Friday, October 4, 2013

Why Homeschoolers should care about Common Core

I will admit that, until a month ago, Common Core was just a sticker on our math workbooks.  I rolled my eyes at it - true- but I ignored it.  After all: I teach math the way I was taught, and these books give me the examples for my kids to work.  Why do I care what the (admittedly brief) explanations at the top of each page say?

A friend was kind enough to explain to me that there is FAR MORE to this issue than just more sad educational pedagogies.  And I started my research.

The results are awful, and impact ALL of us.

Fuzzy math continues.  Just like that horrible curriculum that was going around years ago, Common Core supports the idea of 'constructivist' math.  Kids are encouraged to EXPLAIN their math answers, rather than concentrating on getting the problem correct.  Never mind that actual brain and child development science says young children cannot make correct logical assumptions about abstract ideas, no!  Common Core moves full-speed ahead on that crazy train.  Then there is the sticky-wicket of what exactly is, and is not, in the math standards.  Prof. Stotsky and Prof. Milgram, both of whom were on the validation committee for the standards and refused to sign them, attest to the poor outlook for students.  And regardless of what path one chooses, there is no route to high school calculus.  Kids who have to be remediated in college rarely go on to a high-level degree.  Which means: if your child goes through the Common Core, the chances that he or she will become a doctor or a scientist are slim to none.  But, as we are constantly told, service jobs are what we really need!  And not to worry: the supply of burger flippers and waitresses will be plentiful.

 Questionable ELA practices abound.  My biggest gripe is with the incredibly boring 'informational texts'.  Due to an untested, unproven, ratio-out-of-nowhere number, informational text will now be 50-70% (depending on grade) of your child's reading in school.  It will replace more interesting reads for kids who- due to terrible reading instruction- already hate reading.  To explain my issue on the problem with 'informational text', I will quantify my opinion with this:  I am mother to one child who was hurt by questionable reading practices in the public school system.  I am also mom to a child who, despite being grade levels ahead in reading (learning with the same questionable practices) had zero comprehension and loathed reading.  Finding material my children WOULD read has been as important as remediating their phonics.  Kids who hate reading, and struggle to do it, coupled with tasteless books is a toxic brew.  Let's consider for a moment: you don't read very well, but you need to read a book for school.  Would you pick a wonderful adventure story full of swords and dragons, or a dry story about the development of the paper bag (pg 98)?  Would you pick up a book about living on other planets and spaceships or would you sit down enthusiastically with a manual on depth of insulation (pg 138)?  What if you were a boy?  A girl?  My daughter is currently studying fish for her science, her request.  But she would NEVER read "Cod: A biography of the fish that changed the world" (pg 131) on her own.  BOOOORING.    MSDS fact sheets serve a purpose.  Forcing kids to read the equivalent to 'prepare' them for future workplace reading is just ridiculous.  It is not hard to imagine kids will stop reading altogether.  They will never learn to really enjoy it, so why bother?

And the problems don't stop there.  The standards, despite claims to the contrary, are not 'benchmarked' nor do they prepare kids for 'College and Career'.  They won't help public schooled kids to compete globally (whatever that may happen to mean).  From the Journal of Scholarship and Practice:
 "...The standards have not been validated empirically and no metric has been set to monitor the intended and unintended consequences they will have on the education system and children (Mathis, 2010).  Yet most of the nation‘s governors, state education leaders, and many education organizations remain committed to the initiative.

Surely there must be more compelling and methodologically strong evidence available not yet shared with the general public or education researchers to support the standardization of one of the most intellectually diverse public education systems in the world.

Or, maybe there is not?" (pg 3)

There are tons of other implications, though, that go far beyond those effects for public schooled kids.  I have provided links to websites at the bottom which explain the history of the common core better than I possibly could, and dispel the myths.  I won't waste your time discussing them again here.  But I WOULD like to address one myth:
"They are just standards!"
If you look at the CCSS, alone, they are indeed just a set of incredibly dry standards.  They are devoid of all application or instruction.  But I offer you the following links to make up your own mind on whether calling these 'just standards' is an accurate description of their entirety.  These standards are copyrighted, states AGREED to adopt them as they ARE.  States CAN add 15%, but they cannot subtract or change ANY of the existing standards. 

Common Core Standards Math
Common Core Math Appendix A 
Common Core Standards English
Common Core English Appendix A
Common Core English Appendix B

Scholastic Common Core reading list

P21 Common Core Toolkit
Common Core training (on ... Social Studies?)
Using Common Core to teach teachers
Education Policy Breakfast (this gave me chills!)

