Improvements in Public Schools

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The Obama Administration intends to implement the updated Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by 2015; however, educational administrators, instructors, and other critics worry that the public-school systems are ill-prepared and a move towards charter schools is warranted. This proposal investigates the negative and positive attributes of the standards and finds that implementing the standards seems to be the most difficult.  The proposal aims to provide background information, pertinent research, and recommendations based on current literature. 

Following an introduction and a discussion regarding the CCSS based on current publications listed in CQ Researcher, Facts on Files New Services, The Washington Post and the ASCD website in order to determine if educators require additional resources to effectively teach the standards. The conclusion offers further recommendations that will improve our public schools’ learning environment. Because implementing seems to be the biggest issue, it seems that instructors will have to undergo further professional development in order to appropriately apply the standards in their curriculum. 

Executive Summary

Recent amendments to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have led to this proposal as the standards influence the current public-school system and its curriculum. Because school administrations base standardized testing on CCSS, advocates and critics continue to argue its efficiency. Therefore, it is important to understand the positive and negative implications that the new standards will bring upon the educational system. 

The positive attributes of CCSS include: 

CCSS will challenge students to use critical thinking and encourage them to prepare for college education and careers. 

CCSS allows students the means to defend their reasoning by displaying a comprehensive understanding of core subjects.

CCSS allows each student to learn the same material at the same pace and develop the same understanding of the material.

The negative aspects of CCSS include:

CCSS standardizes competencies in particular subjects rather than in the quality of thinking itself, and its content is repetitive and based on memory.

CCSS is a steppingstone for standardized testing, but it does not effectively prepare students for life.

CCSS does not explore individual differences or take disadvantaged pupils into account. 

In sum, the negative features of CCSS seemed to overshadow the positive, so educators can become proactive in their curriculum. The proposal recommends professional development for instructors in order to devise meaningful ways to combine CCSS with useful life skills. 

Introduction

Congress passed The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in order to warrant equal education and high academic standards. However, critics suggest that NCLB’s reliance on standardized testing is troublesome at best because of its tie to our educational system’s Common Core State Standards (CCSS). CCSS is equivalent to levels. Once a student has mastered one level, he or she moves on to the next. Forty-five states across the country plan to implement the standards into educational systems; however, critics suggest that schools are unprepared (“Education,” 2013, June 15). Because CCSS requires the same knowledge, instructors must homogenize their scholastic content. In addition, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) Framework for 21st Century Readiness (2013) has suggested that curriculum should include “life and career skills, learning and innovation skills, information, media and technology skills as well as core subjects and 21st century themes” (pg. 2). While some may consider access to technology as a given, there is a great proportion of society that may rely on public resources such as schools or public libraries. Furthermore, life skills and career skills may be qualities that only parents can instill in their children. Nevertheless, class content is not the only issue. 

Fundamentally, it is impossible to have identical teaching styles, and it is difficult to predict each student’s ability. While advocates have argued CCSS is a remedy for poor academic achievement, this assumption is risky because learning is a multifaceted experience. Consequently, some children will be ‘left behind’ due to their learning styles, background, or development (Strauss, 2012).  If anything, the heart of CCSS resides in the instructors, so while government concern for public education is admirable, it defeats the purpose of equal education.  

Discussion

Positive Attributes 

The benefits of the CCSS, by virtue of their existence, provide a foundation for academic success. They fundamentally challenge students to think critically and effectively encourage them to incorporate this level of ability so that they might be more prepared for college education and eventually a career (Education, 2013, no pag.). In addition, CCSS demand a degree of excellence of its students because its content expects pupils to demonstrate their knowledge and ability to their fullest extent. 

For example, in mathematics, the goal is to teach children to understand a given problem and solve it without frustration. This capacity for problem solving is further facilitated by the expectation that a student is able to reason out the problem at hand, find the basic structure of its problem, and solve it precisely while becoming more and more capable as they discover patterns within the structure (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, 2012, no pag.). Being able to do as such, students must then be able to defend their reasoning by displaying a comprehensive understanding of the subject. This framework hypothetically enforces an adherence to academic excellence for all students and in doing so leaves them best prepared for entering into higher education or the workforce. 

Through this method, the education that children receive can be reinterpreted for themselves as important traits in adulthood such as independence in the form of self-confidence, responsibility for personal endeavors, and adaptability. Considering that there is no individual difference within the curriculum itself, theoretically every student should learn the same material at the same pace and then develop the same understanding of the material.

Negative Attributes

While CCSS has positive features, one must consider its cons. The negative attributes of CCSS include an ironic inability to be inclusive for struggling students and cater to their individual needs. Struggling students’ very nature is indicative of a process that moves at a quick and unforgiving clip. Problematically, the assumption of CCSS is one of standardization and competencies in particular subjects rather than in the quality of thinking itself. 

