Is the Common Core Crazy?

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Folks! This is an excerpt from Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World, by Johann Christoph Arnold, a counselor, speaker and writer on family, parenting, and education issues. He is also co-founder of the Breaking the Cycle program, teaching students in public schools about nonviolent conflict resolution. H
is new book takes on, among other things, standardized testing. More at  

 Their Name is Today – Johann Christoph Arnold

Will 2014 be remembered as the year Common Core scuttled the last vestiges of individuality and creative teaching?

True education can never be forced – a child has to want to learn. This longing is often locked deep inside, and it is the teacher’s task to discover and encourage it. But teaching has probably never been as difficult as it is now. The most vital part of the work is not academic. Children need time to breathe in and breathe out – time to play. They are not computers or robots that can be programmed according to our wishes.

All good teachers know that play for its own sake is irreplaceable in a child’s life. Not only is it the best method of early education, but it’s also essential for the growth of a child’s spirit. In a way, play ought to require no further defense; it defines childhood. Why, then, does it continue to vanish from young children’s lives?

Some of the worst changes have originated from government-mandated academic programs that rob children of their chance to learn through play and burden teachers with ever more pressure and paperwork. As I watch this trend grow every year, I agree with Albert Einstein’s observation: “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

The motives behind standardization often sound right. Politicians say they want to “fix” our broken educational system so our children can compete on the global stage. They talk about going back to basics, mastering the three Rs, and documenting measurable results. And many of these mandates are a direct result of parents and voters calling for change.

But we should look more closely at the kind of change that children need. Programs handed down from distant political establishments come with strings attached. Additional paperwork removes teachers from the children who need their care. Children are bewildered by tests and diagnostics at an age when they should be playing. Decision-makers, it seems, ignore the wisdom of the teachers who could – and do – tell them how children learn.

Teaching requires great love, wisdom, and patience. It takes time to discover the best in each child, and then to draw it out. What happens when teachers are robbed of this precious time? When will they get the chance to build a relationship with each child through simple interaction and play, which is when the best teaching moments actually occur?

Each has a unique set of abilities, created for a special purpose. So why force a common educational standard on them? We know children learn best through playing, but play also brings joy, contentment, and detachment from the troubles of the day. In our frantically over-scheduled culture, every child should have a right to play.

Lenore here: Speaking of which, check out these photos of recess around the world. I wonder if other countries are cutting back on theirs to make more time for test prep? 

NOTE: You can get a free copy of “Their Name is Today” here. Just click on “Request a Review Copy.” 

Are our students really going to succeed by spending less time playing?

Are our students really going to succeed by spending less time playing?


52 Responses to Is the Common Core Crazy?

  1. Tawni September 21, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    I can not agree more. One of our kids (6 years old) is having a hard time with school. He hates school. He loves to play and during the summer he made excellent progress with his letters, numbers and sight words. You know what we did? We played a lot! He was more inclined to learn when he dumped dirt from his dump truck onto letters chalked out on the sidewalk! We did all kinds of stuff like that, because that’s what he likes. School is now back in session and his teacher says he’s been acting up in school and he’s frustrated. I know what the problem is, but teachers are swamped with all this testing these days, they don’t teach anymore. It’s too bad.

  2. Powers September 21, 2014 at 10:09 am #

    Way to use Common Core as a scapegoat for trends that are completely independent of it.

    Common Core is just a set of standards. Nothing more. There’s no requirement in Common Core for incessant testing, or lack of recess time, or drilling students to learn in ways they aren’t equipped to do so. It’s just a set of nationwide standards for what kids should know when.

  3. Sigh September 21, 2014 at 10:57 am #

    The system isn’t broken. It’s doing exactly what it was designed for: To prepare children to meet the demands of the 19th century as adults. Thing is, our children won’t enter the 19th century. The problem is that the system is preparing children beautifully for a world that no longer exists.

    See for more information.

  4. Phill September 21, 2014 at 11:04 am #

    What does this article have to do with common core?

  5. CrazyCatLady September 21, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    Powers is right. Common Core is just standards. In fact, at some place on their web site it even says that they are standards and they DO NOT recommend any particular books, teaching methods or curricula….though the individual school districts can do so. Teachers, if their district will let them, actually can be more creative than in the past if they want. The standards are very adaptable.

    However, the thing about the testing is true. Teachers are upset. The testing for reading and writing is very different than many states have done in the past. Teachers at my charter type public homeschool are taking the tests so that they can help parents to prepare (to relieve test anxiety among kids and parents.)

    And here is the reality. No one test is going to show true ability for any specific child. I have one that can write well and BS stuff she doesn’t know. She does well with essay style tests. My two boys have issues with writing…they don’t do so well with lots of writing, but one did figure out how to underline in the test and then copy the answer where it needed to go. One is a master at multiple choice while my daughter doesn’t do well at them. We have MAP tests that the kids do for the teacher (me) to know where they are that do not go in their files, that are multiple choice on a computer. My middle, I have it go in his file because it is a better reflection of his ability than the state written test. I am totally prepared for my kids to score low on the new test of Common Core because I hear the teachers are scoring low when they take the practice tests. And…I don’t care. Not at all, because ALL of the kids will be scoring low the first couple of years – both as they get used to the test, and as the test makers tweak them to make more kids pass, because well, they need a bell curve to look good.

    As the teacher…we are not changing curricula. Our curricula already covers the standards, as do most public school curricula, I suspect. I will spend some time going over how to take the test because we do have anxiety, but that will be after I take it online at the Smarter Balance website. We will not be spending a lot of time on this at all.

  6. SOA September 21, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    I don’t like common core. It does not give teachers room to be creative in how they teach stuff or what they teach. When I was in school, if our class was super interested in exploring something further, the teacher had the choice to do that. But now they schedule them every day on this is what you teach this day and this is what you teach the next day and that is not much wiggle room.

