Common Core Standards and the Future of American Education

Last Tuesday, the Education Center hosted a discussion on the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that are being implemented in public K-12 classrooms across 45 states.  These new standards were created by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association working together with parents, teachers, and school administrators  to prepare students to compete and succeed in college and the workplace.  The CCSS will encourage more critical thinking in English and Math, and attempt to bring the standards of American education to higher international levels.

The discussion began with the question of whether these standards are truly an improvement over previous ones, and if standardized education is good for American students moving forward.  Many discussion participants agreed that in a country such as the United States with states that are so different in terms of education quality, funding, and rigor, nationalized standards may be helpful to ensure skills are taught equally in different states, and to bring states with lower education quality higher.  However, these comprehensive standards, particularly nationalized ones, appear to be a “one shoe fits all” policy, which is not conducive to the individual needs and interests of students.  These increasingly difficult standards may leave slower students behind, and hold back students who are too advanced.   Moreover, standardized learning often leads to teachers “teaching to the test”–that is, only teaching students curriculum aligned to the standards rather than interesting, unique material that may be more likely to pique interest within students.  This problem arises from the connection between school funding and standardized test scores; when students do poorly on state assessments, the school receives less funding, and teachers may be reprimanded or reevaluated.  Consequently, teachers are incentivized to be less creative with their curriculum and instead only ensure students know the standards well.   In regards to the CCSS bringing the United States up to the standards of Singapore or Hong Kong, participants agreed that the United States should not be compared to these countries, as our country is so much more diverse.

The discussion then evolved to determining how education can truly improve in the United States, independent of just fixing standards.  Participants agreed that the view of schools in communities need to evolve such that schools become the focal point of these areas.  Parental involvement needs to improve drastically for socioeconomically disadvantaged students and schools, as such involvement directly correlates to better test scores, higher graduation rates, and higher college enrollment rates.  While the need for improved school funding was a consensus, an interesting point was the need for de-privatization of education materials provided to students.  Some participants contended that education in the U.S. has become a large business, and with CollegeBoard, Kaplan, and other companies dominating the industry, access to education comes at a high price, and only the wealthy are able to have the resources they need to succeed.  The majority of participants came to an agreement that the changes in the status quo are not nearly enough to fix the systemic issues in American education.

Any questions regarding the content of this discussion or further education policy ideas or proposals can be directed to Kunal Shah at kjs2165@columbia.edu.