Friday, August 9, 2013

The Common Core and Homeschooling

I heard an interesting thing last week that I didn't get a chance to write about, but I think it's important.  

There is a new set of education standards that are being adopted across the country.  These standards are what public school teachers use to determine what students at every grade level need to be taught and need to learn.  There have always been state standards around (which have always been problematic and difficult for teachers to implement).  But, there are some new things with the common core--notably the tracking system that is tied to it and education funding/teacher evaluations that are being tied to their implementation.    

Here's the definition of what the common core is from their website (
The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.

Currently there are core standards for Mathematics and Language Arts.  The state we live in is in the process of training teachers to understand and implement these standards.  I heard mention of these standards thirteen years ago when I received my professional teaching license in Colorado.  First year teachers receive a provisional license and can apply for a professional license the next year.  There were rumblings.  Then back in 2010, the core standards came out.  Obama's administration has been pushing them for the past few years and has tied extra education funding to their implementation. States, always wanting more funds, have of course been opting in.  

Rather than getting into the issues of why these are concerns, I want to link to HSLDA's website about the Common Core:   A lot of criticisms of the common core seem to be a bit extremist, but I found a lot of what HSLDA put on their website to be very helpful and informative.

But, here are some of my concerns based on my experience as a former public school classroom teacher, former private school teacher, and now homeschooler:

Last week, I heard a private school administrator explaining that the rumblings and concerns among the networks of private school administrators is how the implementation of these standards will affect the college board tests that private school students must take in order to almost all four year colleges.  I have to be honest, I hadn't really given much thought to it until I heard her concern.  

I think she's right.  As much as homeschoolers want to teach their students for the sake of learning and not achievement, we can't run away from the common core.   HSLDA points out several other concerns on their website, including the tracking of all students from PK-grade 12 and into the workforce.  Honestly, any system that tracks my children and locks them in concerns me.  A system like this can have a number of deleterious effects.  The first one that pops into my head is that parents will be less likely to let their children be tested for learning disabilities unless their are serious concerns and a lot of borderline students who do need help won't get it.  The parent's hesitancy is valid. 

Thankfully, state standardized tests aren't required for homeschoolers at this point in the state we live in.  But, in many states they are.  If homeschoolers' statistics are tracked in such a system and the scores are significantly below that of public schoolers (because we use different curriculum with different scope and sequences), I can imagine a lot of legislators vehemently attacking homeschoolers privacy and rights to direct their children's educations.  Last spring, I administered the ITBS again to a group of homeschooling students.  Before the social studies test, I made a point to explain to the students that this test is about social studies, rather than history--which is what most of them have been learning about.  The goal of both subjects is to give students a sense of where they are in the world and within history--to give them some bearings.  But, they arrive at it by going on different paths and this affects such a test.  

Mathematics is similar.  The math curriculum that our county uses requires students at very young age to do abstract thinking (which is what the Common Core Standards also require).  This type of thinking is very difficult for students and teachers, students, and parents that I know all dislike this curriculum.  But, for some reason, it is still being used.  I have not heard one person say anything positive about this math curriculum in the past eight years that I've lived in Maryland.  Homeschoolers have the freedom to choose a math curriculum that will allow their students' to develop their mathematical thinking skills that is appropriate for them individually.  The common core is an indirect threat to this freedom at this time.  It is directly threatening public school teachers' abilities to adapt lessons to their students' needs.  

I went into a friend's classroom last fall.  She had asked me to come observe her and give some suggestions. It was truly eyeopening to me.  I shared my list with her after the class session and she said no to 95% of my suggestions.  Not because she wanted to.  All of the things I suggested contradicted what the district or school administration required of her--how her classroom be set up, what equipment she use, how she manage two groups of simultaneously talking students, the colors and lighting in the classroom...  Teachers don't get to teach anymore.  They are having to become robots and so are children.

My brother sent me an article from the Economist magazine touting the benefits of individualized education facilitated by computer programs.  There is a school in California where a teacher will be supervising 100 students a day working on computers.  Can you imagine?  I've never known 100 elementary kids in the same room to be able to stay on task without disrupting others with only 1 adult present.  Let me take that back.  I have known schools--they are the ones with children who come from families in a higher socioeconomic status.  At the schools I've taught at with children in lower socioeconomic statuses, this would be a recipe for disaster.  I know this may seem a bit like a rabbit trail, but it all comes back to my biggest concern.  I don't believe that a computer can always educate children better than a human person.  

What I've learned most through homeschooling for the past seven years is that children are not robots.  They cannot all learn material at the same pace or by the same benchmark (whether age or grade).  Their brains are each uniquely wired.  If standards are too high, a lot of children will simply fail and I don't know how our education system will cope with them.  Either they will remediate them with the belief that all students can achieve the same academic goals, or they will hide them.  What if students who've received extra help still can't achieve the specific goals that the education system sets for them, what will happen then?

We live in a country that adamantly believes that everyone can achieve the same thing if they just have the right tools.  But, this is a fallacy.  We aren't all supposed to be clones of one another.  Some people are gifted electricians, some people are cosmetologists, some are gifted care givers, some are gifted in engineering and architecture...  Some people like to read books and others don't.  Some people process information best visually, some auditorily, and some kinesthetically.  Our brains simply don't all work the same.  Tying 50% of a teacher's evaluations to students meeting the core standard benchmarks is a horrible idea in my opinion.  But, more than that, basing a child's worth (which will be indirectly communicated to them) upon their achievement of such standards is an even greater travesty.  What will we be telling the children about what is important?  

Teachers need to be held accountable and students need tools, but we need fight against practices that want to turn both into robots.  Teachers need to be held accountable and students need tools, but we need fight against practices that want to turn both into robots.  Having academic goals/standards for students and teachers is not an entirely bad thing. They help provide a common base of knowledge and guide teachers in what they should teach.  It is the implementation, requirements, and regulations that are coming with this set that are problematic.

I just wanted to share my thoughts about this.  I'm concerned for our education system.  

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