How Much Do You Know About Common Core?

by C. Vail

common-coreFrom Wikipedia: “The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a U.S. education initiative that seeks to bring diverse state curricula into alignment with each other by following the principles of standards-based education reform. The initiative is sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).”

From the Los Angeles Times: “Common Core is a series of benchmarks for what students should learn in language arts and math, kindergarten through 12th grade. The standards have been adopted by 45 states. They are being phased in this school year and are to be fully in place in (most) schools in the 2014-15 school year.”

I attended the July meeting of the board of directors of the Octorara School District.  Most of that meeting was devoted to an A/V presentation by Elena Wilson, Octorara’s new Director of Curriculum and Instruction.  The subject was something called Common Core, or more formally ‘The Common Core State Standards Initiative.’  I had not previously heard either term, but I was intrigued.  As I understood it, in its simplest form Common Core was an effort, – an initiative if you will, – to align the learning standards for public school students across the country, so that from grade-to-grade students in, say, Prairie Junction, South Dakota, would be expected to acquire the same body of knowledge and the same set of skills as students in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania.  I also understood that, beginning with this current school year, Common Core would begin to be implemented in a big way in the 45 states (including Pennsylvania) which have adopted it, and that initially the process of implementation would focus on math and what are called the English Language Arts (ELA), before moving on to other subjects in subsequent years.  Finally, I understood that Common Core did not necessarily represent the nationwide adoption of a common curriculum, but was rather an agreement among the participating states to adopt a common set of standards of what knowledge and skills students should have at each grade level.

I did a report on that July board meeting and posted it on this blog.  I took pains not to offer any editorial judgments, except to basically say that this seemed like a very, very big deal; that I had some degree of reflexive skepticism because of the federal government’’s prominent role in an area that traditionally has been the province of the states and local school districts; but that like it or not Common Core was here and I guess the proof will be in the pudding.  We will simply have to wait and see how well students perform as Common Core plays out over the years immediately ahead.

After that first post I was curious to see how much about Common Core had been reported in this country’’s ‘major media;’ i.e. network news broadcasts, national news magazines like TIME, and major, influential newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post.  So I did an internet search of the term ‘Common Core.’  I then waded through the first 20 pages of ‘hits’ that my search returned, about 300 hits in all.  I certainly did not read them all.  I didn’t even click on most of them.  I ignored, for example, any hit where the website address ended in .gov or .org.  I wasn’t looking to see what the U.S. Department of Education, state departments of education, teachers’’ unions, etc. were saying about Common Core.  For purposes of my search I eliminated any website or blog where the sponsoring person or entity likely had an ‘‘agenda,’ pro or con.  For purposes of my search I only wanted to see what had been reported about Common Core in the media outlets where most Americans turn to get their news.

The results were disappointing to say the least.  I was able to compile a list of only about a dozen hits which matched my search criteria.  I included links to those dozen or so hits in a follow-up post I wrote.  And as before I generally refrained from making editorial comments.  My only purpose was to say to readers: ‘Look, you probably don’’t know much about Common Core, and a big part of the reason why is because there has been so little reporting on it; but if you want to find out more, then the links listed below are a good place to start.’

I didn’t note then, but in hindsight I probably should have, that virtually nothing about Common Core could be found on the OASD website, certainly not in any prominent way or easily accessible place.  I found that curious, but I thought: well, Common Core is still pretty new and the district just needs some time to create a place on the site where it tells all and explains all about Common Core.

Since those posts back in mid-summer, Common Core has achieved a somewhat greater place in public consciousness.  Much of it has been controversial.  As Common Core has begun to be rolled-out some states are reconsidering their participation.  In some places parents’ groups are organizing to object and fight back against the adoption and implementation of Common Core.  Yet despite the higher consciousness about Common Core I think it is fair to say that Common Core remains under the radar screens of most Americans.

A few days ago, once again curious about news coverage, I went back and did another internet search of the term Common Core.  Only this time, instead of wading through just 20 pages of search hits, I waded through 50 pages of hits, something in excess of 700 hits in all.  My search criteria remained the same; that is to say, I was only interested in seeing how much coverage of Common Core has appeared in those major, national media outlets where most people get their news.  As you would expect, my second search turned up more than the first, but in my opinion the ‘pickins’ are still pretty slim.  A list of the relevant links I found appear at the end of this post.

