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Thursday, Jul 10, 2014
Joe Henderson

Henderson: Common Core is a discussion worth having

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There are plenty of reasons to be wary of Common Core as it inexorably moves toward full implementation in our public schools next year, and opponents are right to be skeptical.

Asking reasonable questions is the cornerstone of learning, and there is a whole lot we don’t know about how this thing is actually going to work.

But first, a public service announcement to those who believe this is an Orwellian government plot to brainwash their children with all sorts of weird ideas like higher mathematics, critical thinking and Hillary Clinton: I would refer you to the days of Galileo. In 1633, the Catholic Church convicted him of heresy for his completely radical idea that the Earth orbits the sun, not vice versa.

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What I’m saying is, it’s good policy to expose students to new ideas. The way people assimilate information and learn is changing every day, so educators have to adapt. That doesn’t mean Common Core is the answer.

Have you actually stepped inside a school lately and seen the pace overstressed teachers and administrators are expected to keep? Something as rigorous as Common Core has the potential to buckle their knees while they answer to more bureaucrats. Their careers could hinge on how well they meet new goals and standards that are more than a little vague.

Current students will have to change the way they learn, and that could be a major problem. Common Core also makes no accommodation for students whose home life might be in shambles and may not be in the best position to learn.

Proponents say it will make the classroom a significantly more demanding place, better preparing students for college and beyond. They say it will allow teachers to better monitor student progress. I’m still not a big believer in the one-size-fits-all approach, though. I would even argue that a program like this has the potential to increase the dropout rate because not every student will be able to keep up, closely monitored or not.

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The program does have some good intentions. It theoretically compares favorably to what students are taught in many other nations, and we’re constantly being told we live in a global marketplace. Having national standards will make it easier to compare test scores from Plant High in Tampa with a high school in Michigan.

Instead of simply regurgitating answers, students will be required to prove how they arrived at the right response. It all sounds good, but it always does until it’s time to actually go into the classroom.

That’s why we hear the clanging of an alarm bell at yet another sweeping change in how we educate our young people.

Although the program does have the unflinching support of former Gov. Jeb Bush, there is increasing public pressure on the Legislature to rethink its commitment to have Common Core fully operational here by next year. Because there are so many more questions right now than answers, that is a discussion worth having.

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