December 6, 2019

Guest Commentary: What’s the cost of a common core curriculum

At first glance, the Common Core Initiative may look like a great way to improve remediation rates. A lot of people believe it is. Forty-six states have already signed on to it, Kentucky has already started applying the guidelines and the Obama Administration offered incentives to states that got on board.
Nevertheless, like previously passed programs, it may only restrict the amount of material students are exposed to and further standardized learning while at the same time offering no guarantee of success. The initiative aims to increase students’ mathematics and language arts abilities — which don’t seem to be in great shape — through sets of standards for students from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Too many students — about half the population — don’t have the reading skills to succeed in their first year of higher education, whether that is at a four-year university or vocational school. Nevertheless, it is hard to believe that this initiative will bring about the desired results. And even if it were to, at what cost?
The program encourages high school English teachers to teach more non-fiction and less fiction. Shouldn’t a solution include reading more of everything and not less? Is sacrificing the amount of fiction read really the best way? Also, how much can making changes at the high school level actually help?
Regulation across the United States is probably necessary at one point. But it’s also apparent that there is something not working about standardized learning. Other already established programs aren’t working. In 2011, SAT scores hit their record low. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which consists of fourth and eighth graders taking an exam every two years, shows that scores have remained consistent or shown little improvement. The last test scores from 2011 said that only 34 percent of students read “proficiently.” Why would we add a new standardized test to take when other similar projects don’t seem to be helpful?
Last year, research done by Renaissance Learning Inc. entitled, “What Kids Are Reading: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools,” reported that high school students are reading at level 5.3; barely over fifth grade. This information was gathered by taking the top-40, most-read books by high school students.
If this can tell us anything, it’s that maybe high school is too late to start helping students increase their reading levels. Research done by the University of Chicago in 2010 found that third-grade reading levels can help predict how children do in eighth and ninth grade. Consequently, kids with advanced reading levels at this age tend to do well for the rest of their academic years. Kids that don’t have as strong reading skills don’t.
So, even though it may be beneficial to come up with a plan to help kids succeed after high school, the Common Core’s ninth through 12th grade section may simply be too little too late.
Lastly, another issue with the initiative is the fact that it plans to cut the amount of fiction read by high school students. According to the plan, only 30 percent of what students read should be fiction. Though the good intentions behind this part of the plan are apparent, I believe this could be harmful.
The idea behind this was to expose students to higher levels of reading used in the real world, which would be more helpful in higher education. Implementations of this in high schools may translate to English teachers. This could expose students to more speeches and documents, which probably belong in history classes.
At the same time, because of a lack of time, students will be taught abridged versions of classics or only required to read excerpts from them. In the long run, I believe it could cause students to simply be required to read less. What about a plan that doesn’t infringe on the fiction literature students are reading in their English classes? Instead there should be a plan that requires students to read more in their other classes and, of course, at an earlier age.

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