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Is Common Core More Harm Than Good?

By Violet Mbela, Staff Writer

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A video titled “What is 8 + 5? 2nd Grade Common Core Math,” published on September 18, 2014, by Amanda Harris, has garnered over half a million views on Youtube. The video includes a mother displaying a simple mathematical equation and how her second-grade son is expected to solve that problem. Normally, one would add eight and five by counting on their fingers and easily obtain an answer of thirteen.

However, the Common Core standards at her son’s school do not instruct students to solve their addition problems in this simple way most have been taught. First, she sets up the problem, and factors the 5 with a factor tree, writing 2 and a 3 beneath the 5. She then groups the 2 with the 8 and leaves the 3 in a box on its own. Finally, Harris adds the 2 to the 8, and the 3 to the 10, finally reaching an answer of 13. This method of working out simple addition is a ridiculously roundabout way to solve an easy, three-second math problem and, for seven and eight-year-olds, a shaky foundation for math that will only get increasingly harder.

Now, at a high school level, students feel like Harris had felt while solving a simple addition problem. Except now, it’s not just simple addition, but algebra and geometry coming into play with a constantly progressing complexity. While the majority of Quartz Hill students don’t seem to understand what Common Core standards are and its influence on their education, they do know their own opinions on whether they believe what they learn within the school day is useful.

Current freshman Sabella Bautista said, “A lot of the time, I can easily solve a problem without really including some of the concepts in the book. It’s simple counting, or just solving it like I was taught in 5th grade, but we’re told to solve as we’re taught now, and it’s stupid.”

Common Core is defined as a set of standards for teaching and testing English and mathematics between kindergarten and 12th grade. Common Core standards were put into place in 2009 mainly to prepare students for higher learning, whether a student is to go to an Ivy League or a community college. The standards are universal no matter the state or school district and even homeschooled students are being encouraged to use Common Core standards.

Mr. Winston Parkinson, a Quartz Hill geometry teacher who has been an educator for over a decade, rhetorically asked in an interview, “They assume everyone goes to college, but do you think every kid goes to college?” He considers this to be one of the greatest faults in Common Core. An idea Common Core standards constantly reiterates in its texts is the fact that you are expected if not assumed to move onto higher education with Common Core. Outside of college, the skills taught in Common Core are essentially useless.

Mr. Parkinson went on to point out that Common Core expects math teachers to teach the same material they had taught with the previous set of standards and then some, in the same amount of time. He explained, “There are some concepts, especially near the ends of the book, that I personally would not expect the average high schooler to be proficient in.” Nonetheless, he did go on to say that Common Core included programs such as the “Big Ideas” workbooks, online resources, and the computer-inclusive lessons that do seem to help students more than cut-and-dry lessons using pen and paper. Since Common Core was put into effect in 2009, the standards were put together with 21st-century students in mind.

English Teacher Mrs. Danielle Carbajal also had her own thoughts on the Common Core standards. She emphasized that as opposed to the standards for math, which focused on singular ideas, Common Core has placed importance on depth and critical thinking. The standards instruct English teachers to coax students into making connections between works of literature and what they know about life. Mrs. Carbajal, however, interprets these standards as applying not only to non-fiction but to fiction as well.

“Initially, many in education erroneously felt that, with a greater emphasis on ‘real world’ reading material, non-fiction works should supersede fiction in English classrooms as a result of Common Core.  This is absolutely not the case, and to me, a travesty,” Carbajal stated. “Literature, fiction, is a vital component to every student’s educational foundation.”

The subject of English alone can very abstract, especially considering the use of figurative language and symbolism. Common Core emphasizes putting English students in a box. Students are less encouraged now to use their own insightful thinking to draw conclusions and interpret texts as they see fit. The Core Standards website lists all of the English standards for high school students: “Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text… Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.” The standards call for students to stay within the confines of the text. If not supported “explicitly” by the text, an idea is useless and must be dropped.

 While this is definitely the way to go for mathematical standards, which only imply a single answer, English standards should support creative thinking. Language arts are in fact art, and art is objective and up for interpretation. Mrs. Carbajal sees this as a flaw in the standards: “I don’t tend to view my students through a statistical lens. Every year, I am impressed, surprised, and amazed by my students. Their achievement is due to what I can draw out of them, and that remains unchanged.” Despite this criticism, she truly does feel that the English standards are on par with the skills and content necessary for a modern student.

Common Core may have its faults as any other program, but despite this, the standards have been in place for eight years and show no sign of being pulled. How effectively a student learns often relies on the individual. Common Core can help, but it can also hinder. At Quartz Hill, the students may formulate their own opinions on how they feel about the standards, but they are held to these standards nonetheless.

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Is Common Core More Harm Than Good?