My Turn: Critics overlook the strengths of Common Core

Last modified: 2/19/2015 4:20:12 PM
Barely five years old, the Common Core was produced through the joint efforts of the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Both groups were concerned that our nation’s young people were arriving at college unprepared to succeed there, were not attending college at all, or were unprepared to enter the workforce. In brief, American kids were falling short of the mark here at home and internationally.

The Governors Association and State School Officers took stock of our educational needs and shortcomings. They concluded that shared core standards would improve the preparation all of our kids receive in school. The Common Core emerged from a lengthy, thorough, open process in which all 50 states participated. The skills our kids need to succeed in college and beyond were identified. Then K-12 standards were created in the form of grade-specific expectations focused on reading and mathematics, with a heavy emphasis on critical thinking and analysis of information. The Common Core is designed like a stairway, leading step by step to the sophisticated skills needed for success in the complex world of today.

For example, one of the reading standards expects a third-grader to “compare and contrast the most important points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic.” A sixth-grader is expected to “trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.” The mathematics standards expect high school seniors to be able to “recognize the purposes of and differences among sample surveys, experiments, and observational studies; explain how randomization relates to each.”

You can read all of the standards for yourself at They are freely available to the public and to any school district interested in using them to help with its curriculum design. Although the Common Core is optional here in New Hampshire, virtually all school districts in our state have chosen to use these standards or created their own higher ones. Why? Because they provide an excellent framework for a sound curriculum.

The Common Core is not a federally mandated program. It originated with and was developed by the states, not the federal government. It does not require a curriculum with specific content. It does not require any particular form of testing. It is simply a set of guidelines designed to improve educational outcomes, for local school districts to use as they see fit.

Why would we not want our kids to fully develop their capacity to think critically, to analyze an argument, and to construct rational, reasoned arguments of their own? Why, in this mathematics-dominant age, would we not want them to become true mathematical thinkers who can understand and manipulate quantitative data?

The Common Core is not a testing program.

The plain fact is that testing will continue to be an issue no matter what standards are chosen, and must be resolved apart from whatever standards are in use. Even if Common Core were to go away, schools that accept federal money would still have to give an annual statewide test to demonstrate that funds were well-spent.

To throw out the Common Core’s valuable “stairway to success” because we don’t like testing or because we don’t like Washington or because of whatever else we don’t like, seems foolish indeed. In fact, it flies in the face of plain old New Hampshire common sense. Our kids deserve better. Every step of the way.

(Claire Von Karls of Sugar Hill and Betsey Phillips of Franconia are members of the Northern Grafton County Women’s Political Group.)

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