The most glaring flaw of CCSS is that its content reveals static and repetitive blueprints that structure each subject that is focused upon. Essentially, mathematics, language arts, and social studies become a question of how well a student can repeat the material clearly and concisely. Consequently, it is not apparent if students can voice individualized opinions and articulate their thoughts in meaningful and intelligent ways by utilizing all of their knowledge from various subjects and not only the three aforementioned core subjects. Furthermore, another issue with evaluating competency through a model of standardization is that it presupposes that all of the necessary knowledge for a student is hidden within the three core subjects. Seemingly, there is little to no room left for educational innovation because the model cannot fully evaluate every single nuance to every single student’s thought process. 

Standardization eschews the creative potential of students by prescribing them with an arbitrary goal of ‘readiness’ as defined by a system that does not effectively prepare students for life, which is something that is hardly static or predictable (Strauss, 2012, no pag.). The issue therein is that CCSS attempts to ascribe structure to that which is not necessarily structured. For example, introducing a national standard would be completely disastrous because such a mechanical approach makes no concessions for students who happen to learn diversely

Subsequently, national standards do not take into account the disadvantaged in particular subjects due to the circumstances of their birth such as learning English as a second language or being born into a family that cannot afford the most optimal education, or geographic differences that already have different standards for education (Educational Standards and Curriculum, 2013, no pag.). Since common core standards teach to a ‘standard’, it is unlikely that students can develop a sense of adaptability or confidence, simply because the understanding they develop is limited in its usage. 

Moreover, CCSS and standardized tests do not account for the immense variety of ways of thinking. Essentially, the tests assume that each and every student exists in a vacuum of sorts and is not influenced to any noticeable degree by factors beyond his or her control. Furthermore, standardized tests are given indiscriminately, and the results are lumped together creating for dissatisfying results that do not meet the requirements desired by CCSS. It becomes less about the quality of the education and more about the quality of the grade. Therefore, students are able to claim achievements that may be ultimately meaningless if they cannot retain the information that resulted in the grade. 

Successively, common standards do not explore the potential of the student primarily because it seeks standardization that does not account for individual differences. While standards allow students to learn at the same pace, they are hardly effective for deducing problem areas for a student because CCSS will encourage success that may or may not be totally relevant or useful for a student’s chosen path. Unfortunately, the assumption that the three core subjects of mathematics, language arts, and social studies will carry all of the knowledge that a student might need to apply to adult life is unrealistic.

Conclusion

Because the negative features of CCSS seem to outweigh the positive, educators can become proactive in their curriculum. Ultimately, Strauss (2012) recommended that “Standards shouldn’t be attached to school subjects, but to the qualities of mind it’s hoped the study of school subjects promotes” (no pag.). In other words, subjects such as math and writing are only useful when they are related to context. For example, instead of testing children’s multiplication skills with a standardized test, perhaps instructors should include a life like situation in which children understand how to use their skills. Basically, class content results in lifelong tools (Strauss, 2012, no pag.). If students do not understand how to use their tools, they will not have learned crucial ideas as to how to operate in the adult world. As a further illustration, Strauss (2012) emphasized that the CCSS’s “stated aim — ‘success in college and careers’— is at best pedestrian, at worst an affront [because] The young should be exploring the potentials of humanness” (no pag.). Each student will have a different experience in and out of school. While ‘humanness’ does not seem to suggest values or moral behaviors, it does imply that learning is important in regard to life experiences. 

Because most states have adopted the CCSS, the next phase requires adequate implementation. Sloan (2010) has noted that “successful implementation of the common core standards requires intensive capacity building, professional development, and training for teachers, principals, and district- and state-level staff” (no pag.). Essentially, in order for CCSS to have a positive effect on students, it is necessary that all aspects of the educational foundation participate for its success. Most importantly, instructors are adults who normally profess a lifelong love of learning, so professional development or training would not be intensive subject wise, but it would encourage teachers to incorporate their passion for learning and teaching. 

References

Education. (2013, June 15). CQ Researcher. Retrieved from http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/

Educational Standards and Curriculum. (28 Jan. 2013) Issues & Controversies. Facts on File News Services. Retrieved from http://www.2facts.com/article/i1800030

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2011). A guide to aligning the common core state standards with the framework for 21st century skills [PDF]. Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. (2012). Implementing the common core state standards. Common Core State Standards Initiative. Retrieved August 4, 2013, from http://www.corestandards.org/

Sloan, W. (2010). Coming to terms with common core standards. Policy Priorities, 16(4). Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org

Strauss, V. (2012, August 21). Eight problems with common core standards. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/