What Will Our Children Learn Under Common Core? – Part II


In Part I of our analysis of Common Core-based curriculum material, we discussed some problematic lesson plans disseminated by Student Achievement Partners, a nonprofit organization founded by three contributing authors of Common Core State Standards. In the present analysis we discuss Common Core-aligned Homework/Test Questions and “Performance Tasks,” as well as the possible political nature of Common Core-based curriculum.

Test/Homework Questions and “Performance Tasks”

These first two items are samples straight from Smarter Balanced, the federally funded test consortium South Carolina will use for its standardized tests if it is approved by the state Education Oversight Committee.

Arguing for Longer School Day: In one 3rd through 5th grade sample question, students are asked to revise a paragraph about why there should be a longer school day by adding more details from the daily schedule to help support that argument.

The view portrayed in the lesson is one-sided, and in this case, the student doesn’t have the opportunity to choose one side of the argument and make it stronger. The test chooses the position for the student and forces him or her to argue for that position – the position, that is, that kids should spend more time at school away from their parents and under the supervision of teachers.

“Community Gardens”: There’s nothing wrong about teaching kids about community gardens. But while students are permitted to choose whether they think their school should start a student garden, the information the students are given is almost comically one-sided. Before taking a side in an essay, students are asked to read two articles: “Growing Our Own School Lunch” and “Make Your Own Dirt.” They’re also advised to watch a video called “Community Gardens: Typical Costs.” Students then must answer the following questions before eventually taking a side in their essay:

  1. What evidence does the author of the article “Growing Our Own School Lunch” present that would best convince your teacher to allow students to grow plants in science class? Use details from the article to thoroughly support your answer.
  2. What Information in the two texts could lead a reader to believe that gardening and composting help the environment? Use details from both texts to support your answer.
  3. Explain whether it is important to consider the information presented in both the video and the article “Growing Our Own School Lunch” when starting a community or school garden. Use details from both the video and the article to support your answer.

Leave aside the question of whether it’s appropriate to get students to argue for a “student garden.” Leave aside, too, the nascent but unsubtle environmentalist agenda. The entire exercise strongly implies that there is only one right answer to the question being considered. The lesson is designed to teach critical thinking, but it would seem to teach student to accept and parrot back the expected view on a topic over which there is no real controversy.

3 x 4 = 11?: National Review Online recently reported on a video clip of what appears to be a teacher training session in which the instructor says it’s alright if a student says 3 x 4 = 11 because what really matters is the reasoning the student gives behind the answer, not the answer itself. The video strongly implies that as long as the student can explain his or her reasoning, then three multiplied four times can equal eleven.

The soft sciences are full of questions to which there may be no right or obvious answer. Math is not one of those. This specific issue is part of a broader trend in Common Core math standards that emphasizes “critical thinking” and conceptualizing of math problems, rather than actually successfully solving the math problems.

Does Common Core have a Political Agenda?

That’s not our place to say; all we can do is point out some questionable lesson plans and test questions and let others decide. However, it’s interesting to note that last year, Smarter Balanced sent out a message via Twitter promoting a New York Times article that raises serious questions in this regard. The article, citing data from the overtly and enthusiastically liberal/“progressive” Center for American Progress, contends that the reason America’s education system struggles to compete on the global stage is that it’s underfunded. The problem isn’t so much that this view has been debunked many times over, or even that Smarter Balanced would reap tremendous financial benefits from the kind of funding increases advocated by the Center for American Progress; the problem, rather, is that South Carolinians may have this “progressive” worldview imposed on their children’s school curricula via Common Core and have no way to alter it.

Whatever else may be said about Common Core-aligned material, this much seems beyond dispute: Much of it does not reflect the views on content and teaching methods shared by many, many South Carolinians. The real question is whether Common Core is inevitable – a question addressed in a forthcoming analysis.

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