Common Core: Our students’ perspective

Jon Krause/NewsArt

Jon Krause/NewsArt

The great majority of the fracas over the Common Core State Standards for public school curricula has involved adults.

By and large, Georgia’s children were not heard on the matter. Rather, it was activists and lawmakers who tussled over whether to abandon the so-called “Obamacore” standards that, in truth, arose from a Republican-led group of state governors. Those who should know better either forgot or deliberately ignored that one of Common Core’s leading champions was Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Like students who hadn’t studied much for final exams, such facts didn’t seem to matter to anti-Common Core legislators who fought to give Georgia the freedom to not be beholden to national education standards that most other states had embraced. In the end, the revocation effort thankfully ground to a legislative halt.

Now that the General Assembly’s election-year hijinks are done for this season, we’ve found ourselves thinking about the 9 in 10 Georgia children who attend public schools. Which took us to the Old Testament book of Isaiah and its 11th chapter, which includes this oft-recited verse: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them.”

We’d put special emphasis on that last sentence and note that this chapter also speaks earlier of a spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel and knowledge. All of which can find fruitful use in and around the Common Core debate.

Which brings us to Georgia’s children — the real end-users of our education system. Whatever wisdom, foolishness or anything in between that we visit upon our public schools will impact our children — and our future. For that reason, we believed it worthwhile to ask some Georgia students about Common Core. As the debate swirled around them, what were their thoughts and beliefs — good, bad or indifferent — about the voluntary curriculum standards adopted with much fanfare by the state of Georgia in 2012?

Their opinions are on this page and online at ajc.com and MyAjc.com. Like the adults in this state, their views are far from monolithic.

Their voices should be heard, since these young people will long live with the effects of decisions adults make in their name. That alone should be a sobering thought for policymakers and lawmakers alike.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.

Common Core is a life-changer

By Chantel Simmons

Common Core gives you skills that will last a lifetime. Common Core is standards that students must meet to be successful in school. This gives students whose teachers have been using the Common Core an advantage, because they are prepared for college and the real world. Schools need Common Core so they will have smart and successful students.

Last year in 6th grade, I was nowhere near as great of a writer as now. I could barely construct a basic five-sentence paragraph. It’s not that I didn’t know what to write; I just didn’t know how to put my ideas into words. When I got my words onto paper, they weren’t really interesting. My sentence structure was composed of simple sentences and very few compound sentences. This is because we weren’t really taught how to create attention-grabbing and descriptive paragraphs.

Because of Common Core and Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC), this year, all of that changed.

My writing has never been better. Now, I can put my ideas into words, and my paper will become a page-turner. I can use information from the text to support my ideas. I can also turn a book’s words into my own voice by using my style. Everything I am learning now is helping me become college-and-career ready for what the world has to offer.

By participating in Common Core and LDC, I am preparing myself for college and a life-lasting career. During college, I will not have to worry about retaking the Regents Writing Test and taking a remedial class. I also won’t have to fill out a job application and have a fear of not putting out my best effort.

Common Core and LDC will also help with most careers — like being a detective, doctor, nurse, or lawyer. How? Detectives have to write crime scene reports. Doctors and nurses have to describe how the patients look and are feeling. Lawyers have to write down all the notes on their current case. Though these are just a few career examples, Common Core and LDC prepare you for a wide variety of other careers too.

Common Core and LDC helped change my writing and possibly my future. Now, you have to decide if Common Core and LDC are worth the challenge, or a waste of time. The decision you make will last a lifetime.

Chantel Simmons is a 7th grader at King Middle School, Atlanta.

Flaws don’t outweigh standards

By Mary Claire Morris

The Common Core State Standards are nationwide standards which allow schools, teachers and students to be held to learning benchmarks while also giving states the ability to compare educations across states, cities and counties. This allows Georgia to compare how well its educational system stacks up.

The ideas behind Common Core are great. However, I am more skeptical when it comes to implementation of these standards.

At Grady High School, the Common Core math curriculum is integrated — math is mashed. The sub-subjects within math are no longer separated in the curriculum.

