## The Common Core Curriculum: How Common?

May 25, 2013

In a speech to the Association for a Better New York on April 30, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten hailed the new Common Core Standards as a “revolution in teaching and learning.” She claimed the common standards will “transform the very DNA of teaching and learning to move away from rote memorization and endless test-prep, and toward problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork.”

It is agreed that a revolution in education must occur. It is also agreed that education in the United States must shift toward more gestalt-quality types of learning. We do not agree, however, that the Common Core State Standards can or will serve such a purpose. The Common Core, in fact, is merely a refined synthesis of what has been slowly suffocating education since the 1920s.

We must first ask, what is so

This is not the first time a

This is not to say, of course, that Mann’s Common School movement had an overall negative effect on America. It served to transform the face of public education into a universal right, and became a model for all the world. The beneficent ripples of his heartfelt passion are still felt today. The problem lies in the way he went about structuring his reform movement. Rather than deliberating with some of the best minds, past and present, as to what the best forms of education and curricula should be, Mann toured the country (with Henry Barnard) to collect data from thousands of schools in order to find what was

The CCSSI has done similarly. The very nature of such a committee—one that is trying to formulate, by consensus, a “new” curriculum that will be acceptable to all—lends itself toward stale compromise and mediocrity. There is no doubt that many of the best and brightest in the field were brought together to work on the Common Core Standards, but there is also no doubt that the best were forced to climb down from their precipices, and the brightest were accordingly dimmed (so as not to blind the others).

We have then, in the Common Core Standards, a hodgepodge of standards from across the nation, the virtue of which is that all can settle to agree upon them.

Looking at the standards themselves (published in 2010), we can witness firsthand the veritable lifeless, non-revolution they entail.

The editors of the new curriculum are very happy to announce in the introduction that they have woven “college and career readiness” (CCR) standards throughout the text. Such standards ensure that everyone has a chance at going to college and securing a career. These CCR standards are so esteemed, in fact, that in the preface to the English Language Arts (ELA) standards the authors boast that each of the ELA standards was included in the Common Core curriculum

The latter hypothetical standard, actually, is not too far from the truth. In the ELA Common Core standards, it is mandated that by twelfth grade, 70% of all reading should be informational texts. This includes not just science and history, but technical manuals, internet articles and blogs, and all other such forms of literature that we encounter in our day-to-day experience. The same emphasis is placed on writing as well.

This fixation on informational reading and writing is, in fact, the rock upon which the editors anchor their assertion that their ELA standards are interdisciplinary in nature. The irony in such an assertion is self-evident and, hopefully, requires no further comment.

In looking over each of the ELA standards, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find anything different (besides a few mentions of the word

The icing on the cake (soup?) of the ELA Common Core standards is the addition of literacy standards for other subjects. This addendum, admittedly, outlines some useful recommendations for good reading, writing, and research skills. Unfortunately, they are unenforceable in terms of holding non-ELA teachers accountable to them; and, furthermore, merely highlight the fact that there is an epidemic and lamentable lack of literacy among students today. We are assured, however, that the Common Core standards are the panacea for this reigning illiteracy.

CCSSI’s math standards fare no better. Or, to be more accurate, the new math standards fare worse because the rigor of the subject makes it all the more apparent how lacking the standards are. The CCSSI experts introduce their math standards by assuring the reader that the most admirable and successful math curricula in the world were consulted in preparation for their masterpiece. They then confess that they really mean Asian children (since we all know that the Chinese are good at math). Nothing is mentioned about the understanding or development of math in Asian countries; only the fact that such countries are full of children who perform well in carrying out mathematical operations.

The main distinction between the Common Core math standards and others is the authors’ profession of aiming toward coherence. Hearing such a word--

“But,” the CCSSI might counter, “We have included some remarkable overarching

Indeed. What makes the new standards so remarkably different is that they not only offer more of the same piecemeal instruction as the old, but that they try to

Right in step with the Common Core ELA literacy standards addendum, the CCSSI’s eight principles of math are (among other things) unenforceable. They were inserted as a form of decoration in a desperate attempt to hide the farce of what follows. And what follows is nothing more than, as we said, a reorganization of the old standards.

There are, however, a few modifications. The third grade Common Core math standards, for instance, prescribe a new approach for learning fractions. The days of cutting up pizzas and pies are over. What is CCSSI’s replacement? The number line. Teachers are instructed to teach fractions primarily by showing their place on the number line. Such a method betrays another facet of the Common Core math standards: an obsession with using, over and over, the same mathematical concepts and procedures. To clarify: there is, from K-12, a fear of showing the student anything new or unfamiliar. It is thought that if students see a new concept as merely a different form of the old, then the student is more comfortable with and understands the concept.

Such a teaching philosophy has its place. In the realm of systematic mathematics instruction, however, the practice limits students in the following ways:

1. The student’s ability for genuine problem solving (i.e., generating new insights) is squelched by the expectation to persistently utilize old methods and forms of understanding

2. The development of mathematical understanding is locked (much like the third grade fractions) into linear form. There are no leaps or recreations of discovery such as have occurred with all great mathematical progress throughout history. That is, the age-old practice of making new discoveries by abandoning old assumptions is made anathema.

