Understanding the Common Core Standards from the Homeschool Perspective
Conservative bloggers are lighting up the cyber world with dire warnings on the destruction of public education because of something known as the “Common Core Standards.” Several have boldly stated that this government initiative could be the end of homeschooling too. It is worth taking the time to read behind the blogging to put things in appropriate perspective for those of us who have chosen the freedom of homeschooling.
The bloggers are certainly not all wet regarding bad things happening in public education. There is definitely something bad happening with public school curricula, and the Common Core Standards are playing a role. We will touch on that somewhat, but there are two more important fundamental questions I want to focus on here for those of us who homeschool:
Are the Common Core Standards having a negative impact on homeschool curricula?
Are the Common Core Standards and their adoption by states a direct threat to our homeschooling freedom?
The impact on homeschool curricula. First, one needs to demystify Common Core Standards. In short, they are a ramped up “educational scope and sequence” drafted at the direction of the National Governors Association. An “educational scope and sequence” is simply a tool used by the factory system of education we call public schools to determine where a student should be at a particular grade level with regards to understanding basic concepts. During the last few decades some big business interests and colleges have been demanding the development of national standards to measure a high school diploma so they can be confident when hiring or admitting someone with a high school diploma that they are getting a known commodity. This effort has taken on various names like “no child left behind” or “profiles of learning”.
After several federal initiatives failed, businesses and academia approached the National Governors Association (NGA) in 2009 to develop a suggested uniform set of educational scopes and sequences. The NGA is no conspiratorial organization, but is best explained by its title – it is an association of the governors from all 50 states working on common initiatives. The folks hired by the governors completed their task and titled the new set of model scopes and sequences the “Common Core Standards”.
The standards are broken down into two broad categories, Mathematics and English Language Arts. The standards themselves are very broad general statements of where a student should be at a particular grade level. I would not suggest it, but if you want, you can read each of the standards at the following website: http://www.corestandards.org/
The standards themselves have no statement that would cause someone with a Christian worldview to be angered. Again, they are simply just broad statements of where a student should be at a particular grade. For example, one of the English Language Arts standards for a 5th grader on the subject of literature reads: “Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.” (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.1). Therefore, railing against the language in the Common Core Standards would actually make one look a little foolish.
Nonetheless, it is not the actual language in the standards but how they are being applied that is probably the biggest concern. Over the last few years, the governors have been taking these standards back to their respective departments of education and legislatures; 45 states have adopted them in some form. Therefore, curricula providers are recognizing the need to change their curriculum to come in line with the new scope and sequence developed by the Common Core Standards.
This realignment of curricula only makes common sense for the factory school system. Unfortunately, this wholesale redevelopment of curricula has given a fresh opportunity for the education elite that has embraced a nihilistic secular humanistic worldview to spread their message. Not surprisingly then, those who are in the business of selling curricula to public schools trying to meet the new Common Core Standards may also take advantage of the change to put in content that we as Christians find objectionable.
Therefore, the 5th grade standard that says “Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text” is not the problem unless the 5th grade curricula the public school bought from the curriculum companies uses a text that talks about how Jesus is not a historical figure. Little Johnny is then asked to read a text attacking Christianity where he is required to make an accurate quotation on how Jesus is not a historical figure while explaining the inference of that text. Therefore, the fact that the curriculum is tied to the Common Core Standards is not the problem, but rather it is what worldview the curriculum is tied to that we should be concerned about.
Frankly, obsessing about public-school standards is just a bad idea for homeschoolers. When our family started homeschooling in the early 1990's, many obsessed about scope and sequence for their kids because they didn't want them to be “falling behind the public school kids” and they had a greater need to prove that homeschooling was a viable option. What homeschooling statistics have since found out is that our careful tutoring model that identifies the best style of learning for our children is a far more successful predictor of academic achievement than being a slave to some sort of public school scope and sequence. Simply put, because mom and dad are motivated educators who care about their kids, homeschoolers will outperform any factory school that is spinning their wheels trying to fit widgets in the standards.
What does this mean when you are buying curriculum? First of all, don't buy into the grade level designation. Know your student and don't be afraid to start them later in a curriculum or earlier in the curriculum based on their needs. Also, recognize that the major curriculum companies have been going through significant revisions of their curriculum and they may (or may not) have drifted away from our Christian worldview principles as a result. This is something happening culturally that the Common Core Standards has only accelerated, but not created.
