Common Core Versus Common Sense by Sharon O’Donnell

As the mom of three sons — one a college graduate and headed for grad school at the University of Virginia, one at sophomore at North Carolina State, and one a 7th grader — I have been around the block a few times when it comes to our educational system. Unfortunately, I have been able to tell a HUGE difference in how well our public education system prepared by older two sons for their futures and how that same system is now preparing my youngest son.  Instead of studying a topic for a week or two and attempting to master that topic followed by a unit test, current students are now given mandated Benchmark tests that cover little of this and a little of that. Teachers have tons of written objectives they have to cover and when they need to cover them; their classroom is really not their own. When my older two sons were in middle school, they learned how to take notes, read chapters and highlight them, and study for big tests that covered major topics.  My youngest son has unit tests in math, but in addition to those, he also has benchmarks (that cover several topics) and End-of-grade preparation, which to me, dilutes the focus of the topics that are currently covered in class.  Instead of science and social studies tests that are based on chapters he has studied, there are worksheets given in class and they don’t even have a textbook to take home. I did go on-line and buy a science book so I would have some clue of what the topics were.  “Assessments” that educe an entire ‘unit’ down to two questions take the place of tests. It doesn’t seem that the goal is to master a subject but to know enough to get by one of those assessments.  Students don’t have the need to learn how to study from a textbook and notes (like they will have to do in high school). So I have seen this from the parental point of view.

For the past eight months, I’ve worked as a 4th grade Teacher Assistant at a local elementary school.  Now from this perspective, I see problems with the Common Core also. While I’ve greatly enjoyed working with the children, I’ve been very frustrated with this whole ‘Benchmark” mentality and how those scores are the main thing that the system looks at to assess levels of success. There are so many objectives that must be covered by a certain timeline, that teachers must move from one subject to another quickly — too quickly for some children to fully understand or to practice a math skill enough to master it. But they have to move along to the next objective. The Common Core method seems to create holes in some children’s educational foundation that — if not filled in somewhere along the way — will detrimentally affect those children now and in the future. And there is such a discrepancy in the level of what the children know that it is almost impossible to teach to all levels. Yet, teachers are held accountable for those children who are low-achieving, who take the Benchmark tests without really trying, some of them just circling the answers randomly.  This is not fair to the teachers at all.

It just seems that the Common Core does not consider things from a common sense perspective. I can’t believe there is such a difference in the educational system since my older two sons were in it. I truly feel that my youngest son has a tremendous disadvantage because of the changes in education in the past five years. I know there are some holes in his educational foundation, and my husband and I are trying to find what this holes are and how to fix them before high school. He will be in 8th grade next year. The clock is ticking.

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