3. Like other forms of dogmatism, students are asked to simply believe the given assumptions on blind faith.

As another example, look at the Common Core Curriculum’s eighth grade standard for the Pythagorean theorem. In apparent conformity with CCSSI’s math principles 1 and 3 above, one standard asks students to “explain” a proof of the theorem, while the two remaining standards make students “apply” the theorem. Where in all of this does the idea of

In line with the Progressive philosophy of idolizing pragmatism, CCSSI has concocted a math curriculum that “works” and produces performance-based results. It is no matter that the mind of the student has not undergone any real development nor reenacted any of the major mathematical discoveries, as long as s/he is “college and career ready.”

The Common Core Curriculum is indeed

In a speech to the Association for a Better New York on April 30, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten hailed the new Common Core Standards as a “revolution in teaching and learning.” She claimed the common standards will “transform the very DNA of teaching and learning to move away from rote memorization and endless test-prep, and toward problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork.”

It is agreed that a revolution in education must occur. It is also agreed that education in the United States must shift toward more gestalt-quality types of learning. We do not agree, however, that the Common Core State Standards can or will serve such a purpose. The Common Core, in fact, is merely a refined synthesis of what has been slowly suffocating education since the 1920s.

We must first ask, what is so

*common*about the common core standards? With what are the standards in common? According to the statements in the published literature of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI)—the organization that authored the Common Core Standards—each state’s department of education will use these standards, and thus they will be*common*to all.This is not the first time a

*common*education movement has occurred in America. Beginning in the 1840s, Horace Mann advocated a Common School system. Seeing that structured education was virtually missing among lower social classes and in remote areas of the country, Mann sought to spread a movement that would make education equal and accessible for all. His intentions, by all estimations, were pure, and his speeches were inspiring to an extent that completely outshines any of the No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top sideshow orations of today. The results of his work, however, were not as sublime as his speeches.This is not to say, of course, that Mann’s Common School movement had an overall negative effect on America. It served to transform the face of public education into a universal right, and became a model for all the world. The beneficent ripples of his heartfelt passion are still felt today. The problem lies in the way he went about structuring his reform movement. Rather than deliberating with some of the best minds, past and present, as to what the best forms of education and curricula should be, Mann toured the country (with Henry Barnard) to collect data from thousands of schools in order to find what was

*common*to them all. He ended up with a rather average, vocation-oriented (rather than intellectual development-oriented) educational system. He took these lowly findings and proffered them to educators as the standard by which all children should be taught.The CCSSI has done similarly. The very nature of such a committee—one that is trying to formulate, by consensus, a “new” curriculum that will be acceptable to all—lends itself toward stale compromise and mediocrity. There is no doubt that many of the best and brightest in the field were brought together to work on the Common Core Standards, but there is also no doubt that the best were forced to climb down from their precipices, and the brightest were accordingly dimmed (so as not to blind the others).

We have then, in the Common Core Standards, a hodgepodge of standards from across the nation, the virtue of which is that all can settle to agree upon them.

**A Look at the Standards: English**Looking at the standards themselves (published in 2010), we can witness firsthand the veritable lifeless, non-revolution they entail.

The editors of the new curriculum are very happy to announce in the introduction that they have woven “college and career readiness” (CCR) standards throughout the text. Such standards ensure that everyone has a chance at going to college and securing a career. These CCR standards are so esteemed, in fact, that in the preface to the English Language Arts (ELA) standards the authors boast that each of the ELA standards was included in the Common Core curriculum

*only*if “its mastery was essential for college and career readiness” (3). After reading such a statement, it is difficult to imagine that there were any standards left; or, if there were any standards left, that they did not include such things like*Writing 7b: Students will learn the demands and temperament of a typical college professor and learn how to write in a way that will**be acceptable to the whims of that professor.**Reading 8.2 Students will learn how to clear a jam from an office copy machine by following the diagrams and manuals that came with the machine.*The latter hypothetical standard, actually, is not too far from the truth. In the ELA Common Core standards, it is mandated that by twelfth grade, 70% of all reading should be informational texts. This includes not just science and history, but technical manuals, internet articles and blogs, and all other such forms of literature that we encounter in our day-to-day experience. The same emphasis is placed on writing as well.

This fixation on informational reading and writing is, in fact, the rock upon which the editors anchor their assertion that their ELA standards are interdisciplinary in nature. The irony in such an assertion is self-evident and, hopefully, requires no further comment.

In looking over each of the ELA standards, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find anything different (besides a few mentions of the word

*internet*) from the standards most states have already been using. This minestrone of English standards will be sure to serve as warming comfort food to most teachers who have been consuming them in some form or other already.The icing on the cake (soup?) of the ELA Common Core standards is the addition of literacy standards for other subjects. This addendum, admittedly, outlines some useful recommendations for good reading, writing, and research skills. Unfortunately, they are unenforceable in terms of holding non-ELA teachers accountable to them; and, furthermore, merely highlight the fact that there is an epidemic and lamentable lack of literacy among students today. We are assured, however, that the Common Core standards are the panacea for this reigning illiteracy.