In Math I, we learn bits and pieces of algebra, geometry, and data analysis and probability. These are then added upon in a similar fashion in later courses. Math lessons are still clear and concise, but they follow no logical order.

This backwards way of teaching a subject is not the way to instill key concepts like the Common Core preaches. Instead, it leaves us confused.

Common core does, however, set the bar high for learning — by challenging students to understand concepts, instead of computations. It stresses problem-solving, real-world applications, and collaborative learning. Most importantly, it helps set up students for future success.

The education systems throughout the nation ought to be standardized. A college cannot compare a Georgia student’s grades and readiness for college against a student from California if they are not taught and thereby judged by the same standards. The Common Core creates common ground for education.

Furthermore, how can the Georgia educational system be assessed if there is not an accurate scale? Without Common Core, we do not know if students in Georgia are learning what they need to in order to be able to compete on a national level.

The Common Core should stay in Georgia. Implementation will and does have its issues, but they do not outweigh the benefits that Georgia will reap from a functioning education system that can feed the job market.

Mary Claire Morris attends Henry Grady High School in Atlanta.

Fix, don’t remove, initiative

By Quinn Mulholland

How did the Common Core education to all of America’s students, whose goal seemed so pure — to provide a better education to all of America’s students — get to be so politically toxic? Despite the obligatory Tea Party backlash, the initiative initially had bipartisan support. Now that liberal education activists like Diane Ravitch are chiming in against the standards, however, it’s clear that they have some serious problems.

For starters, the fact that almost no one knew what is in the Common Core is concerning. The standard-setting should have involved many members of the education community, including teachers. Instead, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers — the standards’ authors — teamed up with big education companies like Pearson.

The corporate reform movement, which supports the Common Core, also advocates for heightened accountability, meaning expanding the use of standardized tests to judge students, teachers, and schools. The Common Core furthers this goal, creating even more tests for students to take and for teachers to be evaluated based upon. At Grady, I’ve seen firsthand the detrimental effects of this overemphasis on testing.

The Common Core isn’t all bad, though. The argument that it constitutes a federal takeover of education is preposterous, as the standards are completely optional, and efforts to get rid of the Common Core have justifiably prompted fierce backlash.

The standards need to be fixed, not dismantled.

The need they address — the watering-down of state education standards to allow students to meet the increasingly unreasonable standards set by No Child Left Behind — is real. And the goal of giving all students a quality education is a worthy one. But instead of emphasizing high-stakes testing, the Common Core should focus more on exposing students to a broad range of subjects, including the arts. It should not just prepare students for college, but also offer them the opportunity to gain vocational skills. It should offer the same resources to low-income students as it does their wealthy peers. Only then will American students get the kind of education they deserve.

Quinn Mulholland is a student at Henry Grady High School.

‘One size fits all’ mantra doesn’t work

By Alexx Reynosa

If everyone is restricted inside of a box filled with the exact same words and numbers — the Common Core Classroom — are we not just memorizing the words written on the walls?

Students are people; each has his own individuality that makes him, him. These prepared package lessons are limiting students who strive to be “above average.” Where will the gifted students be sent? Will they have a separate class, or will their needs be completely overlooked?

“One size fits all” does not fit education. That’s what makes American schools so impressive. We spend time and money to illuminate all parts of a child — academic, athletic, artistic and beyond. If our teachers are told what to teach and when to teach it, what happens if the students are not ready to take the test for that lesson? Do we let them flunk?

In today’s ever-changing world, being told what to do every day sounds reassuring, but we need standards that will actually help students in the real world. I agree with Valerie Strauss from The Washington Post: “The word ‘standards’ gets an approving nod from the public because it means ‘performance that meets a standard.’”

Nonetheless, it means like everybody else. When everyone is playing the same game, you start to lose your strive. Nothing changes, because nothing becomes new. Parents as well as teachers are struggling to pry children’s high-speed fingers from race cars and text messaging as it is.

The monotony of planned curricula will be the death of fierce competitiveness in learning.

