can be helpful when choosing materials and determining how closely aligned they are to Common Core. She divides the materials between those explicitly aligned, coincidentally connected, and correlated. You can read the descriptions at the website, but the correlated materials, for example, "appear to be acknowledging where they match the CCS, but did not actually change to align," which is much different from materials that are explicitly aligned: "These companies have indicated that they have chosen to explicitly align their materials with the CCS."
There have always been poorly designed curricula -- parents and teachers always needed to weed through the good, the mediocre, and the really bad in order to find the best and most appropriate materials for their students. That has not changed with the huge influx of Common Core aligned materials. But in automatically rejecting anything with the Common Core label, parents may inadvertently miss excellent teaching resources -- and may even disqualify half the books in their home libraries. A Common Core label doesn't mean a book or curriculum is bad any more than a lack of that label means it is good. A better approach is to evaluate every teaching resource individually, on its own merits, rather than automatically rejecting anything with the Common Core label.