Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Understanding Common Core

"Common Core is a plot by communists to turn my kid gay and put dirty illegal Mexicans under my bed!!!" Not quite. Colorado adopted Common Core some time ago and my kids have been in it for two years now. I have seen what it does, how it works and how it doesn't. Let me explain what Common Core is, what it does right and what it does wrong.

Let's start by stating what Common Core is NOT. Common core is not a conspiracy against Jesus. It is not radical Islam's nose under the tent. It does not suggest atheism. It is not a socialist conspiracy. It has nothing to do with gays. Indeed, it has no political, religious or anti-religious content. It was not kept secret from the public; you can actually see it online any time you want. In fact, none of the conspiracy theories pimped by people like Glenn Beck and Drudge are true... and they know that.

So what is it?

Common Core is a program developed by a large number of experts with the intent of creating national minimum standards that every state should meet. This is actually a conservative idea we've argued for for years: that American education needs standards (or better standards) and testing to confirm that children are satisfying those standards. Indeed, conservatives should be jumping for joy. But you know...

Anyways, what these experts created was a thorough, yet bare-boned curriculum intended for K-12. It is thorough in the sense that it outlines the specific areas of learning, concepts and skills that children should learn at each grade level. In this regard, it covers everything. It is not just wishful thinking: "Wouldn't it be nice if our kids were smart by fourth grade?" Instead, it provides a long list of requirements students should be able to meet at each grade level. At the same time, however (and this is key), it is also bare bones. This means that while it lists skills the students should be able to master, it does so without providing details on how that should be done. In other words, Common Core outlines key ideas and concepts that should be introduced at each grade level but it does not explain how those concepts should be taught. For example, a fifth grader might be required to write a five paragraph essay, but it does not state what topic those essays should be about nor does it prescribe a method for making them write the essay. In some areas, it does offer suggestions, like listing examples of books they might read, but those are only examples. They are not part of the curriculum.

That is Common Core.

Now, that said, there is another level to Common Core. Once Common Core got adopted by the individual states, it was up to the states themselves to fill in the blanks. In other words, Common Core gave them a long list of requirements, but it was up to the states to figure out how to teach students to satisfy those requirements. Most states took their existing educations plans and simply upgraded them to add the new Common Core requirements. In the end though, most of what happened was that these bare-bones requirements were simply pushed down to the school/class level and the teachers were told, "Here's what your kids need to be able to do, go figure it out yourself."

So consider this for a moment. If you had been told: "Common Core is a new set of minimum standards which are more strict than what is currently taught in 40+ states. It works by giving teachers a list of 8-10 math/English skills the kids in their class must be able to meet. And then kids will be tested periodically to ensure they are meeting the standards." Would that have bothered you? I doubt it.

So where do the complaints of Beck and Drudge and these other scaremongers come from? Well, when you see a Drudge headline about some school doing something pro-Islam, pro-gay or pro-whatever, those are decisions made by individual teachers or school administrators. They do not spring from Common Core. And the fact that they are happening in single classrooms only rather than district-wide, state-wide or nation-wide should prove that.

Anyways, there is one problem with Common Core. Testing and standards are a conservative idea. To give liberals something, Common Core was based on the idea of... let's call it mental diversity. The idea is this: "not all kids learn the same way. So rather than force all kids to learn one method, let's teach multiple methods and let the kids pick the one or two that work for them." That's what liberals got, and honestly, I think that's a good idea. For one thing, it is true that people learn differently. And if two kids need to use different methods to perform the same skill, what sense does it make to force them both to use the same method? Further, learning different methods is likely to give kids a bigger picture of what they are doing, so that their understanding of each skill will be both deeper and more broad. That's a good thing too. So I have no problem with this either and I'm not sure why anyone would?

But this is also where the real problem has arisen.

