My Thoughts on the Common Core

Common Core hasn’t ever been a part of my actual life, and as we are starting at homeschooling from pre-k, it hasn’t touched the life of my child either, in a direct way.  The curriculum we are currently using, Moving Beyond The Page, is based on state and national standards, and is organized into unit studies in the way in which Common Core is supposed to.  I am by no means an expert at Common Core and all its ins and outs, but it has been on my mind lately.  I am reading some of the suggested materials for the Global Village School curriculum that I am planning on using for Kindergarten, and I like these materials because they are guides to teach me to be the best teacher for my child and give me a huge array of activities to choose from to meet her at her level in reading, writing, math, art, etc., rather than having a detailed guide which may or may not work for us and place her into some predetermined level for average kids her age.

The thing is that when I began homeschooling a few months ago, I was not opposed to the Common Core, actually, my view of it was kind of positive.  What the idea behind the principles of Common Core are were actually something that I wished for as a student in high school.  I hated that I had to cover the same material a few months apart in both History and Literature, and wished that the teachers could just work together so that materials were aligned and we could just do it all at the same time.  I have also found that I do Common Core math without having been taught it: adding 8 to 10 to get 18 is how I do math in my head, even in multiple sequences, and I never really rote memorized multiplication tables because I found it easier to add instead.  I’m sure that multiplication is part of Common Core math, it’s just my example.

I went into homeschooling happy that I had found this curriculum that used unit studies and taught the basics of Common Core addition and beginning subtraction.  I like the idea of unit studies, and I think they can work, but I’m finding myself turning away from liking Common Core to finding it very…constraining, invalidating to the student, and adding much unnecessary busy work to both the student and teachers in public schools.  I think that Common Core/unit studies could work, but I have deduced that they are being implemented in the most incorrect manner and really detracting from the learning experience for the student and the teaching experience/job satisfaction of the adult.  I have a friend who is a middle and high school biology teacher, we’ll call him Mr. Smith, and my discussions with him really validated this thought.

You see, the way that Common Core could make sense would be to use unit studies and connect the teachers in a web throughout that study.  An example for my idea for how this unit study would work would be if the student were studying oceans in Biology.  For that Biology class, the student would do their studies of oceans, and perhaps write a paper.  The Biology teacher would correct the paper for factual correctness, but then it would be passed on to the Literature teacher to be corrected for proper editing.  Each teacher would give a grade for the same paper.  In the Literature class, required reading might be Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, or some other book related to the sea, this would reinforce information learned in Biology class.  US and World History could also be integrated, as well as Math, Art, Music, and so on.  This would, though, take much cooperation and communication from the teachers (which always seemed like it might be a good thing when I was in school).  My intention would not be to make more work for the teachers and less for the students, but less for both, because do the kids really need more homework and wouldn’t it be nice to work together?

Instead, what Mr. Smith described to me as the changes he has seen since Common Core was instituted was that it has made his life much harder because he has to grade editing correctness, and it invalidates students who have previously demonstrated proficiency in the class but that may be poor writers by now needing to worry about punctuation and spelling. So a student who was once an ace in his class now fails because he isn’t good at figuring out where semicolons belong, and now learns to dislike Biology as well as Literature, and potentially drops out of school because he just can’t get ahead.  To  me, it sounds like Common Core was a “good idea” but is being executed in a very poor manner.

My sister, who is a former children’s librarian and elementary school teacher, had another point that made me stop and think.  Particularly in lower grades where children learn different things at very different paces, it’s necessary to go faster and slower to address their needs and would thus be very easy to fall behind.  If my example described above is the method used, what happens when one class does falls behind in order to keep all children on track?  Does that child/ren get left behind in the subject matter?  That doesn’t make sense.  Do the other classes have to slow way down to follow the class that is behind?  That would cause the entire grade to get behind, which would then cause subsequent grades to fall behind, or force them to leave subject matter out or be tested on unlearned material.

The more I read about child development at the pre-k and kindergarten level, the more I think that Common Core just can’t work for younger children.  One child may know how to spell their name at 3 and another may not learn to spell it proficiently until they are 5.  My 4-year-old can count to 50 or higher, but not all 4-year-olds can.  Some children are beginning to write at four, and others are not interested until they are seven.  There is also the general rules of gender that place boys more physically or mentally prepared to begin something than girls, or the other way around.  As well, home life really affects a child’s reading readiness, as a child who was read to from day one will probably be ready before another who was not read to on a regular basis.  Thus, trying to fit young children into the same box for kindergarten subjects doesn’t make sense at all.  Unfortunately, (or fortunately) there many boxes of many sizes and colors and shapes that our children fit into and a large square box will not fit into a small circular one.

Actually, the longer I homeschool my daughter and the more I read about homeschooling and education, the more I feel that traditional schools all ready had it fairly wrong, and Montessori schools are a wonderful thing.  The more people I talk to, the more I hear that sentiment, and I am left wondering how the public school system has held on for so long, and how the Common Core was even allowed to be developed – and then implemented.  No one seems to like it.  Our local school district has “embraced the Common Core,” for better or for worse, and though I started homeschooling with no certain goal in mind for how long I plan to do it, I am now wanting to continue until the children are old enough to decide themselves, or until graduation.  It takes time and money, but it sure is worth it!

As for our current curriculum and unit studies, I have decided to change curriculums next year to a more flexible one, Global Village School, though I still like unit studies.  I do still like them, but my experiences thus far with Moving Beyond The Page is that they can be overly redundant, which makes learning boring, particularly if the material is something that my daughter is all ready proficient in.  I intend to continue to use unit studies, but not for every study.  The joy of homeschooling is to go where your kids lead, and if something is really uninteresting to them, you can move away from it and explore the concepts in a different way.  As for public schools, I have drawn the conclusion that unit studies and my example above could work, but would be best for higher grades, like 8th and above, because the learning pace of younger children is so individualized, and it is so important to give them a firm, validating, and fun foundation to instill the love of learning.

Share your thoughts: How do you feel about the Common Core?

 

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