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Editorial: Common Core needs refining

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MAY 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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You wouldn’t expect programs designed to prepare kids for the real world to be so contentious. But whether it’s No Child Left Behind or the Common Core, national education standards have polarized the U.S. education dialogue.

The latest fuss comes over Iowa’s iteration of the Common Core, which aims to raise student literacy and achievement in certain “core” areas by standardizing what is taught nationwide. The Iowa Core goes above and beyond the national standards, which cover English and math. It is defined by the Iowa Department of Education as a set of academic standards that articulate what concepts and skills Iowa students need to master in math, science, English language, and social studies as they move from kindergarten through grade 12.

These standards, some say, are being forced on to states by the feds. In an interview on the Tea Party Network, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said federal money was effectively coercing states into giving up their educational autonomy.

“Let’s allow people to make up their minds about the substance of Common Core,” Grassley said. “If states want to adopt it, that’s their business. But it shouldn’t be crammed down their throat by the secretary of Education in Washington, D.C., using federal money.”

Grassley referred to the Education Department’s multibillion-dollar Race to the Top initiative, which offers funding automatically for states that agree to adopt Common Core standards. So far, 45 states have adopted some version of the standards, though Indiana has since repealed its version, and several other states are considering doing so as well

But what is the substance of Common Core that Grassley talks about that has drawn such controversy? Proponents say the standards will result in a workforce that’s better prepared for the challenges they’ll need to face in an increasingly globalized economy, while detractors argue students are best served by policies drawn up at the local level, tailored to an individual district’s needs.

There is truth in both of these assertions. The standardized benchmarks brought about by the Common Core let educators know how their students stack up not only against those of other states, but other nations. The standards will also increase the rigor and diversity in most curricula, which one would be hard-pressed to argue is bad for students.

But the increased difficulty will undoubtedly make for a rough transition. New textbooks, equipment, and a change in education standards required by the Common Core are not easy pills to swallow for teachers who have their own styles of educating students. And the issue of “teaching to the test,” in which curriculum is focused on preparing for high-stakes standardized exams instead of learning, has been bemoaned by educators since No Child Left Behind put a heavier emphasis on it.

These issues with the Common Core are not trivial, and as repeal efforts in several states have shown, many are choosing simply not to deal with them. But many of the problems that come from a federal top-down approach to education can be solved through the states. Iowa’s approach, which expands upon the Common Core standards and provides a balance between what is determined at the state level and local districts, should be lauded. Not only does the state get to take advantage of federal education funds, it also retains control over the curriculum and provides meaningful decision-making for the districts, which ultimately implement the standards in the Iowa Core.

In refining the Iowa Core, Iowa’s Department of Education should look to give as much control as possible to local districts. With federal funding, state standards, and leeway for local implementation, Iowa’s students will get the best of all worlds.


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