The problem is this. Rather than making sure that each method taught is a good method, the people who got into the nitty gritty proved to be idiots. In particular, a lot of states are using a guidebook designed by "experts" in New York. These morons included every method they could think of in their guidebook whether they were good methods or not. Hence, when students are taught from this guidebook, they are taught tried and true methods, they are taught secondary methods that take more time but are probably easier for some kids, and they get taught methods that make no f***ing sense whatsoever. This last category is responsible for the periodic posts you see online where parents complain that they don't understand their kids' homework and can't help them.

It's important to understand, however, that these nonsense methods are in addition to the good ones -- they do not replace the good ones.

I can tell you from personal experience that we've run into some of these. Indeed, some of the problems we've run into include the use of methods that make no sense, methods that require you to know the answer to work the problem, and methods that absorb a vast amount of time to reach an answer that could be gotten in seconds using any other method. Fortunately, the idea behind Common Core is that once the child has learned these methods, they are free to choose whichever method works best for them. Hence, we have guided our daughters to the traditional methods that work best and we tell them to forget the stupid methods. Their teachers seem to do the same.

In any event, this issue could be remedied by removing the idiotic methods from the guidebook without changing the rest.

So let me sum this up. Common Core has no political content. It is about education skills. At the level of "Common Core" (the federal level), it's actually a total victory for conservatives. At the state level, it did little more than force states to raise their standards, but left them free to decide how to achieve those standards. At the classroom level, Common Core is doing what it is supposed to do -- it has raised standards and thereby improved the quality of education -- but with a caveat. The caveat is that it also wastes some time teaching some nonsense methods which students disregard.

That is Common Core.


AndrewPrice said...

Off topic: It looks like the Trump "battery" incident is an invention of Michelle Fields. There's a video now. It shows that she touched Trump twice, was told by the Secret Service to stop touching him and to stay away. She then tried a third time. As she does, Trump's campaign manager steps between them and grabs her arm for less than a second to block it. They then part. That's it.

She, however, described the incident as him grabbing her arm and trying to throw her to the ground with such force that she could barely maintain her balance. The video shows that this is rather false.

tryanmax said...

I find it telling that while Beck et al get all exercised about Common Core pushing leftist politics, the only thing anyone actually complains about are math problems. And while I have seen some of those ridiculous methods, more often than not, I see posts claiming rather basic math problems, such as story problems, to be unworkable. Honestly, I think a large portion of the backlash against Common Core from the public is from people who never learned math.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I've seen that too. It seems to be that the thing that has people hung up is math problems they don't understand.

That said, let me be clear -- there are some stupid methods being taught. But they are in addition to the good ones, so it's not like kids aren't learning what they need to learn. They are just being taught some useless stuff too.

AndrewPrice said...

Let me add this about the opposition by people like Beck. He bases it on an intentional or utterly reckless false description of the program and then reinforces his attack with a handful of examples of abusive teaching practices that hit the news (a teacher who makes two girls kiss, a teacher who wants kids to write "Allah is the only god"). The thing is, none of his examples actually have anything to do with common core. They are just single bad teachers who essentially go rogue.

To give an analogy of how false this is, it's a bit like this:

Imagine a megachurch with 50,000 members. One person few even know attends the church gets arrested for child molestation. Beck then attacks the entire church for "teaching a doctrine of child molestation." That's the equivalent of what he's doing to Common Core.

And unfortunately, his audience is pissed off, conspiratorial/paranoid and stupid, so they believe what he tells them without verification and despite lots of evidence and logic to the contrary.

BevfromNYC said...

I don't have children, so I do not know much about the issues of CC. However just that you say that the handbook was written by New York educators and that alone raises alarms. NY hasn't figured out how to teach basic skills like reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic. Test scores are so low that they actually lowered what a passing grade is.

Since I was in public school, academics have been screwing with education and trying to find some magic key. Mostly with young children it's repetition and memorization, not high concepts of Common Core mathematics. I have many retired teacher friends who cannot understand what is happening when 50% of the students who graduate from NY schools cannot read, write, or do simple math. We have an overabundance of remedial classes taught in Comm. colleges to diploma-caring HS graduates to catch up.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, It is the New York book where the problems arise. BUT keep this in mind. First, the book didn't set the agenda, it only tried to provide guide for how to meet the agenda. Secondly, the book is only used in some places. Third, even the teachers that use it often ignore the stupid parts.