    I also don’t like how they are teaching math because I cannot understand it. It is not how I learned it. So half the time I am confused and cannot even help them.

  7. Paul Fosgreen September 21, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    Say what you want about Google, Inc., but they encourage (not just allow) 25% of an employees paid work time at Google to be for whatever they want it for.
    Shopping, swimming, skiing, reading, basketball, crocheting, you name it.
    Care to guess why ?
    Play unlocks the brain, both creatively and cognitively.
    Just because something goes against the grain definitely does not have to mean that it’s not the best way to go.
    Let’s just keep revamping tests and keep the kids nose to the desk, both at school and at home with 4 hours of homework a night.

  8. Andy September 21, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    @Paul Fosgreen Google used to allow 20% of work time to be spend on side project or your choice, you were not supposed to be shopping or swimming. It had nothing to do with unlocking creativity by playing. It was partly a perk and partly hoped people will come up with projects that will earn google a lot of money.

    Google does not allow it anymore and from what I read, it was dead years before they officially stopped it. (E.g. if you took that time your workload on regular project did not went down rendering perk mostly useless.)

  9. Gina September 21, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

    If it was up to me, kids would learn what they want to learn, when they want to learn it and play when they want to play.

    A.S. Neill had the right idea with Summerhill. Children will ask to be taught and they will learn even if we don’t force them.

    Common core is ridiculous.

  10. JenCo September 21, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    Why I do believe that Common Core is crazy and I do agree with everything in this post, I think the title is misleading. The issue of standardization, loss of play, and the death of creativity and love of learning far precedes Common Core.

    We have been fed the line that our schools are failing and that our country is at risk because of it–and we have eaten it up. We have been told that we need to compete with China and Singapore, and we have believed it. We have bought into the idea that there is one definition of academic success-high test scores–and that has become the goal of public education. Corporations, politicians, and the media have served up fear and, as a result, we have allowed our children to become cogs in a giant, money-making machine of testing.

    Parents need to demand a new definition of success–one that respects children as individuals with different learning styles, different rates of development, different strengths, and different interests. We need to demand that standards–whether they be national or local–are developmentally appropriate, flexible, grounded in research, and created by educators with real classroom experience. We need to stop allowing policy-makers to fool us with words like rigor and achievement which might sound like they are good for children but are really wolves in sheep’s clothing which rob our children of healthy childhoods for the benefit of corporations. We need to redefine success and demand better for our children than current policies can possibly provide.

  11. Jenny Islander September 21, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    Common Core seems to me to be the Frankensteinian descendant of a set of books called What Your ___ Grader Needs to Know, which summarized in large type and few pages the entire commonly accepted (according to surveys) knowledge pool of American culture. The books were supposed to be spines onto which local teachers would hang state history and natural science, local history, etc.

    I was taking bubble tests almost 40 years ago. Common Core isn’t responsible for that.

  12. Emily Morris September 21, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

    Oh, come on. If it’s not Common Core, it’s just another set of standards. Because, as has been said, that is what Common Core is.

    The problem here are curriculum companies, superintendents, even misinformed teachers making Common Core something its not.

    Let’s attack the real problem, because taking away Common Core is not suddenly going to revive childhood creativity.

  13. Reziac September 21, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

    The problem is if you don’t teach so as to meet the TESTS for Common Core, you lose your federal funding (which was taxed from your state in the first place, so it’s money down the toilet as far as local gov’t is concerned). Most school systems are dependent on federal dollars. So they teach to meet the test requirements, even if that’s useless as education. They don’t have a choice if they want to keep their jobs.

    When I was a kid we had Iowa Basics as the baseline for testing our education. My school system did not “teach to the test”, but rather to its own standards. But according to Iowa Basics (and SAT, and National Merit) we were consistently in the top 1% nationwide.

    But the problem really is the BS that came out of the 1960s, when subjects were “simplified” — frex, instead of learning the phonics that let a kid work out any unfamiliar word, kids were taught “whole word recognition” which is basically how dyslexics read (ie. teaching to emulate a disability). The current generation of teachers came out of that crippled system, and have no clue how education was done before.

    And how did we do it before? With a great deal of intensive rote learning (because what you learn by rote, you have at your fingertips for life), some problem solving and experimentation, and a whole lot of unsupervised free time. (Yes, recess was considered important, back then. So was Gym class.) A few kids had issues with this (unable to tolerate the routine, or unable to cope with rote memorization), but the majority did not. The majority turned out literate in English, math, science, music, art, and civics.

    And all it took was a teacher and a blackboard. It was inexpensive and effective, and there was very little homework. (In fact, until 9th grade, none at all other than the quarterly book reports.) And there was discipline in class. Kids were not disruptive, because it simply wasn’t tolerated. You learned to cope, which is a major life skill — you don’t think your future employer is going to tolerate your “I’m bored so I’ll act out” behavior, do you?

    What we’re doing today is not working, as is evident if one merely examines the local newspaper. Yet today’s kids spend far more time in class and being tested, and are now overburdened with homework even in primary school.

    In our zeal to make education uniform, all we’ve done is make it uniformly ineffective.

  14. Sha September 21, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

    Actually, I wish we had at least the math part of Common Core, ages ago. There should be more than one way to learn math. I can’t do math, I have dyscalculia, but it occurs to me that it might have been easier for me to learn math if there had been more than one way to learn it. Everyone tried to teach me in the same way, and I couldn’t retain that way. And if I did it a different way that worked for me, I was told it was wrong. We allow dyslexics to learn however they are able, we should do the same for those with math issues (math is it’s own language, truly!).

