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Common Core: What Difference Does it Make?

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Prior to the first meeting of the North Carolina Common Core Study Committee, NC legislators received hordes of emails from activists attempting to emphasize just how horrendous the standards are by including egregious examples from curriculum handouts now popping up from around the nation because of Common Core. However, it was made clear to legislators at the start of the meeting that questions related to curriculum or to the privacy intrusion concerns with Pearson Power School were off limits. Superintendent Atkinson and others would address issues strictly related to standards, only.  A couple of members brought up examples taken from worksheets that had been emailed to them; however, once these non-germane curriculum questions were suppressed, some of our good legislators seemed as though they didn’t quite know what questions to ask relating specifically to standards.

So here is what all NC legislators need to know about the standards: Common Core Standards are detrimental because they are not developmentally appropriate, meaning that the standards do not take into account the physical brain development of children. It is common knowledge in child development fields that a child’s brain physically differs from an adult’s brain, and different stages of development provide for a distinguished range of capabilities.

Early elementary students are not physically suited to engage in abstract thinking activities, such as those outlined by Common Core Standards, because the region of a human’s brain tasked with such activities is yet undeveloped in young children. If you would like more information about how the Common Core Standards are incompatible with stages of child development, I would recommend watching the following 30-minute presentation from Child Clinical Psychologist (and mom) Dr. Megan Koschnick: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrQbJlmVJZo.

The field of child developmental psychology was not consulted in the drafting of the Common Core standards. In fact, 500 experts of early child health and education-related fields have since signed a letter rebuking the standards. Here are some examples of minimum writing requirements for kindergarteners, listed on page 19 of the Common Core Standards:

  • Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.

  • Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to narrate a single event or several loosely linked events, tell about the events in the order in which they occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened.

  • With guidance and support from adults, respond to questions and suggestions from peers and add details to strengthen writing as needed.

  • With guidance and support from adults, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.

  • Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., explore a number of books by a favorite author and express opinions about them).

These do not seem like reasonable requirements for kindergarteners to me! Teachers, also, confirm that the standards are not appropriately tailored to stages of learning development. In an account from one kindergarten teacher on her experience attempting to implement the writing standards, it is stated:

“I teach kindergarden. The five-year olds have an incredibly tight schedule to keep in our county: an hour of math, hour of science, 2 hours of language arts, half hour of social studies. We kindergarten teachers have had to sneak in rest time and social centers (such as puppets, blocks, housekeeping, playdough) which are so critical to their development.

and

They have been forced to sit through the two close readings that go on for three days each and require them to write notes and then sentences to explain what they learned. My poor babies turned in papers with sentences made of fragments from our fact chart we had made, but they hung their heads because they couldn’t read the sentences they’d managed to write. I hugged them, told them they were great, and gave them chocolate. Then I reported that only 4 of my students passed….another poor reflection on my teaching.” (hat tip to A.P. Dillion of Stop Common Core NC for the excerpt)

Expecting a kindergartener to engage in thought processes beyond their scope of physical capability creates stress and feelings of inadequacy, and is therefore morally reprehensible. As young children explore their world, they seek answers from adults. Classical methods of instruction prescribe that k-3 age children should be given direct information rather than expected to derive fundamental facts on their own, and their later critical thinking will be advanced from having the memorization of basics as a foundation to build upon.

The Common Core method of teaching during the k-3 years has a noticeable impact on the child’s ability to learn and think critically in later years of education. I recently spoke with a 5th grade math teacher here in North Carolina who says that his job is made particularly difficult by the fact that children are entering his classroom without having memorized the basics. How can one teach long division when a student does not have their multiplication tables memorized? The children require more time to solve the problems than should be necessary because they are having to first figure out the basics. How can one teach critical thinking in math, such as applying math formulas in order to derive solutions to real-world scenarios, when the students haven’t memorized what the formulas are?

This point has been countered by NC Superintendent June Atkinson by noting that memorizing multiplication tables is one of the items included in North Carolina’s standards. Short-term memorization of a particular number set for one week’s test, never to be considered again because of the monstrous amount of time that must instead be dedicated to forcing tasks of which a student is fundamentally unable to perform, does not constitute having effectively learned the content, nor does it make up for the harm caused by the overall structure of inappropriate learning methods.

It has been noted by legislators that the memorization that has taken place for some time now in public schools consists of memorizing for the test and forgetting the information afterward. We all agree that children in the public school system should be engaging in more critical thinking, but only once they reach the stage of learning development in which it is appropriate to invoke these education methods. Trying to push abstract thinking too early, as is the case under Common Core standards, causes more harm than good because the critical thinking is forced (faked), and children then miss out on what they actually should be doing during k-3 years in order to be prepared for higher thinking.

The next Raleigh meeting of the Common Core Study Committee is Feb 20. Please help arm our representatives with information by sharing the content of this article with them. Once again, no public input will be allowed. Study Committee Member Rep. Larry Pittman is holding a Common Core town hall of his own in order to hear the input of residents. The Citizens Study Committee of Common Core will be held on Thursday, Feb. 13, 6:15 PM at Jay M. Robinson High School 300 Pitts School Rd SW, Concord, NC 28027.

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