With out daughters, most teachers ignore the New York stuff entirely. A couple have used it, but they ignored or downplayed the parts that didn't make sense and they used the rest as guidance only. How to teach is still up to the teachers.

Anthony said...

My daughters are 11 and 14. They had problems adjusting when Common Core debuted but now they are back on track.

It is tougher than the old curriculum (sometimes I have to go to YouTube to figure out how to help) but I'd rather they be challenged and sometimes even frustrated and know more than coast through school and know less.

It's still not all that tough. There are private schools whose students envy kids who merely have to master CC level lessons. Of course then the sorts of parents who don't want their kids to be challenged (which often forces more parental involvement) would be in even greater hysterics.

tryanmax said...

I have to disagree on memorization being the way to teach young kids. It is the best way for base concepts, like a letter sounds and number values, upon which other things are built. But kids seem to retain ideas better when they understand why they work.

I think math is taught in a much smarter way now than it was even when I was a kid, and I was at the forefront of some of this conceptual learning that is more commonplace now. Think about it, we don't teach kids to read and appreciate literature by having them nearly memorize texts. How then do we expect kids to use and appreciate math by only memorizing functions? Intuitively, I think we all understand that memorization is a precursor to true learning, and the difficulty has been applying that understanding to the teaching of math as more and more complex forms of math become necessary as part of a basic education. I think education is just catching up to the way the world is.

ScottDS said...

I read this line...

"...Common Core is a program developed by a large number of experts..."

...and realized that's the problem right there. When has any hardcore rightwing blogger trusted experts or a team of anything? :-)

BevfromNYC said...

Scott - Neither side trusts experts and teams who do not comport to their chosen doctrine. Bit remember we are speaking of the doctrinaire wingers more than the squishy middle grounders

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, It depends of what your state does with it. Places like Massachussettes, which had higher standards already just added the few things they were missing and kept right on going as they had. Places like West by God Virginia had to advance their children quite a lot. So depending on where you are at, Common Core may or may not have been a big step forward.

From my own personal perspective, I would say that they resulted in a small but noticeable improvement over what we already had in Colorado. And Colorado tends to be in the top 10-15 range on education already.

I agree that a lot of people who are complaining are complaining because this program is just harder than they wanted -- particularly in the emphasis on increasing homework -- and they don't think education is important. I think it's harder for dumb kids to skate through ow and it's harder for dumb parents to ignore their kids when they come home with homework.

But most of the opposition is political in nature.

EPorvaznik said...

As always, AP, thanks for using facts, reason, and logic when cutting an issue to its, er, center!

However, when umping, I will still mock Common Core when a catcher takes three more warm-up pitches after I ask him to only take two more.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I agree. You can't learn math through memorization, and I think the education word is understanding that. That's actually something one of my engineering professors once proved to us by handing us a cheat sheet with all the formulas on it. We were thrilled, until we realized that just knowing the formulas doesn't mean you have any idea how to apply them.

I think the idea of giving kids different methods to solve problems is a sound one for this very reason. It isn't just "memorize a method," it gives them the chance to have a whole-picture concept of what they are doing. It's just too bad they included stupid methods as well.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Both sides distrust experts... and typically with good reason. The problem with experts are that they often have no real world knowledge with which to temper their theories and they often are politically motivated.

This group seemed to do a pretty good job. They came up with a reasonable curriculum without over-reaching, going insanely theoretical, experimenting, or getting politics. New York state, on the other hand, got stupid.

BevfromNYC said...

"You can't learn math through memorization".

I disagree. Sometimes you JUST HAVE TO MEMORIZE STUFF! if you don't know what 2x2 equals or 2+2 equals it you will never advance in math. That is just a matter of memorizing the "Times tables". Drilling is MEMORIZATION! Flashcards are must memorization. How do kids learn to count past 10...repetition!