    But teaching to the test and standardized testing is insane. I believe in standardized testing (I remember Iowa Basics in 4th and 6th grades and then maybe in 8th grade?. But standardized testing shouldn’t be done as often, that teachers should teach to it, and it should be de-emphasized.

  15. Mar September 21, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    Sha, I don’t know what CC math you are discussing, but it’s not what my kids had. Both of my children had problems marked wrong when the answer was right, but the “show your work” portion wasn’t what the teacher wanted. We moved to private school this year and I see the love of learning coming back to my third grader. Priceless.

  16. sue alexander September 21, 2014 at 7:49 pm #

    It is not common core that is the problem. CC is a set of standards: in the old days we called it a body of knowledge. The problem is the high stakes testing. Schools are required to give the tests AND achieve certain scores to maintain their independence and their funding stream. The stress and anxiety cause the problems.
    Take away the tests. Keep the common core.

  17. Asparagus Freak September 21, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

    I’m disappointed in this article being on this blog. Inviting play and retaining recess isn’t something to pit against Common Core. As Powers said earlier, CC becomes the scapegoat for every thing that people don’t like about education these days.

    Our school, like most in the nation, are aligning with the CCSS. But we also have lots of recess, lots of play, lots of interaction and really not all that much test preparation. Maybe somewhat more than when I was a kid in the 70s, but not all that much.

    If you don’t like what your school is doing, if they ARE spending inordinate times prepping for standardized tests, if they are cutting our research, play, art, music, etc. GET INVOLVED! Talk to your principal. Write to your superintendent. Go to a school board meeting. Form a group of like-minded parents and make a difference. I see that happening all the time in our state, in our District and guess what? We have, by and large, reasonable decisions, reasonable expectations and reasonable classroom directives.

  18. lollipoplover September 21, 2014 at 8:10 pm #

    Mar, my youngest had issues with the Common Core “show your work” and was consistently marked down even though she understood how to do it and always got the answer right. At one of her conferences, her teacher was trying to tell me where she needed to *improve* showing her work. I kept asking, “But she got the question right?” over and over and was obviously annoying the teacher and explained I didn’t care if she wasn’t meeting the explanation standards- I just wanted her to understand how to solve the problem. We can nit pick all we want with different standards but fundamentally it comes down to whether they grasp the work and can solve problems. She can!
    I’ll take a test where my kid got every answer right and a lower grade for crappy explanations vs. a test where she got answers wrong but could BS her way with stupid steps and words. Common Core wants to set kids up to get things wrong but explain their way out of it vs. concentrating on actually solving problems correctly.

  19. Maribel September 21, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

    Those of us who follow education policy are aware that the common core standards were developed with testing and the market in mind. The standards CANNOT be extricated from the federal requirements of testing and anything who says different is simply ill informed or working for Pearson and Microsoft. If the standards were so great, there would be no one clubbing teachers on the heads to get them to implement them. But, in reality, the standards are not developmentally appropriate for little kids.

  20. Steve September 21, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

    I see people here cheering for Common Core whom I’ve never seen on this blog before. Very interesting.

    All you have to do is google topics “the trouble with Common Core” or “Problems with Common Core” and you begin to understand why so many people don’t like it.

  21. SKL September 21, 2014 at 11:20 pm #

    Common Core has many problems. For one thing, they are asking teachers to pass along concepts they themselves do not understand. It just frustrates everyone.

    My kids both hate math, but they wouldn’t hate it if it wasn’t being shoved down their throats in age-inappropriate ways.

    Today my kid was crying silent tears because of her “mental arithmetic” homework. This is the beginning of 3rd grade. The curriculum demands that they mentally solve 92-53 as: 92-60+7. Why? What is the compelling need to require every 7-8yo to reformulate problems like this? What about the fact that every adult on the street would mentally solve 92-53 a different way and still get the right answer?

    This stuff would be intuitive and not need teaching at all if they would just let it wait until the kids had more life experience and basic math experience. It would be fun to do instead of tear-inducing. This crap is not going to help us be more globally competitive. It’s going to make even more Americans turn away from math-based fields. Either that or people will be scared into redshirting until the average age in KG is 7 or older.

  22. C. S. P. Schofield September 21, 2014 at 11:21 pm #

    OK. I’m About to make myself hugely unpopular, I suspect, but I want to raise a tiny little point.

    The adage that “Learning should be fun!” is so much eyewash. It CAN be fun, sometimes. But learning the basic tools (spelling, grammar, simple math) is often dull, and it still has to be mastered. HAVING an education is fun; it opens up infinite worlds. Getting one is frequently tiresome. Also, growing up includes learning to sit still at one task, even one that bores the bejaysus out of you. Because, no matter what you do you are going to have to do that as an adult; NO job is fun ALL THE TIME.

    I suspect that Common Core is pigswill, because everything I have seen come bouncing down the pike education-wise in the last four decades has been pigswill. The “Education System” has been FUBAR ever since control was taken away from local voters, in the name of “equality”. And I’m not saying that poor brown people weren’t getting the short end of the stick in those days; they frequently were. But their schools were clearly better then, when they were getting the “separate but equal” sans lubrication, than they are now … even when now comes with all the best intentions in the world.

    But if your child has trouble sitting still in class, he (or she, but it is usually he) needs to learn how to do it sometimes. I don’t want him drugged, but I do want him to have certain facts of life explained to him. Such as, unless you are incredibly lucky (as in; I can’t think of an actual example) you are going to have to sit still and pay attention for extended periods of your adult life, better get used to it.

  23. Andy September 22, 2014 at 1:46 am #

    @SKL Does the teacher requires this exact modification or is willing to accept 92 – 53 = 92 – 50 – 3 = 42 -2 -1? If not, then the teacher is dummy and that is always a problem with math teacher.

