Tag Archives: K–12

National Common Core Standards: Necessary or Not?

Released by the state school chiefs and governors yesterday, a set of English Language Arts and Mathematics standards that the Obama administration hopes states will adopt is now available on the Common Core State Standards Initiative website. Alaska and Texas opted not to participate in the development.

The goal of the new standards is to unify and make coherent the vision of what K–12 students should know and be able to do, which currently is ruled by each state’s own benchmarks. How the standards will be taught is up to states and teachers.

The current benchmarks vary widely, making school adjustment difficult for students who change schools and comparison of schools in different states in order to judge how schools are performing in their task of educating young people. They also mean that there is duplicate effort 50 times over, as each state addresses the same questions with its own set of personnel and resources.

There are several objections to this plan. One is the loss of local control in states and communities. Another is the need for different approaches to teacher education and massive professional development outlays for current teachers. The cost of textbooks and materials and the need to change standardized tests also loom.

Another type of objection is to the standards themselves. While states in which the standards are seen as a step up seem more likely to sign on—especially as accepting the standards is a criterion for a chance to share in the Race to the Top money—states that already have rigorous standards are not eager to join in. California, Virginia, and Indiana have been named as states that are hesitant to adopt the new standards.

We encourage you to take a look at the standards using the link above, and to take our survey to make your views on the national standards known.





State Curriculum Standards and the News from Texas

Most people who have taught K–12 school—whether in a public or private school or a homeschool—have run across their state curriculum at one point or another.
And not a few concerned parents have had a look, too. Teachers have to hew to this curriculum, which is usually stated in fairly broad terms, leaving a lot of room for interpretation at the district, school, and classroom level.

For example, in the Vermont State History and Social Sciences Standards, students in PreK–4 are expected to “Recognize voluntary and involuntary migration factors (e.g. drought, famine, economic opportunity, conflicts, slavery).” Compare this to the specificity of Texas mandating that the curriculum reference a singer named Julius Lorenzo Cobb who sang “Old Man River” in Showboat.

Yesterday, Rod Paige, former U.S. Education Secretary, and once a superintendent of schools in Houston, addressed this point, critiquing the proposed standards for being too specific, as well as skewing history.

Others agree with Mr. Paige. Often state curriculum issues stay within the state, but the Texas State curriculum, and the Texas Board of Education who vote on it today, have steadily been in the news for making detailed and what some have called “politicized” changes to the Texas social studies curriculum. That the vote was expected to fall along party lines, speaks to this. So does the Wall Street Journal’s characterization of the new curriculum as conveying that America is characterized by its promotion of “low taxes, limited regulation and free enterprise.”

That the issue may escape the Texas borders and affect textbooks for other states concerns people because of the practice known as textbook adoptions. A number of states, including three with large populations—California, Texas, and Florida—use committees to mandate which textbooks can be used in, and therefore purchased by, public schools in the state. There are some variations in the system, but that’s the basic idea. Therefore, for the textbook publishers to be able to make their largest sales, they adapt the material to suit the state curriculum. However, to save money, the textbook publishers then try to reuse as much material from the specialized versions.

Because of this, people in other states have voiced concern that the voice of the Texas Board of Education will be evident in textbooks offered to other states. It has been pointed out, however, that Texas legislation regarding digital learning materials, may change things somewhat, but that’s not clear.

Until it is, it’s worth paying attention to what’s going on in Texas, both if you live in Texas, and if you don’t.

The Texas Social Studies process is documented here.

If you live in Texas and think that the Board of Education is being too specific and/or skewing history, you might want to get involved in the debate. And no matter where you live, you may want to become better acquainted with your state’s curriculum standards.

Both parents and teachers may also be interested in these resources for teaching social studies:

PBS Teachers Pages—A drop-down menu at the top helps you choose grade level and subject area to access activity packs, television programming, lesson plans, and more.

National History Standards from the National Center for History in the Schools

Strategies for Teaching Social Studies from Delaware Social Studies Education Project

Using Music to Teach Social Studies—song titles list by topic area: click through for free lyrics; there’s a fee to download

And homeschooler may enjoy this article about creating a “HomeSchool Social Studies Curriculum.”