Critique of “How the Common Core Boosts Quality and Equality” by William H. Schmidt and Nathan A. Burroughs.
The Common Core State Standards endeavor to eradicate two persistent problems in U.S. mathematics education.
One problem with mathematics education in the United States is its substandard quality, as only one-quarter of our nation’s high school seniors are deemed “proficient” in math on the NAEP assessment. Additionally, U.S. 8th graders scored below average on the 2009 Programme for International Assessment, a prestigious benchmarking examination.
The second problem with mathematics education in the United States is the existence of significant variations in students’ exposure to challenging content. A student who lacks exposure to any topic has insignificant chances of learning it. Despite uniform standards across the same states, there are enormous deviations in the mathematical content that students have an opportunity to learn within the same states; these inconsistencies exist even across identical classes taught in the same schools, districts, and states, principally a consequence of varying levels of teacher preparedness and student expectations.
The Common Core State Standards offer potential solutions to these problems by shifting the teaching of mathematics from an excess number of shallowly covered topics to a lesser amount of fundamental topics that are taught with increased rigor. Said standards would also offer the possibility of a common curriculum within states, districts, and schools that are all-to-frequently lacking.
The authors’ expressed optimism is rooted in the fact that there exists about a 90% overlap between the Common Core State Standards and the standards of the highest-achieving mathematics nations. Nevertheless, the authors rightfully caution that states whose standards are the most similar to the CCSS perform quite inadequately on the NAEP assessments, indicating that implementing the measures is not a magic pill. For high standards to be effective in elevating achievement, assessment scores, used as indicators of proficiency, must be reserved at an equally high level. The CCSS would bring uniform nationwide elevated cut scores and effectively prevent states from devaluing the lofty standards, as has been a widespread practice.
The authors also indicate that a successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics will require better-prepared teachers, as evidenced by a recent survey of more than 12,000 mathematics teachers in the 40 states that had adopted the new math standards. Less than half of elementary teachers surveyed felt adequately prepared to teach Common Core math topics, compared with 60 percent of middle school teachers and 70 percent of high school mathematics teachers (Schmidt & Burroughs, 2012).
In theory, the CCSS should vastly improve mathematics education in this country, while eliminating the enormous variations in the curriculum that often exist within identically named courses offered in the same schools. However, sans major educational reform, the desired progress will likely be isolated to those students of higher socio-economic status. In this country, there exist enormous disparities in the NAEP scores between students of high socio-economic status and students of low socio-economic status. While our country has accepted these inequities and done little to eradicate them, virtually every country scoring above us in the international math assessments has refused to accept these inequalities as a given and has managed to provide an equal, high-quality education to all students, regardless of race, ethnicity or socio-economic status (Honda, Dec. 17, 2010).
Further condemnation of our elected officials that must be emphasized is that the gap between the haves and the have not’s is not unique to this country, neither in its existence nor in its severity. It is disconcerting that countries with substantially fewer resources than we have somehow managed to provide a quality education for all students, yet the wealthiest nation in the world either cannot or chooses not to provide an equitable education for all students. I will allow the reader to determine which of the two serves as a greater indictment of our government (Honda, Dec. 17, 2010).
In conclusion, I enthusiastically support the higher standards embodied by the CCSS and believe that they are necessary but not sufficient to raise student achievement levels across this nation. Such an occurrence would require the establishment of identical learning environments for all children across this great country. I have many reservations about whether such equitable environments can realistically be created; said reservations exist not for lack of resources, but rather for the shortage of importance that our government attaches to this insidious problem.
Potentially in preparation for a career in education, I wholeheartedly support the implementation of the standards and am a believer that they can positively affect change for many students. However, as previously mentioned, for all students to derive the intended benefits from these standards, wholesale changes in our education system are a necessity.
The authors provide ample evidence for their findings; however, regardless of the soundness of theory, the actual application will prove much more difficult for the reasons upon which I have already elucidated. The author mentions the discrepancy in curricula that students experience, even within the same class title taught at the same school, citing a difference in teacher preparation and student expectations. While I concur that such discrepancies ought to be remedied by the adoption of the CCSS, I am disappointed that the authors have neglected their responsibilities, as disseminators of information, to cite other inconsistencies in education that will undoubtedly limit the nationwide effectiveness of CCSS adoption. The incongruities that I reference result from our historically seismic inequities in wealth distribution, which the implementation of the CCSS, in and of themselves, are powerless to address.
I recognize that the reason for writing the article was to tout the benefits of the CCSS; however, this article can neither be considered complete nor credible sans the acknowledgment of the systematic shortcomings that will preclude the nationwide success of said standards.
Schmidt, W. H., & Burroughs, N. A. (2012). How the Common Core boosts quality & equality. Educational Leadership, 70(4), 54-58.
Honda, M. (Dec. 17, 2010). Why American students lag behind. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/12/17/honda.education/.