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Lance Izumi

THE REALITY OF COMMON CORE IN THE CLASSROOM

Lance Izumi

If one asked most people a couple years ago about the Common Core national education standards, the response would have been a blank stare. Now, Common Core is a front-burner political issue because parents are discovering that their children are struggling under the new standards.

Common Core is a set of national math and English standards, which most states, including California, have adopted because of the funding incentives and strong-arm tactics used by the Obama administration. There have been much “big picture” criticisms of Common Core: the lack transparency and public input when Common Core was developed; the middling quality of Common Core; the high cost of implementing Common Core; and nationalization of education under Common Core. Yet, these critiques are now being overshadowed by the anger of parents at how Common Core is negatively affecting the learning of their children.

Columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan has written that Common Core’s Achilles heel is implementation: “implementation – how a thing is done day by day in the real world – is everything.” Take, for example, new Common Core-aligned curricula and associated teaching methods.

Core Connections is a Common Core-aligned math curriculum that is starting to be implemented in classrooms and which emphasizes the use of cooperative learning. The curriculum tells the student: “Learning math [through cooperative teamwork] has an advantage: as long as you actively participate, make sure everyone in your study team is involved, and ask good questions, you will find yourself understanding mathematics at a deeper level than ever before.” While such utopian pronouncements sound impressive, the reality is quite different.

Bryce is a sixth grader at a public school in Northern California. He is a very bright student, achieving several perfect scores on the state’s math exam and consistently receiving A+ grades in math. Yet, Core Connections has had a discernible negative impact on Bryce.

Under Core Connections, Bryce and his fellow students are organized into teams of three to four students. Bryce says that there is unequal participation among team members, with more advanced students being more involved and carrying more of the work.

Further, not all the groups finish at the same time. Those that finish early can’t go on to harder problems, but have to wait until other teams finish. Oddly, Bryce says that his teacher doesn’t want early finishers to read because that’s English language arts, and not math.

Since the teamwork method started, the class usually doesn’t finish math lessons in time, and sometime it cuts into their science time or the math is simply not completed. Bryce emphasized that this situation happens a lot. When asked if the class starts the next day where they left off the day before, he answers “no,” saying that the class simply goes on to the next new concept.

When asked his thoughts on the new teamwork method, Bryce said that he thought that working in teams was distracting: different ideas were talked about at the same time; there was too much noise from other groups; and, worst of all, much of the conversations were not about math.

Whereas his prior math curriculum allowed him to do math at his own pace, so he was doing eighth-grade math while still a fifth grader, now Bryce says he has to spend a lot of time explaining his answers and go at the same pace as his team.

Bryce’s frustrations with the new Common Core curriculum are having a negative impact on his achievement. According to his mother, for the first time Bryce’s grades are starting to falter, which is worrying her greatly.

Bryce’s problems with the new Common Core curriculum are not unique. Children and parents across the state and the nation are up in arms over the confusion inherent in Common Core curricula. A recent PACE/University of Southern California poll found that 41 percent of Californians surveyed were opposed to Common Core, while only 32 percent supported it, a flip from the poll numbers recorded last year.

As Peggy Noonan observes: “life isn’t lived in some abstract universe; it’s lived on the ground, in this case with harried parents trying, to the degree they can or are willing, to help the kids with homework and study for tests.” Parents seeing their children struggle under Common Core’s liberal teaching methods and philosophy are rebelling, and that rebellion likely spells eventual doom for Common Core.

— Lance Izumi is Koret senior fellow and senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute and the author of the book Obama’s Education Takeover (Encounter Books, 2012).