Be aware that the ACT and SAT college entrance exams are working to align their testing expectations with the Common Core Standards. This actually makes good common sense. If the bulk of their students are expected to be at certain levels of academic achievement by age 16, it's only fair to make sure that the test is actually measuring these levels. Not surprisingly, it will probably result in these tests being easier in the future. There are many public policy arguments that can be made regarding this likely result, but the focus here is the effect on homeschoolers. Therefore, one just needs to be aware of this fact if you are preparing your student to succeed on the college entrance exams. Most of our students won't need to worry about this because they will do very well on the test due to our education method. However, if you have a student that is struggling and is on the edge of competency for college, be aware that the standards may give you somewhat of an advantage to help focus your educational plans leading up to the entrance exams.
Are the Common Core Standards and their adoption by states a direct threat to our homeschooling freedom? The short answer to this question is no. Minnesota has already adopted the English Language Arts Standards and they were implemented this school year in the public schools. Minnesota has had standards for a number of years and the reason we so easily adopted the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts was because they were so close to our existing standards. Minnesota has only partially adopted the Mathematics Standards because they were quite a bit different and less rigorous than our present standards. The Minnesota Department of Education will review this position in a few years after they see how the math standards are rolled out nationally.
In Minnesota, as in most states, private education and homeschooling are not bound by state standards. The NGA has never indicated they want the standards to apply to private education. The bigger concern has always been the education elite wanting their ideas of diversity taught in private schools by force. They also aggressively advocate that the curriculum providers follow their secular humanistic worldview. The Common Core Standards did not create that environment, but if anything they have touched off another round of curricula changes that have exacerbated the problem. Examine your curriculum options carefully and if it goes against your worldview, don't buy it.
Here's the real problem. I have been reading most of the articles that have been coming across my laptop on this subject as it relates to homeschoolers. In every one of those articles where the blogger tries to make the connection to homeschooling, it typically refers to a situation where the “homeschooler” is trying to have their feet in both worlds of homeschooling freedom and government funding. It is either a situation where the family is part of a government run virtual school or using government dollars to purchase their textbooks.
Two sayings come to mind; “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24) and “freedom is not free”. I have long preached the concern around virtual academies and the need to decouple oneself from government funding when it comes to the purchase of our curricula. We have an absolutely wonderful homeschool freedom that was bought at a significant price by past homeschoolers on our behalf. They lost money, spent time in jail and were ridiculed for wanting to educate their children in a Christian worldview at home.
Therefore, embrace your freedom by unplugging from government programs that come with strings and require the teaching lessons contrary to your Christian worldview. Spend the time to carefully examine the worldview of the curricula you may purchase, or develop your own. There is no government program presently forcing you to buy a set of bad curricula. Therefore, as homeschoolers we should be very careful how we use our dollars in the marketplace so that we encourage quality curricula that respects and honors our Christian worldview. MÂCHÉ is always very vigilant in this concern and looks for your feedback. We should be very forceful and demanding in the marketplace.
Being forceful and demanding on the public policy of adopting education standards in the public square is a different matter. I would advise caution in getting involved in opposing the development of the Common Core Standards for public schools.
Our conservative friends who have not boldly chosen to train their children in the freedom of their own home but rather have their feet both in the Christian and secular world regarding education would like us to help fight their battles. They know we are well organized and highly motivated in the preservation of the Christian worldview. Therefore, they like to get us riled up to fight their battles. Certainly the resulting changes are dumbing down curricula and, it could be argued, speeding up the moral decline within public schools, but our kids are not in the public schools.
As states adopt the standards, I am not inclined to think that homeschoolers should get involved in this public school debate. These standards are already here and they are reshaping factory school curricula. That is already water over the dam. I would say you should save your gunpowder. Our response to these conservative bloggers in their comment section should be “Join us on the outside. You can no longer have your feet in both worlds when it comes to the education of your precious children. There is something freeing about being on the outside. The air smells better, the grass is greener, your family life is fuller, your children behave better and they have greater academic success too. It's time to leave. Wake Up!!!”
MÂCHÉ Board Member