If you don't know your ABC's and the sound the letter make, YOU WILL NEVER LEARN TO READ OR UNDERSTAND WORDS. Again, how did you learn the alphabet?? I bet 100% of the people on this blog learned by MEMORIZATION!!!!

Memorization is a skill that, btw children are losing in our electronic age. Their brains are evolving to remember WHERE to find information rather than memorizing actually information like the ABCs, spelling, grammar or TIMES TABLES!!!!

YOu can witness this phenom when the cash register breaks down. No one knows how to count out change anymore because the machine tells them what it should be. God help us if we have a giant power failure. No one will be able to do anything!

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, The left opposes this too on the hilarious basis that it "takes away local control." What they're really worried about is that teachers unions don't like there being standards and accountability. Loony leftists don't like the idea that this might lower the dependence level of minorities, who they like to think need to be treated differently. A lot of loony leftists fall into the "how can you make kids work so hard you meanie?!" camp.

Then you have the populist types who see this as the doing of big business. On the grumpy right, you have people who don't like teachers or education.

The religious types are upset that this is secular.

The Beck types are just paranoid.


AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Eric! I prefer to look at things with facts rather than emotion. :)

No problem with the baseball game, obviously. LOL!

Anthony said...


Do you have a link to the video of the Trump assault you saw/heard? All I can find is a claim by the Daily Mail that a Secret Service agent speaking on the condition of anonymity told them that Michelle Fields had been warned twice about touching Trump.

There is no audio in the video of the incident I have seen and no indication that Fields touched Trump (its very clear Lewandowski grabbed Fields and stopped her forward motion, though it doesn't look like a forceful enough move to throw her off balance).

Its impossible to say if the Secret Service spoke to her, but none appeared to be looking at her.

Its worth noting that Trump and Lewandowski initially claimed that they never saw Fields, were together the whole time and Lewandowski never touched her and that the Secret Service would support their claim.

Now they are claiming that the reporter had repeatedly touched Trump against his will, that the Secret Service (who he claimed didn't see anything before) had warned her repeatedly and then studiously looked the other way (why?) and that Trump and his campaign manager thought the reporter's pen might be a weapon.

I don't think this whole thing merits a charge, it was a just a minor thing (a grab) Trump and his top guy saw fit to lie about.

BevfromNYC said...

Anthony - I concur with you. There has been nothing other than blather from the Trump camp that about Fields being warned repeatedly. They are claiming that she had a pen in her hand and that was just too aggressive for a...journalist. But even at that it should have been the Secret Service that removed Fields from Trump's vicinity, not his campaign manager.

I think Trump is loving this...keeps him in the news cycle, but this particular issue is backfiring on him badly. And also that he made a wild statement today that he thinks women who have abortions should be jailed. Even the Pro-Lifers were confused and concerned by that one...

Cruz in leading in Wisconsin by 10 points and growing...and trailing in NY in the single digits.

Kit said...

Cruz! Cruz! Cruz! Cruz! Cruz! Cruz! Cruz! Cruz! Cruz!

Kit said...

re abortion, the last woman prosecuted for having an abortion was in 1922.

Anthony said...


Actually there have been several cases in recent years. Here are a few. Trump's promise is just the logical endgame though it's a position few pro-life organizations would publicly support.


On Feb. 3, Patel became the first Indiana woman to be convicted of feticide in connection with her own miscarriage. Legal experts say her 20-year sentence for feticide and neglect of a dependent is one of the most severe penalties an American woman has faced for aborting her own pregnancy.

Anti-abortion activists have shown little interest in the case. But Patel's feticide conviction under a state statute adopted in 1979 to fight illegal abortion clinics is raising questions among legal scholars, medical examiners and women's rights advocates about how much control women should have during their pregnancies, and whether they can be held criminally responsible when something goes wrong.


A Pennsylvania woman has been sentenced to prison for helping to end her teen daughter's pregnancy by giving her pills purchased online.