    In general, if he accepts different kinds of modifications, then I think I know why it is done that way.

    Those reformulations are done because that is how math exercises are solved. You transform the expression to another expression with the same result, but which is easier to solve. When I have to do mental arithmetic over bigger numbers, I always use transformations similar to what you complain about. Substracting 60 is much easier then substracting 53 in head and adding 7 is easier then substracting it.

    When they proceed to solving equations (like 4x + 3 -2x = 7x +2 or something with powers 2 etc), which should be relatively soon, they will have to solve them by rewriting it into different form.

    I think that they teach them to do arithmetic this way to teach them the concept.

    The higher the math, the less are memorizable algorithms available and more you have to solve problems by streams for such rewritings. Purely memorizable algorithms are useable only for simplest problems, but fail when you have to deal with hard problems.

    And I think that the problem is real, because when I was doing one of those popular coursera classes. There was a substantial group of students who were *outraged* because homework did not mirrored exactly what was shown on lecture. All they had to do was to do higher level math equivalent of replacing -53 by -60 + 7, but they could not. (That is when I understood where complains about spoon feeding come from.)

    I understand that there are years before what is done in third grade. The thing is, numbers have clear concrete meaning. You can learn to imagine what is going to happen with numbers. On the other hand, it is harder to imagine what is going on with equations, it is more abstract. If one did not get a sense of numbers and how they work, learning that on equations is even harder.

  24. bmommyx2 September 22, 2014 at 3:05 am #

    I suspect that those of you who are criticizing this article don’t have younger children in school currently. I have a second grader so I can’t speak about the older grades. I do know that No child left behind ruined an already poor system at least where I live. I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but my siblings & I went all through Los Angeles Unified School system & I can tell you we got a barely adequate education back in the early 70’s to the mid 90’s and I know it’s gotten worse because my mother worked in a local High School. My sister is the only one of use who graduated college & she said she never realized what a crappy education she got until she went to college with people from other parts of the country or the state. When I read about Common Core or when my son’s teacher spoke about it at Back to School night it sounds great, but so far in my personal experience it sucks big time. I know the schools have been preparing for and transitioning to CC at least since my son was in kindergarten. The amount of homework he received in Kindergarten & 1st grade was insane. Homework for 2nd grade starts this week & I am not looking forward to one to two hours of homework hell. I have always been good at & loved math & I have hated the math homework every year so far. I got A’s in Algebra, geometry & Algebra II & I can’t figure out the math homework & my son who is good at math is struggling with it. He had word problems starting in Kindergarten & he didn’t even know how to read yet. Please tell me how that makes any sense. This system is setting up our children for failure & I am not in a position to afford private school. I have complained, but it falls on deaf ears. I live in an affluent area where everyone wants more academics, more homework & wants to push their children to the head of the line. I partly blame some of the parents, the schools & the Gov’t. Common core might not have a testing component or requirement , but they used to teach to the test & I don’t see any signs of that changing. At my son’s school they do a lot of teaching out of workbooks & they are terrible, even the teacher agreed when I complained to her. This article is spot on & I feel bad for the teachers. At my son’s school they have just over or under 30 students & the teachers are saddled with learning how to use all the technology on top of their jobs. I don’t know what was wrong with a chalk board & an overhead projector, but now every teacher is still trying to figure out their smartboards, ipad, homework websites, school websites, emailing parents, etc.

  25. Donna September 22, 2014 at 7:29 am #

    There is nothing wrong with having a common core of standards throughout the country. It is what exists in just about every other developed country in the world, most of which score far higher than the US in education for people interested in that (personally, I think that it is bogus to compare countries in the fashion that they do).

    Most of what people here are complaining about is their particular school’s IMPLEMENTATION of those standards and not the standards themselves. For example, SKL’s complaint about doing math by memory. That is absolutely not happening in my child’s 3rd grade class. My math complaints (and I have many) are vastly different. Same with bmommyx2’s complaint about homework. My child has never had more than 10 minutes of homework a night in either of the schools she has attended so far, except for once in a while when some assignment proved difficult for my child for some reason.

    As for my many complaints of math, I liked to lay them at the foot of “Common Core” only to be proven completely wrong. The plan to “revitalize” math has been in the works since long before Common Core. In talking with the father of my daughter’s best friend, I found out that the way math is being taught now has been in the works for 10-15 years. It is the way his wife was taught to teach math when she got her teaching degree 10 years ago. She has never taught, but does find it interesting how it has all played out. So this was happening even if Common Core has never been contrived. The full implementation just happened to coincide with Common Core.

    In many ways, I think this blog is as Henny Penny, knee jerk and buying into whatever media soundbite you hear as the rest of society. Maybe in different ways, but no better.

  26. Dancing on Thin Ice September 22, 2014 at 8:29 am #

    In theory, standards reduce the differences between school systems just as “separate but equal” led to some people getting substandard facilities in the past.
    Instead of fighting Common Core, why not work with it or whatever name the education standards that are adopted are called.
    Write into it requirements of playtime and the flexibility to encourage teaching in a way that works best for each student. My brother would have dropped out if they didn’t have shop class. Reinstate having a variety of extra-curiculum activities since band, art, shop or sports won’t appeal to every child.
    For all the complaints that CC is bureaucratic, the opposition to it is it’s own form of bureaucracy often fueled by a political ideology.

  27. SKL September 22, 2014 at 8:38 am #

    Andy, I understand the benefits of mental arithmetic, but the way you build the ability is not by shoving it down the throats of kids who are not yet ready to conceptualize it. Wait a little and they will embrace it and be ready to build on it. Use more concrete teaching methods and real-life experiences to open kids’ minds for this kind of thinking. Not just filling out worksheets covered with numbers and lines that make no sense to most of the kids (and many of their parents).

