Special Report: Common Core 101

It's an issue that could affect your child's future and no one can seem to agree on it.

Common Core 101

A WZZM Special Report

(WZZM) - It's an issue that could affect your child's future and no one can seem to agree on it.

The Common Core is a set of English and math standards that say what students should know and when.

When you turn on the news, there is plenty of debate. If you ask someone what it is, no one seems to have the same answer.

Sarah Sell talked with several local educators about the Common Core and what it means to our school kids.

Through this article, we also want to give you as many of the resources about the Common Core and just exactly what those who are in support and opposition, are saying.

What is Common Core?

Common Questions

Below is a Q&A provided by Stateline, through USA Today.

For even more details, click here.

1. What is common core?

The Common Core State Standards set out what students from kindergarten through 12th grade should know in English and math. The standards were created by the nonpartisan Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents the top education officers in each state, and the National Governors Association, along with Achieve, a Washington-based nonprofit working to increase the number of students who graduate from high school ready for college and careers.

The Common Core grew out of a concern that Americans need to improve education to remain competitive in a global economy. In addition, Common Core provides continuity in education for students who move from state to state.

The English and math standards were voluntarily adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia; Minnesota adopted only the English standards. Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said the standards "embody the kind of learning in literacy and mathematics that all of us want for our own children." Along with the standards, two groups of states are developing standardized tests which will be rolled out in 2014-15.

2. Was the Common Core mandated by the federal government?

The Common Core is not a mandate of the federal government. In fact, a handful of states (Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia) have chosen not to adopt the standards. People may be under the impression Common Core is a federal mandate because President Obama supports it, quite vocally. In addition, the federal government poured $438 million of economic stimulus funding into developing standardized tests aligned to the Common Core and has strongly encouraged states to adopt "college- and career-ready standards" in the competitive grant program Race to the Top and through No Child Left Behind, which outlines consequences for schools that do not meet goals.

3. How does Common Core compare with states' previous standards? And how about other countries' standards?

In a 2010 review, the right-leaning Fordham Institute found the Common Core standards clearer and more rigorous than the standards in 37 states in English and 39 states in math. The study found the Common Core better than previous standards in both subjects in 33 states.

William H. Schmidt and Richard T. Houang of Michigan State University, found that the Common Core math standards were very similar to the standards of the highest-achieving nations on one prominent international assessment, Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Their 2012 study also found that on average, states with standards more like the Common Core performed better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, better known as the nation's report card.

4. Is there evidence that better standards will raise student achievement?

Better standards in and of themselves do not automatically translate into improved student achievement, of course. "To me, the real issue is will these Common Core standards really be implemented?" Porter said. "Why should we think this is the case when that hasn't been the case for state standards that have been around since 2002?" For the Common Core to succeed in raising student achievement, Porter said, curricula must be closely aligned to the standards, as well as teaching materials, student tests and teacher education.

A 2012 study by Tom Loveless of the left-leaning Brookings Institution argues that the Common Core will likely have "very little impact" on student achievement because state policies have little impact on what goes on in classrooms, which is likely to have a much greater impact on student learning, such as the quality of teaching.

5. What's wrong with national standards on education anyway?

Historically, the United States has been quite resistant to a national curriculum or standards. Although at various times national standards have been advocated by both Republicans and Democrats, enthusiasm for them has never lasted long enough for them to be created and adopted.

6. Does the Common Core favor "informational texts" over literature?

Under the Common Core standards, students spend more time reading "informational texts." "We know when students get into college or a career, most of their reading will be informational texts," said Sue Pimentel, one of the lead authors of the English standards. "Because of that, it's really critical to be able to handle a range of complex informational texts."

The standards specify that by high school, 70 percent of what students read should be informational and 30 percent literature, but the percentages apply across all subject areas, including social studies and science, for example. Under the Common Core, Pimentel said, a social studies teacher might teach a lesson about the Gettysburg Address focusing on the historical context, while an English teacher might look at the speech examining the style, rhetoric and vocabulary.

In Support of Common Core

Bill Gates and others

Tom Reeder, Superintendent of Wyoming Schools: "Common Core is just a set of standards that are intended to be written to global standards, instead of state standards."

Since the standards are different, Reeder says the district has developed a new curriculum, invested in technology and professional development.

"The old way didn't work, otherwise, we'd be doing tremendous in our math and reading and it's just not a good method if we're going to be globally competitive."

Brian Cloyd, VP of Global Corporate Relations at Steelcase: "I have looked at it, and I'm very comfortable with it. The way the world is now, we need children who have critical thinking. We need students who are innovative, that can connect all the dots, between English, Math, and Science."

The Foundation for Excellence in Education, of which Betsy DeVos is a board member, has stated in its Reform Agenda: "Rigorous academic standards, such as the Common Core State Standards, will prepare students for college and careers. "

Microsoft founder Bill Gates published an editorial in USA Today in February in support of Common Core and said "Common Core is among the most important education ideas in years." Click here for the remainder of his opinion.


New Math Methods

Could you do it?

(WZZM) - Michigan adopted Common Core, along with 44 other states, in 2010. Curriculums in school districts have been working in the new standards, training teachers and staff.

Wyoming Public Schools Superintendent Tom Reeder believes the new Common Core standards are more rigorous and set to global standards instead of state standards. "The old way didn't work. Otherwise, we'd be doing tremendous in our math and reading."

Melanie Kurdys, a math tutor, fears that kids who may be gifted in math and could be future engineers and mathematicians will be frustrated with the new system and give up. The math is different. Kids have to learn three ways of solving problems and write a paragraph explaining how they got the answer.

Opposition to Common Core

Confusion and Frustration

Melanie Kurdys is a West Michigan math tutor. She and some other West Michigan parents started an informational website www.stopcommoncoreinmichigan.com . They say they no longer have input in their child's education and can't even help them with homework.

"There is no reason to believe that following Common Core will help any of our children read better, write better, or do math better," says Kurdys. She has seen the changes. Kids are no longer just adding up numbers using a traditional algorithm.

"I worry, the very children who are gifted in math and may be our future engineers, mathematicians, are going to be the ones who are most frustrated and they'll give up."

Children have to learn three ways to solve a problem and then write a paragraph, explaining how they got the answer. Here's just one example of a word problem from a 2nd grade worksheet:

"Leon is adding a number to 35. He takes apart 35 into 33 and 2 so he can use the 2 to make a hundred. Is Leon adding 199 or 198 to 35?"

Jayne Pollie's son is in the fifth grade. "He was just getting confused," she says. She says her son never struggled with math, until this year. "I've seen him feel frustrated, very sad."

Sarah Perks, also a parent says, "For the younger children, the standards are developmentally inappropriate. They force children to look at things in a manner which their brains are not capable of doing."

Perks is worried about the math, but she's also concerned about the reading standards recently introduced in her son's class. "During 9th grade, he had to read an Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore. So, how that fits into an English class, I'm not sure."

What's Next?

Links and Contacts

Starting next year, Michigan's Common Core assessment will be done, mainly, online.

No matter where you stand on Common Core, it could all be put on hold. Some states have recently abandoned the common core assessment. Michigan could soon follow, if some legislators have their way.

Links for more info:

CICERO Systems, a provider of educational products has a Blame Common Core? website that helps explain changes and also provides links to Common Core in the news.

The Common Core State Standards are spelled out in detail on their own website as well.

National Review found what they say are the"Ten Dumbest Common Core Problems"

A Michigan effort to "Stop Common Core" as featured earlier in this story.

The Michigan Department of Education plans for Common Core is on their official state site.


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