The (Bloomsburg) Press Enterprise reports that 39-year-old Jennifer Ann Whalen of Washingtonville was sentenced Friday to nine to 18 months behind bars after pleading guilty to performing an illegal abortion.


A woman has been charged with murder in the US after a hospital social worker told officers she took pills to terminate a pregnancy.

Kenlissia Jones is being held at the Dougherty County jail in Georgia on charges of malice murder and possession of a dangerous drug. She was arrested on Saturday after a county social services employee called police to a hospital, officers said.

A social worker at the hospital told police Jones, 23, of Albany, said she had taken four pills she had purchased over the internet “to induce labour” because she and her boyfriend had broken up.

They were also told Jones went into labour and delivered the foetus in a car on the way to the hospital. The police report does not say how far along Jones was but WALB-TV reported earlier that authorities said she was about five and a half months pregnant.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I've only seen the Daily Online article. I'm no Trump fan, but the charges are ridiculous. This is the kind of charge that only ever gets applied as part of a bigger act of violence to ensure a conviction or if they don't like the person.

AndrewPrice said...

But Kit!! The religious ministers who ran the country in the 1950s before the Supreme Court freed us used to hunt women down so they had to hide in back allies. Didn't they?

Anthony said...


I think the way Trump and his top goon dealt with this is is ridiculous. A simple apology would have probably squashed the whole thing early, but instead they told a series of often conflicting lies which have split the Bigs in particular and conservatives in general.

Through their actions, Trump and his manager didn't give Fields any option but to go the legal route (which even if it doesn't result in a conviction, resulted in an investigation which produced photos and videos which substantiated her claims Trump's goon laid hands on her).

If Fields backed away from a confrontation with Trump and 'Okay, I was never anywhere near Trump, I was in Starbucks the whole time and was just making the whole thing up' she still would have been lost her position with Breitbart (We don't need a liberal liar who is attacking America's hope of salvation!) and have no chance of working anywhere else (field reporters are a dime a dozen and a tough market much be much tougher if one has been determined to be a fabulist).

Like I said, I don't think anyone should be convicted for a simple grab, but this whole thing was avoidable if Trump wasn't so eager to lie and reluctant to apologize.

His strategy has thrilled a big chunk of the Republican base, but like I've said many times, I doubt it will work in the general.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I read an interesting op/ed piece from Piers Morgan. He made the point that she should have said nothing because being shoved around often comes with the territory of being a journalist. He also made the point that if a man had made this claim, his editor would have laughed at him. Frankly, I think that's right. I've seen lots of journalists jostled, shoved and even smacked, and they never complain unless it's sensational (like blood drawn).

That said, Trump's team definitely handled it poorly, which I suspect comes from the shoot from the hip nature of the campaign.

In terms of apologizing, I don't think he can do that and maintain his image. His image is "the guy who doesn't give a sh*t." If he starts apologizing, then that makes him look like a fraud and it opens the door to the media playing the "why did you apologize for A but not B, will you apologize for B now?" game.

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, I had an interesting discussion with a moderate Trump supporter today. He had some very rational reasons for supporting Trump, which just happened to make it impossible for the attacks made against Trump to matter (he thinks the fact they attack him means he must be on to something).

Anyways, he made an interesting point. He wants Trump. If Trump is not the nominee, he will support Hillary because "Cruz is a religious creep." I'm hearing a lot of that.

Interesting election.

Anthony said...

Michelle Field's editor at the Bigs laughed at her too so clearly Morgan didn't think through his argument :) .

Like I said before, it think this is a minor incident that became a major one because Trump and his goon saw fit to lie and lie and lie and lie some more.

If his base loves Trump only because they love his lies and crazy talk, the base is going to be the anchor that drags Trump down in the general.

*Shrugs* That is just my opinion. Maybe ridiculing female opponent's faces and implying they are on the rag, calling soldiers baby killers and taking 12 conflicting stances on the same issue in a single day will play out as well in the general as it has in the primary. Time will tell.

Anthony said...

Considering that some Bernie supporters have taken an anyone but Hillary stance there might be a lot of line crossing this election.

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