    Kids at this age, in our schools, have not had enough experience working with that size of numbers and aren’t really all that solid on 53=60-7 in the first place. Why not give them some more time to solidify those basics before trying to build on what does not yet exist? It’s just dumb.

    Even my advanced kid is lost on some of this math. Of course the above is just one example, the one we lived through last night. There are many others. Every other chapter is a nightmare, and it doesn’t need to be this way. This is not the way to save the world.

  28. nina September 22, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    I have to completely agree with Andy. I believe that when taught properly by teachers that actually understand the material, common core math is superior to the old ways. It teaches children basic tools that they can use later on to apply to more complex problems. It teaches them to look more critically at their answers and get a feel whether they are correct. My middle son is currently in 6 grade and they are doing a unit on ratios now. I can do ratios half asleep and with my eyes closed. However, only after I helped my son with his homework I was able to fully grasp why what I knew to work actually works. So there is something to be said for the common core.

  29. mystic_eye September 22, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    I’m Canadian, and I unschool, and I love what parents are calling common core math* because it is based on the very fundamentals of play. It is based on specific math blocks (they come in ones, 10 lines, 100 squares, and thousand blocks), number mats, and so on. Then later on it’s about learning all the various ways to get to the right answer.

    Yes, play is great. Yes, every child learns differently. And yes, when done badly insisting you use specific math tricks on questions it makes no sense for is horrible. However, teaching all the many different ways there are of getting the right answer, teaching math fundamentals through play in kindergarten, etc can’t possibly be worse than teaching only one method and specifically the math many of us took where only the right answer was important, you weren’t supposed to understand why it was right or why the method worked, you were just supposed to do it, get the answer, and shut up.

    *From what I understand common core is just standards covering when things are taught to make it easier on students moving districts, there’s another set of standards which came out on the same time and are more of a curricula.

  30. SKL September 22, 2014 at 9:50 am #

    The problem with the “common” aspect of the common core is that not all teachers have common abilities and approaches. Also, you can’t impose completely different standards on a kid who is already part-way through school. Suppose they decided that reading and writing Spanish should be common core for all grades, and they are going to flunk all 5th graders who cannot write a proper book report in Spanish. Well, half of the country has been focusing more on English and Math than on Spanish, so they are screwed, because a common core is a good thing.

    The other problem is testing, punitive grading, and as in our state, “guarantees” that mean you are going to flunk 3rd grade if you don’t learn xyz on an arbitrary timeline, as measured by a standardized test. Which some of the kids are going to flunk just out of fear of failing.

    It’s great to expose kids to different ways of problem solving. But that’s not really what’s happening here. What they are being exposed to is a series of arbitrarily required operations that may or may not be the most efficient way to solve a given problem. And they are getting points docked if they choose a different method that makes more sense to them. Plus they are given limited time to work through the problems, so if a concept is shaky, they are out of luck.

    My kids’ private school is not legally required to follow common core or state standardized testing. However, this year they have announced they intend to do both anyway. They already give the kids multiple standardized tests every year (on which they score very well on average), and now they are adding another one. Really makes me excited to pay the tuition.

    Just for the record, my kids test above average academically, so I’m not whining because I want the world to cater to my dumb kids. I also happen to be in favor of more rather than less learning. But the way they are doing it simply cannot work. The only way it appears to work is because of parents and teachers forcing kids to study for hours longer than is appropriate.

  31. SOA September 22, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    All I know is that when I was a kid we had little to no homework and when we did have homework it was something I could do without my parents being involved that much.
    Now parents are expected to sit right there next to each kid and work with them and it takes about 30 minutes to an hour for 1st graders and 2nd graders to do all the homework. Hell no.

  32. Stacy September 22, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    I have not seen any problems that I attribute specifically to Common Core, because I had the same concerns with my oldest child before our state adopted CC. My husband also experienced as a child the problems that come with moving between states with very different academic standards. What I don’t like is the philosophy common at our school and, it seems, most others that homework is good and necessary in elementary school. I know I’m not alone in that feeling. When my elementary school kids get off the bus, it’s nearly four p.m. Compared to most people, we’re very underscheduled, with at most one extracurricular activity per week/per kid. Yet, I still feel like there’s so little time between school and bed, and I don’t want to waste that with homework worksheets. My kids want to play outside, create new buildings with their Legos,and just relax. And reading logs turn something my kids love into torture. My fifth grader gets lost in her books every evening, but she must stop reading and write down the number of pages she read and a summary of what she read, every single night.

  33. Stacy September 22, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    “All I know is that when I was a kid we had little to no homework and when we did have homework it was something I could do without my parents being involved that much.
    Now parents are expected to sit right there next to each kid and work with them and it takes about 30 minutes to an hour for 1st graders and 2nd graders to do all the homework. Hell no.”

    Exactly. When I was a kid, we had a couple projects per year that we did on our own. Now, my fifth grader has math, language arts, and sometimes social studies, along with the dreaded reading log. I am expected to not only assist as needed and sign everything daily, but also correct her daily math work with stars for the correct answers and participate in the weekly language arts “fun” assignments. My first grader is starting to get occasional math and handwriting homework, and I assume it will soon be daily as it was for her siblings in first grade.

  34. James C September 22, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    I see lots of back-and-forth here about whether or not Common Core (and specifically Common Core math) is a good thing or not. My wife is a teacher (3rd grade) and, while she doesn’t complain about Common Core itself, the fact that she is required to give each student a minimum of 21 tests per year, and some students as many as 48 per year, each of these individually, and not as a classroom, and, on top of that, is not given the time to do so, being forced to remove the kids from gym or recess to conduct them, is a serious problem, though far from the only one. Oh, and those are the district tests–that doesn’t include the Iowa Basics.

