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Five myths about the COMMON CORE CURRICULUM

1. The Common Core is a national curriculum./Common Core is a state-led initiative.

Which version you subscribe to corresponds with your position on the standards.

“ObamaCore is a comprehensive plan to dumb down schoolchildren so they will be obedient servants of the government and probably to indoctrinate them to accept the left-wing view of America and its history,” wrote conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly at townhall.com.

“Common Core was and still is a state-led effort,” Derek Redelman of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce wrote in response to state legislation to pull out of the initiative. “Common Core opponents know that if they can tear it down in Indiana first, the foundation will begin to crumble across the country.”

The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle. The Obama administration – namely Secretary of Education Arne Duncan – has embraced Common Core and pushed states to sign on by tying its adoption to federal funding. Development of the standards didn’t begin with the U.S. Department of Education, however. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers claim credit, but the money and muscle behind it came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which began pushing “data-driven decision making” as early as 2002. The Gates Foundation gave millions to both state government associations and has funneled millions more to foundations supporting Common Core.

2. The Common Core is on “pause” in Indiana.

House Enrolled Act 1427 discontinued “implementation” of the standards; it did not withdraw the state from work already done to align instruction with the new standards. Schools began the transition to Common Core after the State Board of Education unanimously approved the standards in August 2010. “All teachers are teaching CCSS, and teachers in grades 2-12 are also teaching some identified Indiana Academic Standards in order to assure alignment of standards with our ISTEP+ assessment during a period of transition,” according to the Indiana Department of Education’s Common Core evaluation, released in June. Kindergarten and first-grade teachers have made the switch to the new standards. Second-grade teachers were supposed to do so this year but will continue to teach the Indiana standards – along with Common Core – so their students will be prepared to take ISTEP+ in grade 3.

Indiana’s curriculum will inevitably be aligned to Common Core because the companies creating educational materials, including textbooks, have designed content to support the standards. The waiver the federal government granted Indiana from meeting No Child Left Behind goals also is tied to its use of Common Core.

3. Indiana’s current standards are higher than the Common Core standards.

That was the crux of much of the debate at last month’s Statehouse hearing. Opponents had well-credentialed experts testify to that effect. But Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has challenged the quality of Indiana’s math standards, pointing to the number of students who need remedial courses in college.

The right-leaning Fordham Institute released a report in 2010 proclaiming that Indiana’s English/language arts standards were “clearly superior” to Common Core and also graded its math standards higher. Later, Fordham officials clarified that they fully endorsed Indiana’s decision to adopt Common Core based on “ancillary benefits,” including access to innovations in digital learning spurred by the standards.

Common Core allows states to add their own standards, as well. Massachusetts, generally recognized as the top-performing state in K-12 education, has adopted Common Core and supplemented the standards with its own.

4. Literature is not taught as part of the Common Core standards.

The goal behind the standards is to prepare students for college and career, so there’s an emphasis on encouraging them to think as opposed to report. More nonfiction is included because jobs require employees to read more for information than for enjoyment. That’s disturbing to all who love to read, but Common Core doesn’t ban the classics. There is no prescribed reading list, but examples offered include “Charlotte’s Web,” “Little Women,” “The Grapes of Wrath” and poetry by Edgar Allen Poe and Shakespeare.

Some critics have confused standards with curriculum. The former describes what a student should know, while curriculum is the specific learning plan created to support that knowledge.

5. Indiana’s Common Core critics are responsible for Tony Bennett’s defeat.

The former state superintendent lent ammunition to this myth himself when he backpedaled on his support in an address to a tea party group a few months before the election.

“(The Obama) administration has an insatiable appetite for federal overreach,” he said. “The federal government’s involvement in these standards is wrong.”

But Bennett continued to support Common Core. His policies had so angered public school educators and supporters by last fall that dropping Common Core support would not have made a difference. Ritz won by 112,000 votes in a contest in which both candidates supported the standards.

While the Democratic challenger had called for a review of Common Core to ensure the standards best for Indiana students, she only opposed the state’s participation in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the consortium creating the high-stakes test attached to Common Core.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor, has worked at The Journal Gazette since 2000 and for Indiana newspapers since 1982. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by email, kfrancisco@jg.net.

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