In this second investigation into media coverage of Common Core I also wanted to expand the search to include local media, and to go an extra mile to make sure I wasn’t missing something and that I was being fair.  So rather than just rely on the results which turned up through an internet search engine, I:

  • Went directly to the websites of the major TV networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX.  I wasn’t interested in written stories which might have appeared on their websites, but only in video reports which had appeared on any of their news programs and which sought to explain, in a general way, what Common Core was all about.  I found nothing from ABC and NBC, only one report from CBS, and three from FOX.
  • Went directly to the websites of the local affiliates of the major TV networks (Channel 6 Action News, Channel 3 Eyewitness News, etc.).  Again, I wasn’t interested in written stories, but only in video reports which had appeared on their TV news broadcasts.  And I wasn’t interested in limited-focus stories – for example about a disruption at some school board meeting –but only in broadcast stories which at least attempted to provide an overview of Common Core.  I found nothing.
  • Went to the website of the Philadelphia Inquirer.  As with the local TV affiliates, I found some limited-focus stories, as well as a number of op-ed pieces, but no straight-reporting story that tried to lay out Common Core in a fairly comprehensive and easily understood way.
  • Went to the website of the Daily Local News.  Once again, there were a few limited-focus stories, but nothing that attempted to really educate readers about Common Core.

Now this is not to say that there isn’t plenty of information about Common Core out there.  You could do your own internet search and spend hundreds if not thousands of hours reading and viewing all the material available.  But that was not the purpose of my search nor is it the purpose of this post.  My purpose is simply to demonstrate that it is small wonder why so many seem to know so little about Common Core.  The places where most people turn to get their news simply have not devoted much time or attention to the matter.  I think that is negligent, a poor reflection on the news judgment of this country’’s media.  The broadcast networks can find time to cover the birth of a Panda at the National Zoo.  Local TV stations and newspapers always have plenty of time for fires, crime, and sports coverage.  So how come so little coverage of the big deal that is Common Core?  After all, consider what one opinion writer had to say in a 6-8-13 piece which appeared in the New York Times and which was titled: ‘Who’’s Minding the Schools?’  “(Common Core) may be the most far-reaching experiment in American educational history…the anxiety that drives the criticism comes from the fact that a radical curriculum –– one that has the potential to affect more than 50 million children and their parents –– was introduced with hardly any public discussion.  Americans know more about the events in Benghazi than they do about Common Core.  …For all its impact, the Common Core is essentially an invisible empire.  It doesn’t have a public office, a board of directors or a salaried staff.  Its website lists neither a postal address nor a telephone number…”

Even among those who consider themselves up-to-speed on Common Core, and regardless of where they stand on the matter, whether they think Common Core is an unwarranted attempt by the federal government to take over public school education and represents a radical remaking of what and how our children learn, or whether they think Common Core is a logical and long overdue step to bring some standardization to the country’’s schools so that our kids will be better prepared to compete in a global economy – there is almost universal agreement that Common Core is indeed a very, very big deal.

So despite the fact that the media generally have done a poor job of reporting on Common Core, and despite the fact that the OASD website still has virtually no information about it, sources are still out there, such as in the list of links below:

Video reports found on network/cable TV news broadcasts:

Stories found in major print publications, and on some major news-oriented websites:

One thought on “How Much Do You Know About Common Core?

  1. I could have, but chose not to include the recently-published article linked here — http://www.nationalreview.com/article/361575/fighting-common-core-michelle-malkin — in my original post. The reason I chose not to is because the author, Michelle Malkin, is an outspoken critic of Common Core who has already written extensively on the subject. Whereas in my original post I wanted to cite only those media references which at least feigned objectivity, Malkin is clearly dead-set against Common Core. In other words, she has an ‘agenda,’ and in my original post I tried to avoid that. Nevertheless, Michelle Malkin is a widely-published essayist and book author, and she frequently appears on TV talk shows. She has influence. When she speaks, people listen. So, forewarned that Malkin’s piece is biased against Common Core, I nevertheless think that it makes for interesting reading. If nothing else, I think it points to the fact that Common Core is becoming increasingly controversial as more people learn about it.

    C. Vail

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