Alexx Reynosa attends Jeff Davis High School in Hazlehurst

Standards don’t stifle independence

By Hallie Smith

Common Core State Standards can only improve the abilities of Georgia’s students.

College-and-career readiness is the goal of the state-implemented standards, so what could be better? What is school for, if not to prepare students with the necessary tools for further study and the real world.

The national scale provided by the Common Core standards allows students, teachers, administrators, and parents to view students’ progress as compared to others across America. Governors and state education leaders from 48 states collected the highest standards from states and investigated the expectations of many academically excellent countries to form the Common Core standards.

The beauty of Common Core is the freedom it gives each teacher to implement said standards. Yes, all students will learn the same basic skills, but they are not given a textbook and workbook that they must strictly follow.

All states are allowed to adopt Common Core Standards, every school system can provide methods of implementation for teachers, and teachers are permitted to use any resource to apply the general ideas students should learn.

For example, in Advanced Placement English Language and Composition, we have Socratic seminars discussing various topics. Using the language of composition, we have been able to, as the English Literary Standard 11-12.1 states, “Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing [our] own clearly and persuasively”.

Through topics such as education and sports, we have launched conversations with clear questions that spark each individual’s reasoning skills. Analyzing essays and then synthesizing them prepares us for these discussions.

Every school across the nation was not forced to hold a Socratic Seminar in the classroom on Tuesday, March 11; however, my teacher implemented the standards in her own creative way — a method her students enjoyed.

Common Core standards grant us the privilege to learn on the same level as all students in the nation without compromising our freedoms.

Hallie Smith is a student at Jeff Davis High School.

Common standards weaken us

By Brett Wilcox

Common Core Curriculum Standards are not benefiting Georgia’s students. These rigid standards restrict teachers from including material that the students find interesting. It seems like we, as students, skim the surface of a variety of subjects in our classes. I want to learn more deeply about fewer subjects.

Another component of the curriculum that bothers me is that teachers must cram material into the students’ minds in very little time. Students do not learn when they have to cram — they memorize.

If you were to take a survey, I am willing to bet that 98 percent of the students would say that school doesn’t test their ability to learn. Instead, it tests their ability to remember.

Also, when the teachers have to move at such a rapid rate, some students have a hard time keeping the pace. Then the teacher has to slow things down and re-teach the material to particular students. Constant re-teaching stresses the teacher because now she or he is worried about covering all the material before the End of Course Test (EOCT).

Since the Common Core involves so much material and provides so little time, teachers give a tremendous amount of homework. This causes even more stress on students and teachers.

Another problem with the Common Core is the fact that it tries to turn students and teachers into robots. We should give the teachers guidelines but also let them go into more depth with their respective subjects.

With Common Core, every single student has to learn the same thing; however, every kid is not the same! I’m reminded of a popular quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

When it is all said and done, the Common Core standards not only hurts Georgia, but also weakens America.

Brett Wilcox is a student at Jeff Davis High School

One comment Add your comment

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

April 14th, 2014
1:28 pm

In our separate but equal schools in the most southern Bible belt, our teachers used the Bible as a reference and taught that children should be seen and not heard. Almost everyone understood the rationale behind it. Children were not allowed input in adult conversations primarily because they are children. They are too immature and their contribution at best would be out of place. The place of children is to make every effort to honor their mother and father.

Common Core should be relegated to the dustbin of history. Opponents like me recognize it as a scheme to rid children of their core values. It is an educated way, if you will, to separate children from the sentiments of the Bible and that of their so-called racist and discriminatory fathers and mothers. As a matter of fact, in some circles that I frequent, Common Core is not considered a teaching method at all, but a psychological technique.

The more I think of the Atlanta Public School cheating scandal and Superintendent Beverly Harvard, and given the skullduggery pervading our nation, I am not sure if she is a villain or a hero. We most certainly don’t know her motives. Hall could be as guilty as the authorized conspirators determined to destroy the values of our children via education but lacked efficiency. But if she decided to cheat in an effort to preserve our values instead of transforming and destroying, Beverly Hall should be recognized for her outstanding service to her people and society.

Amen?