**A Look at the Standards: Math**CCSSI’s math standards fare no better. Or, to be more accurate, the new math standards fare worse because the rigor of the subject makes it all the more apparent how lacking the standards are. The CCSSI experts introduce their math standards by assuring the reader that the most admirable and successful math curricula in the world were consulted in preparation for their masterpiece. They then confess that they really mean Asian children (since we all know that the Chinese are good at math). Nothing is mentioned about the understanding or development of math in Asian countries; only the fact that such countries are full of children who perform well in carrying out mathematical operations.

The main distinction between the Common Core math standards and others is the authors’ profession of aiming toward coherence. Hearing such a word--

*coherence*—we might imagine the new standards to be a highly contextualized, holistic, and systematic mathematics program. Instead, it is a rearranging of the old standards into “clusters” (as if we were vintners) and “domains.” As with the ELA standards, we have the old standards reorganized into a glorified yesterday’s-dinner casserole.“But,” the CCSSI might counter, “We have included some remarkable overarching

*Standards for Mathematical Practice*which make our standards remarkably different from the others.”Indeed. What makes the new standards so remarkably different is that they not only offer more of the same piecemeal instruction as the old, but that they try to

*defend*such a practice with eight official apologetic principles. We may understand them as follows (each principle is quoted verbatim in*italics*):*Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them*. That is, all students are required to go along with whatever convoluted methods the new standards have prescribed for approaching math problems.-
*Read abstractly and quantitatively*. That is, the world of math (like education) has only two facets: the abstract and the quantitative. Any other aspects of the subject will only serve to confuse the student. -
*Construct viable arguments and critique the reason of others*. That is, students must not only approach math in the manner outlined by CCSSI, they must also defend such methods and critique all others. -
*Model with mathematics*. In other words, math exists for no other purpose than to be applied to real-life situations. Even the abstract is only valid if it can somehow be utilized in an application. *Use appropriate tools strategically*. That is, good students of math will know which forms of technology to use in order to avoid fully grappling with and comprehending a problem.*Attend to precision*. That is, as long as students provide correct answers, it is of no consequence whether or not they understand a mathematical problem.*Look for and make use of structure*. I.e., follow the “clusters” and “domains” of the Common Core standards in order to perpetuate and cement its self-proclaimed virtue.*Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning*. That is to say, use shortcuts (non-understood formulae, etc.) whenever possible and make sure procedure is consistent with prior Common Core training.

Right in step with the Common Core ELA literacy standards addendum, the CCSSI’s eight principles of math are (among other things) unenforceable. They were inserted as a form of decoration in a desperate attempt to hide the farce of what follows. And what follows is nothing more than, as we said, a reorganization of the old standards.

There are, however, a few modifications. The third grade Common Core math standards, for instance, prescribe a new approach for learning fractions. The days of cutting up pizzas and pies are over. What is CCSSI’s replacement? The number line. Teachers are instructed to teach fractions primarily by showing their place on the number line. Such a method betrays another facet of the Common Core math standards: an obsession with using, over and over, the same mathematical concepts and procedures. To clarify: there is, from K-12, a fear of showing the student anything new or unfamiliar. It is thought that if students see a new concept as merely a different form of the old, then the student is more comfortable with and understands the concept.

Such a teaching philosophy has its place. In the realm of systematic mathematics instruction, however, the practice limits students in the following ways:

1. The student’s ability for genuine problem solving (i.e., generating new insights) is squelched by the expectation to persistently utilize old methods and forms of understanding

2. The development of mathematical understanding is locked (much like the third grade fractions) into linear form. There are no leaps or recreations of discovery such as have occurred with all great mathematical progress throughout history. That is, the age-old practice of making new discoveries by abandoning old assumptions is made anathema.

3. Like other forms of dogmatism, students are asked to simply believe the given assumptions on blind faith.

As another example, look at the Common Core Curriculum’s eighth grade standard for the Pythagorean theorem. In apparent conformity with CCSSI’s math principles 1 and 3 above, one standard asks students to “explain” a proof of the theorem, while the two remaining standards make students “apply” the theorem. Where in all of this does the idea of

*discovery*take place? Students only have to parrot back a proof and then use the given formula to plug in given data so as to “apply” what they have learned.In line with the Progressive philosophy of idolizing pragmatism, CCSSI has concocted a math curriculum that “works” and produces performance-based results. It is no matter that the mind of the student has not undergone any real development nor reenacted any of the major mathematical discoveries, as long as s/he is “college and career ready.”

**Conclusion**The Common Core Curriculum is indeed

*common.*It has taken diverse aspects of education which are systemic maladies of various states and made them common to all. By common, in this sense, we mean*average, par, status quo,*or that which has been arrived at by a capitulation of professionals to tolerate each other’s ideas.