By Nancy Thorner and Bonnie O'Neil -
Is your child really being dumbed down as Illinois continues with full implementation of nationalized Common Core standards?
There is a growing controversy throughout America. Parents, teachers, state officials, and concerned citizens from most every state have become concerned about the new nationalized education system, known as Common Core. The professors who wrote the commentary “Common Core and Continued Prosperity” published in the O.C. Register (1-27), provided reasons for it being initiated and referred to specific expectations by its promoters, but then failed to adequately address opponents' specific concerns.
The above commentary provided Bonnie O’Neil and me with the impetus to delve into the nature of Common Core which both California and Illinois have endorsed wholeheartedly. An Illinois Education Association (IEA) website explains Common Core Standards under the guise that the resources will provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn to ensure that all students achieve college and career readiness.
The public deserves to know why some states rejected it outright and why other states are now speaking out against it. New York is an example. Their schools incorporated Common Core and have since discovered a multitude of problems, including student test scores that plummeted 60%. According to teachers and parents, even the best and brightest students are discouraged, losing confidence, and no longer enjoy school. The New York State United Teachers Union recently announced they are rejecting Common Core and want to remove their State Education Chief, citing "a lack of confidence" in both.
Meanwhile Alaska, Kansas, and Utah have dropped out of SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) and Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania have dropped out of PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). Both consortiums will be rolling out national tests based on Common Core in the spring of 2015. Both have been using millions of federal tax dollars to promote the controversial testing and curriculum mandates of Common Core.
O'Neil and Thorner first became concerned about Common Core when they learned it was being initiated at a federal level, and fairly covertly at that. Who knew a small committee was working to change our entire education system? Who knew about it being sold to the states? Why did California, Illinois, and most other states agree to sign up for Common Core without any conclusive data proving its effectiveness? There are still parents in O'Neil's county of Orange in California, as in Thorner’s county of Lake in Illinois, who have no idea their child’s education program has radically changed.
Promises and Possibilities are not the same as proof and to have unleashed an unproven education system on most every school in America is simply irresponsible. Shame on the State governors and legislators for agreeing to accept it sight unseen. Was it revealed to state officials that a group of educators on the accreditation committee saw enough wrong with Common Core to refuse signing on to it? Even more revealing is that two of those dissenters were so concerned, they became activists against Common Core, warning all who would listen about its innate problems.
While the Federal government did not force states to accept Common Core, they certainly sweetened the deal by offering federal funding and releasing states from their previous “No Child Left Behind” obligations. Possibly the multi-billion dollar advertising campaign for Common Core helped as well. If this new program was so good, why the need for “perks” and such an expensive advertising promotion?
It is important to emphasize how education is not the federal government’s role. Our Constitution gives states that responsibility for good reasons. The United States is large and varied, making a one-size-fits-all approach is difficult due to varying cultures and job opportunities that differ from state to state. Accepting Common Core Standards means a state must adhere to 85% of it, without any changes or additions. Most of us agree that local control is best and even essential, but Common Core limits what local school districts can now do.
O'Neil’s Orange County Board of Education, after much deliberating, signed a resolution outlining the concerns they have uncovered about Common Core. Some of California's legislators are also expressing a desire to revisit Common Core, due to their lack of information as to whether this education system is right for California.
In Illinois Representative Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) introduced House Resolution 543 in August of 2013 to urge the Illinois State Board of Education to delay the implementation of the Common Core State Standards by filing a common core delay resolution until a fiscal study is done. The resolution was co-sponsored by representatives Sanda Pihos (R-Glen Ellyn), Bill Mitchell (R-Decatur), Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake), and David Leitch (R-Peoria).
What should concern parents here in Illinois is a report by Ben Velderman of students coping with Common Core stress by hiding out in bathrooms and nurse's offices. Sources have told Velderman that "young students are finding Common Core math problems so confusing -- and the amount of class time devoted to working on them so overwhelming -- that they're looking for ways to escape the classroom just to get a mental break. One elementary school teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said:
Educators are under so much pressure to prepare students for the upcoming Common core-aligned standardized tests in math and reading -- known as the PARCC exam, debuting in 2015 -- that they're ramping up math and reading instruction and eliminating a number of other activities from the school day.
Nobody has answered the question of what happens if this experimental, untested program proves to be a failure? Will a generation of school children be so negatively impacted, that they may never recover? What is the back-up plan? We don’t believe there is one! It reminds us of the experimental Fuzzy Math and Whole language programs in schools in the late 70’s. They proved to be failures and disappeared, but not before damaging many students who suffered under them.
Authors of the Orange Register’s commentary, Professors Duncan and Murman, as referenced in paragraph one, stated how America’s education system has fallen behind other countries, and Common Core is the solution to regain our standing. But if that is true, how can one explain our educational system produced a nation of people who have invented, created, and out-performed every other country in the World? Maybe we should look for other reasons to explain the decline in student test scores?
Consider the fault may not lie in our education system, but instead in our declining culture. Parent often rightly believe lower student test scores arelinked to the difficulty of firing non-performing teachers and/or administrators, due to union contracts. Instead of firing, which tenure makes almost impossible, inept teachers are often transferred to specific schools where parents are not as vocal about their ineffectiveness. These parents are summarily convinced that the quality of a classroom teacher matters more than the system to help students succeed.
Educators blame lower test scores on the changing culture, and they offer examples which seem credible. Test scores indicate 80 percent of white students taking the SAT completed the core curriculum, as did 73 percent of Asian students. However, only 69 percent of Latino and 65 percent of black students were able to do so. Students with English as their second language will struggle no matter which teacher or education program they have. Homes with little or no parental support hinder a child's success.
66 is the percentage of Illinois 4th graders who do not read at 4th grade level, according to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests. 61% of 4th graders cannot do 4th grade level math either, according to those same NAEP tests . . . K-12 education is not producing defensible results. And remember, spending on K-12 education in Illinois has increased three-fold in the past two decades (in real terms).
This experimental educational system will cost California taxpayers over $1.8 Billion dollars. The estimated cost for Illinois to adopt Common Corestandards is $799 million. With the federal grant money received to implement Common Core, Illinois' share of the funding amounts to $733 million in a state already experiencing acute financial difficulty. Why are we implementing a costly, unproven program, when we have not made a stronger effort to resolve the most obvious problems first?
Our children are too valuable and our country too vulnerable to be forced into accepting a national education program, based largely on hope and promises and with absolutely no guarantee of proven success!
As many states are finding out, Common Core standards will not succeed in promoting critical thinking, competency, or the marketable jobs skills so necessary in students to meet the challenges and succeed as adults in life.