Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Does Common Core Affect Christian Schools?

In recent days, I’ve been asked questions about Common Core, and more specifically, if it affects Christian schools. Sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA), and greatly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the educational standards known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were developed for the purpose of raising test scores compared to other countries. It is believed that higher test scores indicated better learning that translates into greater competitiveness in the global market. If every state accepts the standard, then every school could potentially use the same tests to assess and then compare results. Additionally, every school can be certain as to the education standards that will be expected for each student.

Many conservative groups have come out against CCSS. First, it’s expected that conservative groups will oppose any movement that “nationalizes” education,  reducing state control. In this case, states have not surrendered their control to the federal government, but rather to a public association (NGA).  The federal government, however, has become involved. The Obama administration’s Department of Justice heavily promotes Common Core, and $350 million of the Race to the Top funds has been spent toward developing tests for CCSS.

Secondly, some oppose it because the educational standards are deficient, improving the bottom half while failing to challenge the top half. Because much of the literature requirements have been replaced with informational reading, analytical thinking has been replaced with social justice teaching. A proponent of this view is Sandra Stotsky from the University of Arkansas. In a report published by the Heritage Foundation, she refutes the idea that this type of language arts instruction makes students more college ready. Many public schools already lack adequate instruction in analytical reading, contributing to the lack of college readiness.  The fact is, as Stotsky points out, no empirical study has shown that informational reading prepares students for college better than studies in literature.

Thirdly, many states have reconsidered CCSS due to opposition by local politicians. Emerging concerns about the cost of implementation and the forfeiture of state control have state leaders worried.  While 45 states have adopted Common Core, many are now withdrawing or delaying implementation while they re-evaluate its effects. North Carolina stands among states rethinking CCSS. The state board of education currently has the standards under review. Lt. Gov. Dan Forrest conveyed concern that Common Core has not been field tested, and NC should not rush to implement these standards. Forest compared this to the FDA rolling out a new drug without testing for its side effects. Additionally, the financial burden of implementation could be a deterrent. The Pioneer Institute estimates a price tag of $16 billion over 17 years for implementation in most states. This is a high price tag on a new set of standards that has not been proven.

Fortunately, Christian schools have the freedom to choose curriculum standards that promote our goals. Our students learn from a challenging set of standards that exceed the Common Core State Standards. We begin with traditional educational standards that have a track record for producing college ready results. While we yearly assess our performance outcomes and make improvements as needed, we do not rush in to trendy solutions without a proven track record.  While I don’t recommend Common Core for the state of North Carolina, for Christian schools, it’s not even an option. Our teaching emerges from a biblical philosophy that has not existed in the public school system for over half a century.