COLUMN: Questions linger on Common Core standards

Farm Forum

Maybe you have heard about the much-heralded Common Core State Standards. These national standards in language arts and mathematics are set to take effect in public schools across the nation during the 2014-15 school year.

While I have always resisted any national standards enactment, let’s examine the issues related to Common Core State Standards.

According to, “The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt.” The South Dakota State Board of Education adopted the Common Core standards on Nov. 29, 2010. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Are we now teaching to the test? The answers to those questions might be in the eye of the beholder. Many educational groups, including the National Education Association, support the move to Common Core. In fact, the NEA feels strongly that these Common Core State Standards will reflect the most current knowledge and skills necessary for college and careers.

Do national standards take away local control? The answer to that question is “kind of.” State content standards came to the forefront of education after the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. South Dakota has been using and assessing content standards for many years. Local control for school curriculum decisions is one that has long since expired, whether you agree or disagree with the change. The overall concept of standards is that there are certain things or commonalities that all students are expected to learn.

The inherent problem with that view is who gets to make the determination of what is important. With Common Core, stakeholders, including teachers from across the country, got together to help establish the standards. In my opinion, the danger of assessing Common Core and reporting results is when comparisons are made to other countries, states, schools and students.

Why is that a bad thing? Well, for one, we are not comparing things of equal value. For example, classrooms do not have the exact same makeup of students and abilities. Schools are vastly different and are composed of a rich diversity of students, from second language speakers to special needs students to gifted students.

What we should be doing is working to improve each student based on where they are currently at. Not all students learn at the same rate nor do all students learn in the same way. Common Core standards set a benchmark, but that benchmark should never be used to determine school district or teacher effectiveness. Also, student behavior and background affect how they learn. Students who are abused, neglected or who struggle to find a nutritious meal once a day, will have many obstacles to their learning.

Common Core State Standards can be a good thing as long as they are not used as a “one size fits all” type of mentality to schooling.

Alan L. Neville is a professor of education at Northern State University. The views are his and do not represent NSU.