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Fact Check: Clearing Up 7 Common Core Claims

East Chapel Hill High School students
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

 The new Common Core standards have been met with growing criticism from many state leaders, teachers and parents. The standards were initially adopted by 45 states and introduced to North Carolina classrooms in 2012. They’re meant to replace a hodgepodge of state standards with one set of clear, consistent goals for what students should learn in Math and English at every grade level.

Supporters applaud the standards for their increased rigor, while many critics argue they’re a flawed experiment. But both supporters and opponents agree that as the debate escalates, much of it is getting weighed down by misinformation.

Below we’ve clarified and added context to some of the most popular criticisms made about Common Core:

“Common Core is a federal takeover of education.”
The federal government did not write the standards, nor does it mandate that states adopt them.

They were developed by organizations made up of governors and school officials - the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. These two groups insist that the development of the standards was state-led and included insight from educators and experts.

Critics, however, complain that the process was “top down,” with not enough input from teachers, parents and school districts. They point to the fact that the federal government incentivized states with financial rewards. States were told that they would have a greater chance of receiving federal Race to The Top grants if they implemented the new standards. The U.S. Department of Education also gave millions of dollars to the two consortia that are creating the national tests that will align with Common Core. Opponents also condemn the fact that private foundations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, helped fund the development of the standards.

“Common Core standards mean students will have to take even more tests.”
Common Core has not led to more assessments.

For decades, North Carolina has implemented state and national tests, regardless of the standards. Today’s tests are aligned to the new Common Core standards. Right now, North Carolina lawmakers are weighing the fiscal and academic consequences of replacing their own state-written with national tests aligned to the new Math and English standards.

The new nationwide assessments would make it easier to compare students across states. Critics, however, worry about the costs associated with them, along with ceding too much control over to national groups. They also argue that Common Core places too much of an emphasis on testing. But because North Carolina has yet to adopt one of the two national testing consortia (PARCC or Smarter Balanced Assessment), it is uncertain whether or not they will require more testing time.

Examples of Common Core standards

“Teachers lack flexibility under Common Core.” 
Many opponents argue that the standards homogenize education in a way that limits the flexibility and creativity of teachers. But supporters contend that Common Core is not a curriculum. Curriculum springs out of the standards, but teachers still decide how to teach their students.  

For example, under one math standard, kindergarteners are required to learn how to count to 100 by ones and tens. Teachers can devise whatever lesson plans or assignments they’d like around counting, as long as they help students meet those goals. 

“The Math Standards Put Children Behind.”
Many critics, especially parents, worry about the math standards. They say the standards don’t prepare students for STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) and that they leave out major topics in trigonometry and pre-calculus. The standards also don’t include a full course of Algebra until high school and end with Algebra II. James Milgram, a math professor who served on the Common Core validation committee, says, “It [Common Core] puts them [students] at least two years behind their peers in high-performing countries, and leaves them ill-prepared for authentic college course work.”

But supporters of Common Core argue that the new standards prepare students for STEM fields more than ever. They explain that students will still learn algebra, geometry and advanced math, but that it’s built on progressions. Students learn math concepts throughout several grades.

Jason Zimba, a lead author of the math standards, also says that it’s up to states to determine how much math students should take to graduate: “Just because the Common Core standards end with Algebra II, that doesn’t mean the high school curriculum is supposed to end there. States still can and still should provide a pathway to calculus for all students who are prepared to succeed on that pathway." 

Overall, the math standards move away from rote memorization and push students to think about why a particular answer is right. They also encourage students to pursue multiple approaches when figuring out a math problem.

“Common Core requires books that are inappropriate for kids.”
The only thing that Common Core requires is the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and Lincoln’s second inaugural address.

Much of the confusion comes from Appendix B in the standards, which includes dozens of titles meant to serve as suggestions for teachers looking for age-appropriate reading material. Those titles include books that some parents say are inappropriate and “pornographic,” but, again, they’re not required. The English standards call for a balance of informational texts and literature. 

“The Common Core Copyright Makes It Hard To Change The Standards.”
Some critics of Common Core say the copyright on the standards will make it difficult, if not impossible, for states to amend them if they wish to do so. But states can make changes to improve them.

During the initial adoption of the standards, states were told that they could only update or change up to 15 percent of the content. Karl Rectanus, an education consultant to the NC Chamber, says the percentage is a "non-issue." State Superintendent June Atkinson also calls the 15 percent rule "irrelevant" and that North Carolina legislators can change or improve the standards as they see fit. Atkinson serves on the Board of Directors of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which helped develop the standards. CCSSO and the National Governors Association hold the copyright.

Common Core is Untested and Unpiloted.”
The standards were not broadly field-tested before implementation, prompting many critics to call it a “flawed experiment.” But supporters of Common Core argue that the standards are founded on data that identifies college and career-ready performance. They also say that Common Core was drawn from the evidence and work of high-performing states and nations. The standards have been implemented in North Carolina for two years and have received a great deal of mixed feedback from education experts and teachers.

>> Browse our Tumblr, it's designed for NC teachers.

>> Kids and test anxiety - tell us your story.

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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