    I’m not sure whether or not Common Core is a good thing or a bad thing. Most of the math arguments seem to be the same ones that “new math” got in the 1960s. That district-mandated tests are removing play-time from kids is certainly among the more serious issues with the education system as a whole. Whether or not it can be blamed on the standards, or just the system by which these standards are being measured, I don’t know. I don’t have kids, and my only view is shaped by my wife’s frustrations, the blame for which she places on the district and the school, rather than Common Core.

  35. EricS September 22, 2014 at 11:29 am #

    It also doesn’t help, that the solution for many schools today…”children are not allowed to fail”. Even if they do. Every child gets a trophy or medal, win or lose. Children are no longer challenged, they are given into. All so that teachers aren’t so overwhelmed, the school doesn’t face litigation from parents who get upset that their child has failed (it happens), and the kids get in and out of school in a timely manner. Like cattle in pens, ready for the meat house (life). They are being treated like numbers, automatons, or machinery built on an assembly line. I rarely see, or hear of quality teacher student time anymore. I remember when teachers spent a couple of hours after school to help out students who looked for help.

    Teaching is no longer about teaching. It’s about regulations, and policies that try to make all parents happy. And to justify school expenditure. All at the expense of the children’s emotional and mental well being. Not to mention their education. For a government that wants to get directly involved in children’s welfare, they aren’t doing a very good job with a good education plan. Is this about keeping up with “The Joneses (global standard)”? Or is this about PROPERLY educating our children? As many have stated, children are individuals with different needs. Can’t say one standard will suit them all the same. How about this for a standard…Reading, Writing, Math, and Play. Worked for Gen-X’ers just fine. We had more of a choice than kids today.

  36. Ann in L.A. September 22, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    Common Core is being used as a scapegoat for every problem in education today. If anything, the Common Core and the Race to the Top initiative overturned some of the heavy testing requirements of the previous No Child Left Behind Act–which was very heavy on “accountability” and accountability at the classroom and teacher level: which meant testing. This is why states have been reluctant to jettison the CC, even with major backlashes against it: without the Common Core (or a set of standards so similar there’s little difference) states have to return to the No Child Left Behind requirements which are much heavier on the testing, and require serious–and probably unreachable–results. (All children must be above average sorts of results.)

    I think much of the education world is in a panic and reaching for ideas to improve educational outcomes. Spending on education has skyrocketed in the last few decades, with little or nothing to show for the extra money in terms of results. (Though, a large chunk of that money is being spent on special-needs kids who in the past were either not mainstreamed or were stuck off in a corner and ignored.) Class sizes have been shrunk with little benefits seen. “Technology” and computers have proliferated with little in the way of benefits. “Reform Math” replaced “New Math” replaced “traditional math” with little benefit. “Whole Word” replaced “Phonics” and failed miserably. Everything they’ve tried has failed.

    With little in the way of results, schools are eliminating anything that isn’t 3-R related: art, music, even academic subjects like history and science have been put on the back burner. Free play time was often the first to go.

    This isn’t the result of Common Core, this is the result of decades of failure in our education system. (And even schools which we consider good schools, like the nice suburban ones which we don’t consider a problem, often stack up poorly to schools around the world.) They don’t know what to do, and don’t know how to fix the system.

    If they are once again turning to a system which will backfire–less free time for squirming children, it is entirely in line with most of what they’ve tried over several decades.

  37. Leah Backus September 22, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

    I thought we were supposed to shy away from “worst-first” thinking here? According to the teachers I know, Common Core does nothing to their ability to choose what teaching methods to use, what materials to use, whether recess is allowed, etc. All. It. Is. is a set of standards for what children should know at each grade level, proven through testing (that part I don’t care for, but meh…). It is not without problems, considering that there is lot of money that stands to be made for textbook and testing companies like Pearson. But that is a political issue and most definitely *not* a free range kids issue. We on this blog, of all people, need to be super careful about buying into hysteria of any kind, whether it “supports our cause” or not. We are rational here, yes?

  38. Donna September 22, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    “The problem with the “common” aspect of the common core is that not all teachers have common abilities and approaches.”

    That is a problem with school in general, not common core specific. Schools have always been full of both good, mediocre and bad teachers. Common core makes that no more or less likely.

    “you can’t impose completely different standards on a kid who is already part-way through school.”

    Nobody is imposing completely different standards on kids who are already part-way through school. Essentially kids are learning in each grade what they were always learning in each grade. Yes, some kids, predominantly those in substandard schools, may now be required to learn extra stuff for a short time in order to meet the standard and others may be learning things in different orders than older siblings did previously, but we have not actually shifted from teaching in English to teaching in Spanish. And ultimately it helps ALL kids in the long run to have standards that are consistent throughout all school districts.

    As a person who changed school districts 3 times and the parent of a child who has done so twice, I fully embrace the idea that kids will now be able to move from school district to school district with very few academic issues. Every single problem either me or my daughter ever had in school was the result of moving between school districts – either being bored to tears relearning something we had already done or being way confused because a precursor to some lesson was never taught to us. There was the fact that I ended up in a class of learning disabled students in 1st grade because I went to a kindergarten where reading was not taught. Or the many repeated middle school classes when I moved from NJ to GA in 7th grade. Or getting stuck in freshman PE when we moved my senior year and I now didn’t have enough PE credits to graduate. And all my daughters math issues really stem from the difference between Singapore math in A. Samoa and whatever this new crap is in the US.

    “They already give the kids multiple standardized tests every year (on which they score very well on average), and now they are adding another one.”

    Common Core has not added any standardized tests to my child’s schooling. In fact, I’m not even sure why your children take multiple standardized tests each year as my child only takes one. Again, this appears to be a school issue and has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Common Core.