 Now, just for fun, choose any 3 lessons on youtube toted as 'common core'.  See how many of those deal with either cuture, minorities, or environment.  See how many have the class in groups.  How many include 'informational' books rather than literature?  If these videos represent the best- or, at least, a representative group of classrooms- aren't the similarities almost eerily obvious?  If the standards- as the proponents claim- are JUST a set of standards, what is leading each and every teacher to teach in exactly the same fashion, with the same verbiage?  I have no specific problem with teaching any of those pieces: my kids love informational books, every kid should know about recycling, and certainly minorities have been under-represented in public schools.  I also think  learning about other countries is important, as is understanding other cultures.  But when schools are teaching ONLY or MOSTLY those things, it stops being education and begins to creep into indoctrination.  And what about the kids, like me, who preferred to work alone?  Or what about my daughter, sassy and smart but a little bit shy?  Neither of us would be well-served working solely in groups.     

And that argument- that it's JUST standards- is often followed up with the statement,"so tell me what standard, specifically, you don't like."  That's just it, isn't it?  It isn't about the individual standards.  It is the entire package: the lack of actual rigor, the lack of actual international benchmarking, the lack of knowledge of the value of the thing (because they have never be tested, anywhere at all), the failure of these standards to concentrate on anything except future service jobs for our next generation of men and women, devoid of deep thought or knowledge, and devoid of real contributions to society.  It isn't standard 3.2.2 that is the problem: it is the big picture.  And anyone who retreats into the argument 'it's just standards!' hasn't really done their research. The reality is that it may not (yet) tell teachers exactly what textbooks to use, but it IS telling them exactly how to teach and on what timeline.  That is a crime against good teachers, and a crime against all children.  GOOD teachers know how to differentiate instruction for different kids, know what works best in their own classrooms, and need the space to adjust as necessary. In short, Common Core uses questionable pedagogies and training on teachers.  I encourage you to do your own research and make your own conclusions, however.

I'm not blaming teachers here- I have known some incredible ones.  But whether it is an effort by teacher colleges to streamline all teachers into one mold, or common core directing teachers to all teach the same, the results are at best stultifying, at worst a weird twist on 'The Step-ford Wives'.  The list on the Common Core website may just be standards, but teachers are being trained to handle them in a manner that is something greater than that.

I will get into more of the the issues with Common Core in a moment, but let me interject this: when did the purpose of education become JUST about college and future jobs?  Do we no longer want free thought, debate, and invention in this country?  Do we no longer care about kids who can think deep thoughts because (as they say) that won't help them in their 'college and career'?  Personally, I'd rather have a mechanic with a PhD than a doctor who can't think his way out of the aforementioned paper bag.  What, ultimately, is the purpose of public schools? 

Of note to homeschooling families, we are also under the gun to teach to these flawed standards.  The GED, SAT, and ACT will all be aligned.  And one of the key investors in Common Core is now throwing money at colleges.  Indeed, the College Board president, David Coleman, was formerly working with Common Core- can you guess what that will mean?

I know- I thought exactly what you are thinking: "I've seen fuzzy math.  My kids know SOLID math.  They will ace those tests regardless, and they will still do well."

But you have to understand that a big component in the education system is 'changing attitudes'.  I'm not kidding.  So it isn't about whether or not your child can do the math problem, it is about whether or not your child can 'explain' the answer, using their language.  And I would bet money my kids can't: my kids are encouraged to make their own shortcuts in their heads AFTER they know, and can do, the long forms. THAT is free-thought, deeper thought, and critical thinking.  But I don't teach those things: they are the naturally occurring phenomenon when kids GET IT.  Their descriptions and methods may differ, but the end result is speedy accurate MATH.  Common Core values the explanation over the result.

There is also the Data Mining.  And they specifically mention homeschooling students (slide 35).  What is Data mining?  It is the act of collecting over 400 bits of information on each student, including religious affiliation and politics. We aren't talking about schools trying to determine which kids are at physical risk at home, here.  These aren't questions intended to protect children: no, these are questions that ask for bits of information about children and their families to go into a database for future use.  And just who will have access to that information?  Why, nearly anyone, including vendors (salespeople).  Any one.  It is a spying and collection network that (to me) rivals the NSA and DHS.  And the government wants to track our children from pre-school to age 20- cradle to career.  THEY DO NOT NEED YOUR CONSENT. 

