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What You Need To Know About the Common Core Standards in America

In an attempt to overhaul its educational system and prepare more high school graduates for the global economy, the U.S. recently introduced a new set of educational standards, known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), for K-12 education. Typically referred to as just “Common Core,” these standards outline exactly what students should know after the completion of each year of school in two key areas: English Language Arts and Mathematics. By the time they complete high school, then, students will theoretically be prepared to go to college or join the workforce.

The “Common Core” attempts to define a single approach for teaching English Language Arts and Mathematics. The English Language Arts part of the core, for example, include five main areas – reading, writing, speaking and listening, languages and media and technology. The Mathematics part of the core includes two main areas: practice (e.g. reasoning ability, quantitative skills) and content (e.g. geometry, algebra, statistics).

At the current time, 42 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have fully adopted the Common Core State Standards and one more state – Minnesota – has adopted English Language Arts but not Mathematics. There are seven states – Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska, Indiana and South Carolina – that have not adopted the Common Core.

Ever since these standards were formally unveiled in June 2010, though, they have been the subject of much controversy within the U.S. educational world. Current President-elect Donald Trump, for example, has pledged to eliminate them as one of the first things that he does as president.

Which leads naturally to the obvious question: Why are they so controversial?

The major problem, say critics of the Common Core, is that they attempt to institutionalize a “national curriculum” for states and local districts. In short, they say, the federal government is trying to take over what’s taught at the state and local level. Traditionally, states and local schools have always been able to determine what they taught, and the idea of the federal government getting involved in the process is alarming from their perspective. As proof, they cite the fact that it’s easier for states to receive some form of federal educational funding if they accept the Common Core.

The other problem, according to educators, is that there’s too much attention placed on testing and assessment. This means that educators are too often asked to “teach to the test.” In other words, instead of teaching what they want to and how they want to, they need to make sure that their students pass all the necessary assessment tests. And, say educators, these assessment tests are fundamentally flawed.

The final problem is that the Common Core only defines the content and skills required for two broad areas – English Language Arts and Mathematics. Currently, there’s an initiative to include a Science core as well, but only a few states have adopted this. But that still leaves some areas – such as social studies – that are not covered by the core. And, furthermore, some emerging curriculum choices – such as computer science and coding – are not mentioned at all.

That means that 2017 could be the year that educators in America seriously reassess the goals and objectives of Common Core, and how to adapt them for a Trump presidency. Donald Trump has already proposed a Standard Choice and Education Opportunity Act, which will give power back to the states to decide how and when to teach certain topics and concepts.

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