    Common Core seems to be a scapegoat for everything anyone doesn’t like about schools. 99.9% of those things are completely unrelated to Common Core which simply sets national guidelines as opposed to individual school district setting their own guidelines. It doesn’t mandate a teaching philosophy, text books or homework. Schools and/or teachers still have total control over all those things.

  39. Donna September 22, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    “This isn’t the result of Common Core, this is the result of decades of failure in our education system. (And even schools which we consider good schools, like the nice suburban ones which we don’t consider a problem, often stack up poorly to schools around the world.)”

    That is because there was nothing wrong with our educational system to start with. The system was never the problem. We have a serious poverty issue in the US and a serious lack of options for kids who aren’t interested in going to college problem and a serious entitlement problem and several other social problems, all of which contribute to lower education scores, but the system itself was always just fine. But the government and populous would rather focus on this one, largely inconsequential, thing rather than deal with all the actual problems which are reflected in the scores.

    And we know that it is largely inconsequential because the countries at the top of the list educate very differently from each other. South Korea and Finland score very close to each other and yet have very different manners of teaching. If the how mattered so much, you would see more domination by either Europeans or Asians and not what we have which is a good mix of the 2.

    What is consistent across all the top performing countries is the fact that they are all small, largely homogeneous populations.

  40. Jenn M September 22, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

    I teach VPK (free voluntary Pre K) in Florida The school just tested my 4 year olds and the director is concerned because the kids don’t know how to break apart compound words, they don’t know how to add or subtract and most of them do not know the letters and sounds or how to write their names. So that means i have to spend more of my day drilling them in “what is sidewalk without side?” “what is butterfly without fly?” they also need to know “What word is this ham…………..mer?” Its completely ridiculous but when they start kindergarten they will be tested when they register and the score of that test will come back to the preschool and all the preschools are scored. Meanwhile the kids don’t give a damn about syllables, Compound words or blending sounds they just keep asking when they can go play Mr potato head.

  41. VJ September 22, 2014 at 11:57 pm #

    My third grader suffered through Common Core last year. Now she goes to private school. No standardized testing at all. She loves school again. She left public school with C’s and D’s, but she’s making straight A’s in private.

  42. SKL September 23, 2014 at 12:58 am #

    Well people keep saying that common core isn’t forcing changes, and yet the teachers I know are saying the opposite, and parents like me are seeing all kinds of changes that the schools attribute to “common core.”

    One example of a change that just recently happened. Singapore Math used to be marketed in the US as: level 2A-B is for 3rd grade, 3A-B for 4th grade, etc. Now all of a sudden the exact same curriculum (but with “common core” stamped on the cover) has level 2A-B for 2nd grade etc. The kids are doing stuff at least a year earlier than we did stuff in my high-standard elementary school (I was always 2 years ahead of the national average on tests). Did schools dumb things down back in the 1970s, yes, but now they are going too far in the other direction, pushing higher concepts without giving time for practice on the concepts already covered.

    It’s a nice idea that common core is going to mean everyone in every school is doing the same stuff at the same time. Having worked in various school districts even in one state, it is obvious that that is not going to happen. In some schools, half of the 3rd graders cannot read a picture book (and half of those who can, won’t). Are they really going to flunk all of these kids year after year? Or are they going to push ahead with material the kids can’t learn because the common core czar says they have to? Or is the common core czar going to make 1,000 exceptions and render the “common” vision meaningless?

  43. Red September 23, 2014 at 3:10 am #

    I think the fear and misunderstandings about common core math shows exactly how poorly educated in math the generation that now has kids in school was, unfortunately.

    I love common core math. All the ways I was criticized or put down for thinking about numbers are now being taught to children (for the record, I’m an engineer now). My son is being encouraged to find the way his brain comprehends numbers, and is being taught multiple different ways to think about numbers. Sure, I’ve actually had to google some of the terminology when he’s come to me for help (there’s some term for a number matrix which still just makes me go huh?) but once I matched the term to the concept, I was good with helping him.

  44. Donna September 23, 2014 at 8:25 am #

    SKL –

    I guess it depends on your kids. My kid is having absolutely no problem with common core math or anything else. It is largely below her ability, not above it. And she is not a rocket scientist. She is above-average, but not gifted (been tested and didn’t even really come close to getting in).

    Our issue with math is that she learned to do math by algorithm in A. Samoa and being forced to do it in a different, more time-consuming way, frustrated her. Many of these problems are going to be solved with Common Core. You won’t have students learning how to add by algorithm in 1st grade in Georgia who then moving to Colorado where they are forced to do the exact same work completely differently.

    But, it is 100% true, that Common Core is not going to solve all our social ills. It is not going to suddenly make students who have no interest in reading love to read. It is not going to make kids growing up in homes that view education as unimportant suddenly develop a desire to learn. It is not going to make kids who have illiterate parents who can’t help with homework or drug addict parents who don’t care suddenly have all the help in the world at home.

    And that thinking is exactly the problem with the US … and exactly what I was talking about before. Absolutely no system of education is going to fix these problems. We can tinker with it all day completely unsuccessfully if that is the goal. We need to address the underlying problems.

    But most people don’t move from great school to disadvantaged school or from disadvantaged school to great school. They move between like schools in different areas. Having some continuity in education – at both ends of the spectrum – is extremely helpful. And THAT is the goal of Common Core; it isn’t to rectify all our social problems that lead to poor educational outcomes.

  45. Donna September 23, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    “My son is being encouraged to find the way his brain comprehends numbers,”

    And that is my biggest complain about common core. My daughter is absolutely NOT being encouraged to find the way that her brain thinks about numbers. My daughter is being forced to do math in ways that are not how her brain thinks of numbers. I’m all for different ways of thinking about numbers being taught, but there is no room for doing it your own way. My daughter HAD to do it the way that was being taught, even if that way was more difficult for her and was being PREVENTED from doing it the ways that did make sense to her. It created endless tears of “why can’t I just do it my way?” during homework.

