How's Common Core Working Out for You?

Because I have no wish to suffer my Purgatory on earth, I've haven't said much about Common Core. Most of what I heard about it was on Facebook, and, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, "The thing about the internet is that you can just make stuff up and nobody will bother to check facts." So when I heard that Common Core was going to teach my children to hate their country, parents, and apple pie, to worship Baal, and to switch to the metric system, I thought I would wait and see how it actually pans out.

We also met with our school's curriculum coordinator, who explained which things would change, which would stay the same, what were the good effects they expected to see, what were some of the drawbacks they were concerned about, and which type of kids would probably fare the best under the new system.

I realize that not all schools will be so organized and accessible with this kind of information, but our school is, because it's a good school. And that was what set my mind at ease the most: knowing that we have a good school run by sensible people, who hire great teachers and understand how children really learn. I wasn't happy about some of the things I heard about the changes to come, but others sounded pretty good -- a net gain for the kids.

The worst thing I'd heard was that Common Core heavily emphasizes nonfiction over fiction.  But I already consider it our responsibility, as parents, to introduce our kids to good literature, and I've never expected the schools to give them a great literary education; so no calamity there. But what about other people's kids? Well, what did you read when you were in school, before Common Core was invented? In the 80's and 90's, we read junk, mostly, plus one or two good books excruciatingly slowly. Again, no huge loss there. It's not as if American public schools have been enjoying a golden literary age for lo these many decades.

But what about math? Common Core math problems have been earning the most scorn and derision among parents who have no idea how to help their weeping children with homework. Let me tell you what I've noticed, now that we're a few months into Common Core:

The Fisher kids who have gone to our current school since kindergarten? They like math. They are confident about their ability to learn new mathematical ideas, they can calculate problems in several different ways, they can solve problems in their heads, and they seem to understand what they are actually doing when they find the answer, rather than just learning how to cram the right numbers into formulas they've memorized so as to come out with the correct answer.

My other kids, on the other hand -- the kids who have gone through a different public school, private Catholic school, and homeschool taught by me, using the time-honored math systems I was raised on? They all hate math. They are okay at it -- their brains work fine, so there's no reason they shouldn't be okay at it -- but they have little confidence, and they struggle. They know how to get the right answer, but they don't always know what that answer signifies.

The difference is that the younger kids, who have been using the same system since day one, have been using a math program that really familiarizes kids with what numbers are, what they are for, how they act, how they work with each other. This system happens to be Common Core compliant, so there was no transitional shock.  Believe it or not, a good many (nice! Catholic!) homeschoolers have also long been using math programs that are Common Core compliant.

This is because there are a lot of good things in Common Core -- things that really did need fixing about the typical American public educational curriculum. Math is one of those things. Show me a teenage cashier who went through public schools and can easily make change for a five, and then we'll discuss whether the system that's been in place for the last few decades is good enough.

Is Common Core all good? Not by a long shot, especially for kids who don't read much outside of school, kids with learning disabilities, and kids who just need extra time to get the hang of things. As far as I understand it, those are the kids who will fare the worst under the changes which will be most common in states who adopted Common Core standards.

And in some schools -- schools with a malevolent agenda, or schools run by morons -- the advent of Common Core is an opportunity to usher in all kinds of foolish, misleading, and even dangerous stuff, just because someone has slapped a "Common Core compliant" sticker on the cover of the new materials.

But at least as far as math is concerned, the words "Common Core" do not signify some kind of automatic, intrinsic defect in educational material. It all depends on what materials are chosen, and how they are taught. I suspect the same is true for other subjects as well as math. I suspect that good schools will implement Common Core in a useful way, and bad schools will implement Common Core in a way that makes them into worse schools.

What makes the difference between good and bad? Carefully chosen curricula (not just antyhing new and shiny and CC compliant). Dedicated, well-trained teachers who understand their subject and the kids they are teaching. And parents who are willing to look beyond the "OMG, this is DIFFERENT! DIFFERENT, I tell you!" memes.

Well, this has been our experience, as one family with kids in two public schools. How about you? Have you noticed any drastic changes since your state adopted Common Core? Is it better or worse than you expected? Have you talked to your kids' teachers, or are you a teacher yourself? I'm not especially interested in hearing from people who have lots of theories but no experience, but I don't suppose I can stop you. But I will tell you that it's people like you that make people like me stroke our chins and think, "Yeah, maybe it's time to try something different in our schools."

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy