Adopted in 2010 and fully implemented this past 2013-2014 school year, Massachusetts has now fully felt the changes of what Common Core offers its followers. Even only a year and a half later, predictions about how it will continue to affect the state still swirl since hard evidence is still waiting to surface. No matter the side you are on, there are some hard facts to keep in mind as the shift finds a bit more permanence.
Literature to Nonfiction
One of the most staggering changes occurs within the English classrooms. Previously, classes had a very literature-centered culture, reserving nonfiction reads for history classes. Because Common Core places such an emphasis on analysis, reasoning and problem-solving, it is forcing nonfiction to take over half of the reading list in grade school and 70% by high school. Though some proponents of this are quick to point out that dry analysis and nonfiction are inextricably linked, it’s removing students’ training in understanding subtext and lingual differences that are essential to properly communicating with other human beings.
English, however, isn’t the biggest alteration Massachusetts schools are facing. The new Standards stray from memorization in favor of both finding the correct answer and then explaining how that answer was reached. A great practice in theory, it has forced many parents and teachers to significantly alter their approach to the topic. On top of this, when the Thomas B. Institute rated Common Core, its math section received a B minus. Math teachers are backing this grade, as well. The new curriculum actually postpones certain key concepts until later grades, rendering AP Calculus and other college credit exams near impossible to teach. But, of course, it is understood, if unwritten, that the better prepared schools will teach the necessary concepts when they need to be taught as opposed to when Common Core deems them ready.
Big opponents of this new way of learning are quick to cite it as a federally mandated set of rules that strip states’ rights away from education. In fact, the Standards are not curricula at all, they are merely goals in learning that should be achieved by specific grade levels. All teachers and all schools are responsible for coming up with their own way to get there. Even more encouraging, not all of the Standards have to be used. Up to 15% of those listed can be changed by the states using them to better integrate and customize the process for their unique needs and priorities.
To be decided this fall, PARCC, or the Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers, is a set of assessments aligned to the standards set forth by Common Core. It would allow for recurring testing to keep teachers updated on how well their students are grasping the core concepts. This, however, is still under debate as to whether it is a necessary addition or not. This spring, 54% of grade 3-8 classrooms will test it out to provide needed data that will help inform the vote. If voted in, students beginning in 3rd grade will take regular assessments through 12th grade to determine if they are on track for a successful college life and career path.
Massachusetts, after having undergone its first year of Common Core initiatives, is still very much in a shifting state. English and math classes have been slowly changing but will still see more as teachers get a better handle on what type of curriculum will help their students. In addition, there is still yet another testing initiative trying to push its way into the system by promising better control over verifying that every student can practice what they are learning. No matter the outcome, it remains clear that even though Massachusetts has fully integrated everything it said it would, it will still be many years before the dust settles and the real changes come to light.