Thank you Emma Carey for this guest post.
A difficulty that a lot of homeschooling parents have is keeping up with the changes in educational standards and practices. It’s so easy to simply try to teach your elementary kids the same things you remember learning (reading, writing, arithmetic and so on) at the same ages and in the same ways that you remember learning them. It’s something that, even as the homeschooler of someone in kindergarten, has become a challenge.
School, though, has changed a lot since many of us were students. Today, education is built around a quite controversial system called “common core.”
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What Is Common Core?
Basically, “common core” is a set of standards that was developed at the federal level to replace the state sanctioned standards that had been put in place by the No Child Left Behind Act. Because the No Child Left Behind standards were quite varied, it was very difficult to tell whether or not students were showing any improvement in math or reading (the two subjects on which these standardized tests focused). Now kids all over the country are expected to meet the exact same set of standards. The idea (say the politicians anyway) is to level the playing field and create a sense of equality. This is obviously quite controversial.
The Pros of the Common Core
Having definite benchmarks is often a good thing because it helps create structure and gives teachers and educators guidelines about how to set up their lesson plans and how to evaluate a student’s progress. It is also worth noting that the Common Core tests are supposed to be harder to “game.” (Though there were several instances of school districts reconfiguring and even cheating on tests to help raise their scores.) Many schools, lawmakers and families are very concerned about common core.
The Cons of the Common Core
For one thing, it encourages teaching to a test. As homeschoolers this can be incredibly frustrating. Part of the reason many of us choose to homeschool our children is so that we can structure the lessons and subjects to best suit our children’s natures and skill levels. It is supposed to take the pressure off. Because our kids are still supposed to be evaluated by the district, however, our kids will have to pass the same tests that kids in a formal educational environment will have to pass.
There is a lot of pressure, particularly among school teachers, to “teach to the test.” This was a huge problem after the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top Acts were put in place and skeptics of the common core say that this narrow focus on the test will simply encourage more of the same.
A Blessing and a Curse of the Common Core
Right now, reading and math are the only two subjects that are regulated by Common Core. On the one hand this means that there is still some freedom within the other classes and subjects—like history, civics, the sciences, etc. On the other, it also means that focus is taken away from those subjects and school districts are canceling those classes and forcing teachers to focus on what is being widely measured. This reduces the chances that kids are getting a truly well-rounded education.
Where to Find Answers About Common Core and Home Schooling
There are a lot of resources out there for both traditional teachers and homeschool teachers, who might have some questions about how the common core system is going to work. Based on direct teacher feedback, some of the common core sample questions can be created from over 40 different technology enhanced formative assessments. The truth is that, because common core is so new, online resources like this one are probably more likely to have the answers you seek since traditional school districts are still figuring out the details and how they apply to their schools and classrooms.
Finally, remember that as common core is adopted and evaluated there will be difficulties, even for homeschoolers. Don’t be afraid to speak up or ask questions of your district or representatives! If you want changes you must speak up.
How do you feel about common core?