    And, since there is no book, days when she didn’t remember how to do something or was pulled out during math to do something else became a nightmare. She wasn’t allowed to do it the way that she already knew how. I had no idea what they were doing so I couldn’t help her. There were several days that homework went back to school blank or done by the forbidden algorithms with notes from me.

    This year is somewhat better as (a) they are back to algoriths and (b) her teacher knows that I will just tell her to do it her way if she is confused so I don’t have to fight with my daughter about getting in trouble for doing it wrong.

  46. SKL September 23, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    Whatever name it has, if a significant % of young kids have to spend an hour at home on top of the time at school to understand the day’s math lesson (and then read for xx minutes and do facts for xx minutes and study spelling bla bla bla), something is not right. Educators are trying to get parents all excited about how great this really is for our kids’ future, this common core or whatever other excuse you want to call it. I am not buying it.

    Funny thing, my kids loved going to math camp all summer. One of mine loves reading books about higher math concepts. How come these same kids hate math at school?

    I dunno. I never hated math. Didn’t always love it, but I never dreaded it. I certainly never cried over math homework.

  47. Puzzled September 24, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    Common Core is standards, yes. But it’s fact-based standards. I believe that the ongoing trend in education (over a long period of time, with CC just one step on the path) is towards fact-based and away from thinking based. The problem is that the world is rapidly moving the other direction, making graduates unprepared for life (and for fulfilling lives.)

  48. Puzzled September 24, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    By the way, American schools fail in comparison to foreign schools only because foreign schools have much lower graduation rates, and the comparison is based on standardized testing, not critical thinking.

  49. hineata September 24, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

    @Puzzled – late to this, but that’s odd, because we tend to score better than the US (not better than Canada on the last PISA, bugger it 🙂 ), yet our kids seem to learn nothing some days BUT ‘critical thinking’ these days. Me, I like some facts thrown in there – you need something for your mind to frame other stuff around :-).

    @SKL – so with you. We have something similar down here when it comes to maths – kids are supposed, courtesy of the numeracy project, to know at least two ‘strategies’ for solving math problems. My very bright maths kid was actually held back for about six months because she couldn’t remember a couple of the dumber (to her) strategies for adding and subtracting 2 digit numbers….at the same time she could do mental arithmetic in her head for four digit numbers, she could demonstrate this to the teacher, but that still wasn’t enough. She was supposed to be able to parrot somebody else’s illogical way of doing something.

    I have been a bit naughty as a teacher, too – as far as I’m concerned, if the kid in front of me can solve the problem, and has a vague idea how he did it, I just wave him on. All this nonsense about needing to know strategies because otherwise you’ll suffer at high school is absolute garbage – if you actually need to know it high school, you can jolly well learn it in high school.

    Is Common Core also about getting points for setting out the question correctly, even if you get the answer wrong? That absolutely drove me spare at high school, and still does. Math is one subject where the only thing that should matter is getting the answer right – who the devil cares how you got there? Setting the answer out ‘right’ and getting the answer incorrect means you still failed…..or should do.

    Sorry, one of my passions, maths :-).

  50. SKL September 24, 2014 at 6:11 pm #

    Hineata, yeah, that’s the frustration. (Though in high school, I used to get frustrated myself because I did not see the point of laboriously writing out all the steps [including the words “Step 1, step 2: etc.], unless you were hoping for partial credit. But that is completely irrelevant.)

    Some people think we who aren’t thrilled with the current approach are probably too stupid to understand it. But in my observation, the people most vocal about it are parents who are themselves good at math, including using math creatively to solve problems. We didn’t get that way by crying over homework in the primary grades.

    Today my kids’ math was about estimating. Example: they are supposed to show that 846-694 is about 800 minus about 700. Since 152 is about 100, the answer 152 is reasonable. (Or 100 is reasonable. Not sure which.)

    So I asked my average kid to go ahead and figure out 846-694 first. She said she is not allowed to write it out as an equation and solve it on paper like this:

    – 694

    She is only allowed to do it mentally. So first she has to mentally calculate 846-700+6=152; and then she has to show that it’s about the same as 800-700=100. Which stumped her, because they just got done telling her that if it’s 152, it’s about 200, not 100.

    But yeah. This is what they are asking 7-8 year olds to do, independently.

    My advanced kid tried it independently, and got it wrong.

    We will be going back to their math homework tonight after swimming and soccer practice.

    They offered me pull-out tutoring services for my average kid. My question: pull-out of what? Recess (which is already cut short by any unfinished random “morning work”)? Art/music/gym, which are important outlets for her? Math, reading, or language instruction? The day is so stuffed with stuff she shouldn’t miss, how is pulling her out going to make things better?

    The sad thing is, she’s a good student for the most part, and yet she feels dumb thanks to this stuff.

  51. SKL September 24, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    I meant to say, yes, even if you get the answer right, if you don’t do it the right way, it is wrong.

  52. Papilio September 25, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    @Hineata: “Setting the answer out ‘right’ and getting the answer incorrect means you still failed…..or should do.”
    Of course, but personally (I was always more of an alpha than a bèta…) I was glad if I still got 1/2 or so of the points despite putting a comma in the wrong place or forgetting to change a + in a – somewhere… You know, the stupid little mistakes. So, yes, we always had to write out our calculation for the teacher to see.

    I remember one time in secondary school (the later years, taking alpha math) when I had found some intuitive way to show that [blah blah some fact], and could see that my teacher had initially decided it was wrong, but had later changed her mind! I had just taken some other, not-in-the-book route and she needed to take another look before she figured out what I had done, heh heh 🙂