Have you heard of the Common Core curriculum? I hadn’t either, until just a few weeks ago. In theory, I suppose the idea is a good one. It’s part of an effort by the Obama administration to nationalize education standards. The motivation behind this push is undoubtedly a good one. It’s intended to even out education options across the board – rather than having some students who receive excellent education and some who are noticeably lagging behind by the end of their senior year, the Common Core is intended to offer better educational opportunities to a wider breadth of students. It will also make it easier for those students who have to move a lot to integrate into their new schools, and I’m sure that comparisons on an international level would also be less difficult.
So far, so good. But some of the requirements that are incorporated into the Common Core are downright disconcerting. Case in point: the Common Core requires that at least 50% of coursework for English classes must be derived from “instructional texts.” This number shoots up to 70% percent for high school seniors. What qualifies as an instructional text? Publications of the Federal Reserve, informational publications on the health care system, and executive orders, to name a few. All undoubtedly fascinating page-turners, wouldn’t you say?
I find this trend terribly concerning. The National High School Center reports that the percentage of high school seniors performing at or above a basic reading level has decreased over the last few years. The number of seniors performing at a proficient level has also declined. The report says that the biggest problem is not that the students cannot read the words, but rather that they cannot comprehend them.
This is why the Common Core requirement concerns me so much. Now, granted, I am a self-proclaimed Wordsworth. I love learning new words and using rarely articulated words in common conversation. But this love of words was, for me, generated when I was in high school. Largely in my English classes. I developed a love for reading and words and learning because I was exposed to authors like Shakespeare and Jules Verne, Ayn Rand and Charles Dickens, Maya Angelou, Chaucer, George Orwell, Rudyard Kipling, Thoreau, and Homer. The way they wrote made the pages come alive. I can still feel a palpable sense of dread when I think of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” I remember how my patriotism and pride in my country was stirred when I read Longfellow’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” My imagination ran wild as I devoured the fictional worlds and stories of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia and J.R Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Some of the concepts were complex, the sentences wordy, or the vocabulary difficult. But the story itself was enthralling enough to make me want to learn it. So I pushed through, and learned that difficult vocabulary, which in turn benefited me enormously in my other classes and as I entered the job market.
But if students are not reading classic texts, how will they develop a love for learning, a willingness to push through even when it gets difficult? I can say with a fair amount of confidence that executive orders will not inspire kids to read more than J.R. Tolkien. With literacy rates already falling, why would we revert to using publications of the Federal Reserve to inspire our students? It seems to me that the Common Core will likely be successful in establishing a universal education standard. However, the problem that I fear, is that it will end up creating a universal standard that is overall lower than what we already have. That, to me, is the only logical outcome to forcing kids to slog through reams of boring material that has no real-world applicability to them.
What do you think? Is the Common Core a positive or negative development for our educational system?