Common Core Curriculum: Utopia or Just Another Elephant?

Note: This post was written by a guest author.


The United States has been struggling with poor literacy, poor mathematics and poor science skills for decades. While we continue to pour billions of dollars into these education problems every year, the needle has not moved appreciably since World War II. Once we were a leader in education, now we lag behind many other countries based on international testing.

The government claims it has finally discovered utopia — the Common Core Curriculum. Our U. S. Department of Education has carefully studied what a student lacks and needs to become educated as well as to become work-ready and college-ready.

I serve on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Education Committee. Two years ago, the Assistant Secretary of Education and Margaret Spelling, former Secretary of Education and the author of No Child Left Behind, presented to our committee the beginnings of the Common Core Curriculum. They emphasized the importance of being work-ready and college-ready.

After they finished, I looked at both of them and noted, “these are laudable goals, but our students still can’t read.” While they both agreed this was a concern, they didn’t seem to connect the dots that this is the key problem and higher or more complex standards do not and will not fix this problem.

These standards have saddled our schools with more restrictive requirements. We have been teaching to the test for ten years. Yet, I continue to speak with many parents, school district administrators, and teachers who are all frustrated. Frustrated because they must conform to these strict standards and that do not improve our children’s basic reading and math skills. Frankly, it stifles creativity, learning and progress in the classroom.

Here are a few areas of real concern:

  • Our children are no longer learning computation skills. (This isn’t required on the test, so we now use calculators.)
  • There isn’t time to learn handwriting skills. So our students are no longer being taught cursive writing skills.
  • Our students can’t efficiently read a text … they can’t read the words well, yet we must forge ahead and teach the skills mandated for each grade level. I have seen thousands of children, teens and even adults that cannot read well. Yet it is “the elephant in the room.” The elephant is ignored because most educators don’t know how to fix the problem, so it isn’t taught. The Common Core Curriculum doesn’t leave room for basic skills.
  • Our students do not spell or write well. A parent of a student in advanced placement (college) English told me that her son had only written two papers in his entire time in high school. Wow, how can you improve your writing if you don’t practice?
  • Students with learning disabilities, common to every school, must tie their Individual Education Plans (IEP’s) to the Common Core Curriculum at their current grade level. So, for example, you have an eighth grader reading on the second grade level, the IEP is written for that eighth grade level.

I feel sorry for our children. I feel sorry for our educators that are confined by these standards. I feel sorry for our country and our economy when we take a magnifying glass and look at the real problem – “the elephant in the room.” It comes down to basics academic skills. Our Children cannot read, write, spell, compute and problem-solve at the most basic level in too MANY cases.
We continue to raise the bar. Yet we aren’t facing the “elephant in the room.” It’s ironic, isn’t it, that we raise the bar on standards while our schools are faced with declining skills.

So how do we solve this problem? Next month, I will suggest some solutions. I ask myself and the authors of the Common Core Curriculum, “is this really an “education Utopia?” Will it really solve our education problems? Or, only compound them?

Unfortunately, our U.S. Department of Education wants us to “drink the Kool Aid” and believe it is the big utopian fix we have all been seeking for years, decades, and more than half a century.

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About the Author

Dave Hoffman