With the new Common Core curriculum, school may no longer be as easy as A, B, Cs and 1, 2, 3s [Updated]

Common Core, a new educational curriculum, is met with skepticism as schools across the state begin to apply the new teaching methods.

Teacher and students Photo by: Dept. of Education

Updated February 20, 2014: The nation’s largest teacher union, the National Education Association, has switch its public support of the Common Core to public criticism of the implementation of the standards.  NEA’s president stated in a press release yesterday that “in far too many states, implementation has been completely botched” and that NEA wants for “states to make a strong course correction and move forward.”

Children are often warned about the real world that awaits them.  But when these children come face to face with this so-called “real world,” all too often they find that they are not prepared for the challenges it brings.

Schools are meant to prepare students for the future, help them make the transition from childhood to adulthood, and provide them with a strong educational foundation.  The public school system in North Carolina, however, found that it was not fulfilling these roles to the best of its ability.  State leaders and educators, therefore, focused their attention on new ways to prepare students.

The goal of Common Core is “to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit bearing entry courses in two or four year college programs or enter the workforce.”

North Carolina is one of forty-five states to tackle this issue by implementing a program called Common Core.  The program involves new English and Math standards designed to establish a more creative, hands-on learning environment to better ready students for life after high school.  The goal of Common Core is “to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit bearing entry courses in two or four year college programs or enter the workforce.”

The program has been met with a great deal of skepticism and criticism from parents, teachers, and legislators, but proponents of the new standards stand firm in their belief that the program will provide long-term benefits to students.

The program is nationwide, but its use is optional among individual states—each state must choose to proactively adopt the curriculum if it wishes to implement the Common Core standards in its schools.  The federal government was not involved in the creation of the standards, but certainly supports the adoption of the new standards.  Education standards are typically considered the province of states—“perhaps the most important function of state and local governments”—and the curriculum is designed to be minimal in its requirements.  Individual states and county-based school systems are left with a great deal of discretion in how to apply the curriculum, and upon adoption of the standards, teachers, principals, and superintendents are responsible for the implementation.

The National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)—the leaders of the Common Core initiative—developed the standards with the goal being to craft a program that would better prepare students to confront and successfully handle real-world problems after leaving high school.  The goal is regardless of whether the students eventually attend a two-year school, a four-year university, or enter straight into the workforce.

Common Core emphasizes that getting the “right” answer is not always enough.

States who have chosen to adopt Common Core will face a number of changes in both material that will be taught and material that will be tested.  Examples of changes in curriculum for elementary students include children “being expected to ask questions about text they have just read and being able to ‘describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas or pieces of information in a text.’”

High school students, for example, will be expected to use numbers outside of an algebraic equation.  An example provided in the Common Core standards involves deriving a monthly interest rate—in the context of mortgage payments—when the student is provided an annual interest rate.

Homework problems will be more than simple Algebra questions; they could include a variety of problems requiring both math skills and critical thinking skills.

Not only is course content changing, but so are course names, as indicated on the Wake County Public Schools website.  Students will no longer see the traditional Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II courses listed on their class schedule.  Instead, these courses will be replaced with “Common Core Math 8” and “Common Core Math III PLUS,” to name a few.  While this does not seem to be a big modification in the curriculum, it will provide some difficulties for both students and parents in terms of knowing what to expect from a course.  With the new classes, multiple forms of math could be combined, as well as new types of math introduced.  Homework problems will be more than simple Algebra questions; they could include a variety of problems requiring both math skills and critical thinking skills.

Another change that may affect both students and parents drastically is the reading assignments.  The Wake County Public Schools website warns parents to prepare for students bringing home more difficult reading.  Fictional books will be studied less frequently and will be replaced with the non-fiction and informational pieces that tend to be studied at a higher level, such as a university or graduate school.  This reading is intended to spark more discussion and analysis amongst students.

Standardized testing will also be altered to fit the new classroom criteria.  While there will be no new, separate Common Core tests, traditional tests will be altered to examine students’ understanding of the new material being taught.

This is just a broad overview of some of the many changes that will take place in North Carolina this school year and years to follow as a result of adopting the Common Core standards.

There are many opponents who are strongly discouraging this new curriculum.

Many opponents strongly discourage implementation of this new curriculum.  Governors in Indiana and Pennsylvania originally adopted Common Core, but have since put a hold on the program.  And the state Senate in Michigan recently approved a new budget that will prohibit funding for implementation of the curriculum.

North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest is among the government officials opposed to Common Core.  In June of 2013, he posted a four-minute video to YouTube, discussing his concerns with the program.  Part of his duties as Lieutenant Governor involve serving on the State Education Board, so he has reason to be invested in the standards governing the education of North Carolina’s children.  He is most worried that the state is rushing into a program that has not been fully researched and tested.  He fears that because the new standards have not been “field tested” and the costs of applying Common Core are still unknown, North Carolina is not prepared to completely replace its old curriculum.

Lt. Gov. Forest, along with other opponents, is also resisting Common Core because of its “one size fits all” approach.  Robert Scott, the former Texas Commissioner of Education, states in his paper titled, “A Republic of Republics: How Common Core Undermines State and Local Autonomy over K-12 Education,” that “all states are sacrificing their ability to inform what students learn…”  Scott’s stance is that the program is “about control by the federal government and a few national organizations that believe they will be the ones to operate this new machinery.”

Common Core supporters decry claims that the federal government was involved in the creation and implementation of Common Core.  Rather, the program was created by two state government-related entities: the National Governors Association, representing the chief executives of the fifty states, as well as the Council of Chief State School Officers, a national group comprised of state school system leaders, such as superintendents.

“How can people argue against teaching North Carolina students to read, write, speak and listen?”

State Superintendent June Atkinson considers it a travesty that so many want to believe the myths about Common Core.  Atkinson strongly believes that the program is what is best for students and urges schools and teachers to give the new curriculum a chance.  “How can people argue against teaching North Carolina students to read, write, speak and listen?”

Common Core’s website fully supports Atkinson’s argument and reiterates that the program “made use of a large and growing body of evidence” when creating the curriculum.  Such evidence includes scholarly research, comparisons to standards from high-performing states, and assessment data identifying what creates college and career-ready students.  The website also reassures opponents of Common Core that the program will give all students an equal opportunity for education and help ensure “consistent exposure” to material so that all students can succeed after high school.

Importantly, a recent poll by the National Education Association—the nation’s “largest professional employee organization” supporting a variety of groups of education professionals—shows very strong support for the Common Core standards among educators.  Half of the poll’s respondents approved of the standards despite maintaining some reservations, but only eleven percent of respondents outright opposed the new standards.

While there is both criticism and praise for Common Core, the program remains very new—in North Carolina—and is slowly being integrated into local schools.  It will undoubtedly be an adjustment for teachers, students, and parents, but only time will be an indicator of its success as students take the leap from school to the real world.

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About Rebecca Lopes, Senior Staff Writer (14 Articles)
Rebecca Lopes served as a Senior Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. She is a graduate of North Carolina State University where she earned a degree in Communication with a focus in Media and a minor in Journalism. During law school, Rebecca interned at the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office, Tally and Tally Law Firm and at The Richardson Firm, all in Fayetteville. She was also a member of Phi Alpha Delta and a case manager for the Campbell Law Innocence Project. Rebecca graduated from Campbell Law School in May 2014.
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