With 20 percent of eligible third through eighth graders passing on the standardized exams last spring, the recently adopted Common Core standards have come under fire.
Common Core, a programs adopted by 45 of the 50 states sets national standards across the entire country as opposed to having 50 different standards controlled by each state, was originally passed to improve the overall test scores of students across the country.
However, with this recent rebellion and the numerous dissenting opinions emphasizing the lost of creativity due to the uniformity of common core, the question to be asked is “does it really work?”
Common Core was America’s answer to our mediocre test results nationally. According to a report by The Learning Curve, published by Pearson and written by The Economist, America ranked 20th in educational attainment in 2014.
Countries like Korea, Japan, and China ranked highly across the board in the education department. What these countries have in common, besides being in Asia, is that they have a set a more united national standard as individual countries that their students strive towards day and night.
Thus, the logic to Common Core was to reach a similar educational level by following these countries in standardizing a set goal across all 50 states. As previously, it was increasingly difficult to compare the educational levels of states due to the differences in curriculum nationally. As such, by gathering the states under one educational banner, they can begin to work towards a higher level together.
At first glance, this theory seems sound as the best way to learn anything is by copying.
However, copying doesn’t work when the test we have is a different form.
Although, the United States and these Asian countries had students taking the same test, the fundamental issues with the education system and culture are an entirely different monster to wrestle than those in Asia.
Common Core is an answer that will not translate well from Chinese, Korean and Japanese to American English.
“While there are reasons to doubt that claim [that a national education would improve America] — it’s hard to see how Utah, which spends less than one-third as much per student as New York, can offer a comparable education,” David L. Kirp of The New York Times writes.
A hole that Kirp pokes into the theory of Common Core is the contrasting levels of money and effort states place in their students. It is a foregone conclusion that New York, one of the most iconic states in the United States, would invest more into education than Utah, a more remote state, simply due to the massive gross income about 16 more million people would pay in taxes.
Yet, children in Utah are expected to hold their own to the same standards that students in New York are judged on. While ideally kids in Utah will rise to the challenge inspired by their teacher, this is reality, not a B-movie.
Furthermore, the teachers themselves will become handicapped. With Common Core, teachers must adhere to a rigid curriculum that stymies the teacher’s creative freedom while eating away precious hours in class.
With how radically different the standards are, teachers are forced to adapt and reallocate their time into time devoted into Common Core instead of their individual lessons.
The driving force of Common Core itself is the idea that the United States has dropped off from being one of the leading influences in education. But the idea that America was once the very epitome of the educational system is false.
“When the first international test was given in 1964, our students ranked 11th out of 12 nations,” Diane Ravitch, a research professor, wrote on CNN. Yet our nation went on to become the most powerful economy in the world.”
It would be foolish to call the American education system stellar, but it does have its strengths that these Asian countries do not possess.
“Models of best practice exist all over the world, but are most noticeably increasing in Asia. And, it’s not a one-way street,” Vishakha N. Desai, president of the Asia Society, wrote on a special on CNN. “Asian nations struggle with outmoded instructional practices and an over-reliance on high-pressure examinations — and they continue to look to America for clues in cultivating innovation in teaching and creativity in their students.”
What the rigorous curriculums of China, Korea and Japan promote is the memorization of scientific facts, mathematical equations and even aspects of literature.
Most notably in Korea, private institutions, sometimes referred to as cram schools, are a common fixture in a student’s life as they must attend them during the night to remain competitive in school.
Both Japanese and Chinese students share noticeably similar Eastern culture and philosophy that weighs education above all else.
There’s a reason why many Asian kids dread receiving their first B, even in America.
As such, the hours many Asian students spend on school may be even double that of American students.
However, what these countries lack is what America has in spades.
Creativity and critical thinking are lacking in these students that are forced to do worksheet after worksheet in not only school, but their school after school.
“I have never memorized so much in my life as I did in Shanghai. The ideal Shanghainese student is like a sea sponge blindly absorbing any and all information and spewing it all out during the tests,” Saga Ringmar of The Guardian wrote. “The system in the US is not ideal — nobody can call the SAT a platform for creativity — but the American system does at least encourage questions and tries to make students into critical thinkers. If there are Chinese students with a critical mind, they are almost always self-taught.”
The United States has a long road ahead of it, but it is not one without any signs of hope.
Common Core may not be the solution to America’s issues, but it is a good starting point. The idea of improving the amount of knowledge that students know is one with merit, but reaching the standards of these Asian countries probably is impractical.
While America should not ignore its deficiencies, we should also play to our strengths.
Attempting to meet the standards that other countries reach with a significant amount of hours could end up backfiring as time used too much of our limited time invested into teaching the Common Core subjects takes away time spent teaching creative thought about why we humans take the actions that they do.
Sticking to our strengths and fostering creative thinking is a path America should continue to explore so future students can continue to argue about the education system just as we are.