Valid concerns, invalid cause

I certainly understand Katie Hurly’s concern that her daughter is getting stressed out in school in only the 1st grade. No parent wants to see their child overwhelmed by school, especially at such a young age. However, I can’t validate her argument that the new Common Core of State Standards (Common Core) are the root cause to the five reasons this psychotherapist and parenting expert insists is ruining childhood. While she may have some valid concerns about the practices conducted within her daughter’s school, attributing those practices to the Common Core is a reach— at best. Let’s take a look at each of her five arguments:

Increased Stress

Katie is right— when teachers feel stressed, students internalize it and get stressed themselves. But the reasons she believes teachers are more stressed now than ever before—increased stakes on testing and teacher evaluations—have an indirect connection to the Common Core. The stakes on testing are connected to federal and state accountability systems that measure how well students are meeting standards; how much stakes these accountability systems put on the tests is independent from the standards they are testing. Furthermore, new policies to evaluate teachers based on their students’ achievement are also independent of the Common Core. As CPE’s recent report on state evaluation policies shows, teachers are being evaluated on how much growth their students make from year to year and not the percentage of students who met the standards.

Creativity is Dead

I hear this criticism often and it is the most surprising to me. Reason being, the Common Core was developed to enhance creativity and problem solving skills, not kill them. A major criticism of previous state standards were that they relied too heavily on rote memorization skills and did almost nothing to enhance creativity and problem solving skills. It is debatable whether the Common Core does enough to enhance these skills but there is no evidence that it is killing them.

Inadequate Time to Socialize

First of all, as CPE’s report Time Out: Is recess in danger? shows there is little evidence beyond anecdotal that recess is disappearing from our nation’s schools. There is evidence that a small proportion of districts are reducing recess time but as our report shows just about every elementary school still provides time for recess. Furthermore, with few states having implemented the Common Core last school year it is nearly impossible to determine if the Common Core had any impact on recess. While parents should definitely ensure their child has time to exercise and socialize at school, there is no evidence they are not.

Poor Eating Habits and Insufficient Exercise

I find this particular concern to be quite a stretch. First, I don’t know of any data that shows most students get 15 to 20 minutes for lunch and Katie provides no evidence this is the case beyond hearsay. Even so, I remember my mom complaining I didn’t have enough time for lunch when I was in elementary school back in the 1980’s. So this criticism is nothing new and has nothing to do with the Common Core. Again, not that it isn’t a valid concern or isn’t happening in some schools but to claim the Common Core is the culprit is a real stretch.  With the increasing pressure placed on schools to improve student achievement some principals may look to add more instructional time by trimming lunch or eliminating physical education but there is no evidence this is happening on any measurable scale.

No Time to Decompress

Every example of overworked kids Katie provides has been heard well before the Common Core was even considered. Parents have had these concerns for awhile and they are certainly true for some students. But it should also be pointed out this is far from a problem for a great number of students, especially our most disadvantaged students. A look at actual data shows too much homework is not a problem for most students in the United States. Certainly there are a number of students spending an inordinate amount of time on homework and other activities but it is far from a national epidemic and no evidence the Common Core has any impact on students being overworked.

This isn’t to single out Katie’s concerns. I have heard similar concerns from many other people as well. Just as Katie does, many people associate their concerns about what is going on in their public schools to the Common Core. That is why CPE has just released a FAQ about the Common Core every parent should check out. Armed with accurate information, parents can better advocate for improving their child’s education. –Jim Hull

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