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Jim Butler: Common Core school standards raise concerns

Oct. 01, 2013 @ 11:49 PM

I just returned from the September legislative interim meetings, and one of the issues that has taken a lot of my attention has been a new education “method” called Common Core.  

The West Virginia Board of Education calls it West Virginia Next Generation Standards, and we are implementing it now.  If you have tried to help your kids do homework you may have gotten an introduction. This is a very complex issue and even the teachers that I have spoken to know little about it. Unfortunately teachers are very familiar with guidelines and standards that change every few years. I cannot count the times that I have been told that “about the time they learn the new system; the state abandons it and implements a new one.” I am concerned for them, the teachers, and I am especially concerned for our children.

I attended a conference at the University of Notre Dame to learn more about the Common Core from college professors who were actually on the Validation Committee for common core standards. There are books being written on this subject, and experts in the field of creating curriculum standards have written long commentaries on this subject, so this is very brief. I encourage anyone interested to do your own research. 

The most troubling report that I have heard is the opinion of child psychologists who say that common core standards will actually be harmful to our children in the early grades. They explain that authors of the common core standards are introducing material at a developmentally inappropriate age. This may stress the children, frustrate them and even cause behavior problems. In addition it could cause them to “tune out,” affecting their ability to learn throughout their lives.

The child psychologist that I heard at Notre Dame, Dr. Megan Koschnick, backed those assertions up and pointed out that no early childhood experts were included when standards were developed.

We have also been told by proponents of Common Core that the standards are higher; that our children will be better prepared for college. Dr. James Milgram, a professor of mathematics at Stanford University disagrees. He has testified, and has written, that the standards are not good enough. He points out that in Common Core there is no requirement for calculus, trigonometry, or geometry. Algebra 2 is the new standard and that does not prepare students for college, or even courses relevant to today’s needs in high school curriculum.

Dr. Sandra Stotsky, who developed standards and curriculum for Massachusetts when they catapulted to the top of international rankings also testified, and wrote, that English and language arts standards are not adequate. She is troubled by the fact that we are abandoning long accepted classic literature, such as Charlotte’s Web, To Kill a Mocking Bird, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and substituting it with informational text such as magazines, text books, instruction manuals etc. She explained that “the more you read great literature the better you learn to write great literature.” Instead we are starting kids off with no solid basis for good writing.

These standards may also be problematic for teachers considering that they are evaluated on the performance of students. If the experts in child psychology are correct; students who cannot cope with inappropriate demands will not test well. Many teachers are aware of this reality which is why even teachers unions, in some cases, are opposed to Common Core.

Data protection is also a concern; data being private information on our children. I have been assured that information will not be shared or released, but many in the legislature are seeking more clarification on this.  Lines taken directly from the application for funds to create West Virginia’s data managing system raise questions for me.  Another concern is cost. A federal grant pays for some of the implementation but how we pay for the needed technology and the continuing cost remains unanswered. I think that it is safe to say that this will not be cheap.

As a member of the legislature I am not an expert on every subject, and in this instance when I have credible information from experts in the field of higher education, and psychology, telling me that these standards are low, or harmful, shouldn’t they be examined more closely by the legislature and everyone else who has the best interests of our children in mind?

State Del. Jim Butler is a Republican who represents the District 14, which includes portions of Mason and Putnam counties.

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