There are larger implications as well.  Three federal laws were broken, and the Federal Government's involvement in Education is unconstitutional. Common Core was written in secrecy and snuck in under the radar.  It opens the door for future laws and restrictions on all Americans, not just those with children.  If the federal government can impose a federal set of standards (with enough 'teacher workshops and 'teacher training' to turn it into a curriculum) on a nation with millions of children, how long before homeschoolers are forced to use the same common core garbage or risk having our curriculum fail and our children forced back into a system we escaped from?  How long before we are all forced to 'teach to the standards', no matter how we feel about them?  And how long before our children become victims of this mass disaster?  Even if our children manage to make it through this, what sort of adults will our society be comprised of in the future? 

We have personal reasons for fighting against the common core, but we also owe it to the public schooled children we know, the teachers, and the good people out there who just don't realize how bad this monster is.  We need to stop it before it gets going, we need to stand together and tell our federal government that freedom in education means excellence, that children are not cookie-cutter creations, that our kids can do, and deserve, much much better.  We homeschool for a wide variety of reasons, but it really boils down to choice: we choose to do this differently than the public schools do.  Don't give the federal government the opening it needs to take that choice away from us.

Read this mom's story

Please note: all links provided in this document are the views of their individual authors.  I also would like to note that in no way does this blog post pretend to give a 'balanced view' of the issue.  You are urged to further your reading in all directions to form your own opinion.  I will add more links as I find them. 

Links for further reading:

"Close Reading is Close to a Con"
"Warning: Close reading questions pose more problems than they appear"
Teacher results: "How Common Core is Slowly Changing My Child"
Teacher results: "Common Core Kills the Dinosaurs, Again"
Teacher results: "Playtime's Over, Kindergarteners"
Teacher results: "I teach kindergarten and I hate what I am doing in my classroom"
"A New Kind of Problem: The Common Core Math Standards"
"For Common Core: a new challenge- from the left"
"Common Core expects 9 year olds to be expert typists"
"Child Psychologist: Common Core Early Elementary Standards Inappropriate"
Collection of Articles by Prof. Stotsky
Prof. Milgram on the new Common Core Standards in math
Houghton-Mifflin (writing prompts in math?!)
Common Core State Standards
Reading list: Scholastic
Reading list: Barnes and Noble
"Obama Administration Demands Teacher Redistribution for NCLB Waivers"

Questionable Assignments: "Common Core Math is Ridiculous"
Questionable Assignments: "Adult-themed homework sent home from Gilbert Elementary School"

Assessment Testing:

"Test Scores plummet after New York Adopts Common Core Standards"
"Common Core Standards Early Results are in"(Kentucky)
SBAC website
SBAC sample questions (scroll down)
"At Common Core talk, a principal says his reality includes vomit"

Data Mining:

"What is Being Data-mined without parental consent?"

Valuable videos:

GREAT speaker: Peg Luksik (1) (2)
GREAT speaker: Jenni White
Valuable History and complete information
Indoctrination in ELA texts (see more on the Zaner Bloser website)
Stop Common Core  (short segments!) (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
Stop Common Core Rally New Hampshire

What the people in charge of this say:

Duncan with Charlie Rose
David Coleman SDP Beyond the Numbers Convening
Education Policy Breakfast
Creator of Common Core explains what 'college readiness' REALLY means
Linda Darling-Hammond (still think it's "Just Standards"?)

Prof. Sandra Stotsky Discusses Common Core
Prof. James Milgram Discusses Common Core

Valuable websites (just a few of many!):

Utahns against Common Core
Truth in American Education
No Common Core Maine

And coming soon to a school near you:

Next Gen Sci Standards 
Preliminary opinon on the NGSS ("One Core to Rule them All"!)

Social Studies C3 'Framework' 
Using the NCSS (now called C3) Social Studies Framework 
NCSS Social Studies "Ideas for the Classroom teacher"

I also invite you to take a look at the 'resources' listed on the Council of Chief School Officers Website:

And finally, from Whiteboard Advisors:
  “When will this Administration finally get it they can’t outsmart everyone and they can’t legislate perfect decisions for everyone? It might just be that we will always have good schools, average schools, and poor schools.  And unfortunately, not everyone will choose good or even average.  Setting up some system that allows the federal government to prevent people from doing anything considered ‘bad’ is hubris in the extreme and a misunderstanding of how choice, for better or worse, in higher education has made our system, on average, the best in the world.”


  1. WOW!!! GREAT POST and awesome collection of links! THANK YOU!

  2. Wonderful post. I was just talking about this tonight at dinner with some friends. I am going to have to peruse more of the links later, but I just can't emphasize enough what a horrible idea this experiment is that we are trying out on the American school children.