Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Homeschooler Responds to the Common Core

As the states gear up to implement the Common Core Standards, I have heard more than one person wonder what it means for the homeschool community. More than once, I have heard it said that we need to implement them because colleges and universities will expect our students to have the knowledge addressed in the standards. I doubt I am the only one who has heard these things. These statements have the potential to cause undue alarm in the homeschool community.  I hope to mitigate that alarm a little bit.

In short, as homeschoolers in this state, we operate as private schools in accordance with NC law. This means we have autonomy in choosing what to teach and how to teach it. We are not bound to the requirements of the state or federal government. There is nothing we "must change."

Many families homeschool so that they can tailor the education of their children to their individual needs as well as to reflect their family priorities. To me, it is part of the beauty of homeschooling. We are able to teach the right material at the right time in the right way for our students. Moving to the Common Core standards would strip this customization from our environment. Homeschoolers should think very carefully before considering the Common Core as a method of education, it is but one of many options available to us.

As far as college admissions are concerned, as long as international students, private schools and homeschools are in the picture, there will be people going into college with a variety of educational backgrounds. Some will meet the Common Core standards and some will exceed them. To state that we must comply with the Common Core in order for our students to remain competitive in college admissions is misleading. It would assume that the colleges, both public and private, will have the same standards that the federal government has for high school students. It also assumes that the Common Core will be sufficient to gain entry to a college, which, while highly likely, remains to be seen. I expect that the competitive universities will continue to require their potential students to far exceed the Common Core standards. As the Common Core is implemented across the country the applicant pool will become homogenized. Our students will continue to stand out as bringing unique knowledge, experience and diversity to the university community. Additionally, to say that we need to adopt the Common Core implies that we do not have sufficient standards on our own. With homeschool students from North Carolina being admitted to a variety of universities around the country with rigorous admission standards, we will continue to send our students to UNC Chapel Hill, Duke, Harvard, Yale and the service academies as well as to Wake Tech and Louisberg College, among others.

As far as curriculum is concerned, traditional textbook publishers are revising their books to match the Common Core Standards. Should homeschoolers adopt these new textbooks? Should those books written expressly for the homeschool students be revised as well? While that is certainly an option,  we have a wide and varied number of resources available to us. While some families choose to use textbooks for all subjects or selected subjects, we also employ a variety of other resources in order to customize that educational experience. To limit ourselves to textbooks would mean that we would be relying on a textbook company to predetermine not only what information to deliver to our students, but how it is to be delivered. Focusing on completing a textbook also diminishes the likelihood that a student will be able to pursue an academic passion in an in depth manner at an early age. Again, this would take the ability to customize an education out of our hands.

As a point of interest, federal education funding for the states is tied to their adoption of the Common Core standards. Failure to adopt them results in huge budgetary issues for the states, a risk most can't afford to take. We will never know how many states would adopt these standards if they were not tied to money. The education of our children has become politicized like it never has been before.

As parents, we are held accountable by the state of NC to educate our children and we have choices in how we go about doing this. Whether or not to adopt some or all of the Common Core standards in our homeschools is one of those choices. We also need never forget that no matter how we educate our children about the things of the world, God holds us to the standard of Deuteronomy 6: to teach our children about Him, His faithfulness and the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

maggz said...

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is actually one of those highly misunderstood movements by all sides of education.

One myth is that the CCSS is government created and government implemented. Neither is true. The CCSS was actually privately created and then promoted. There are actually several private groups working on a variety of educational standards. (such as the P21 which is more business driven) These groups have developed their ideas based on the disastrous results of the government run No Child Left Behind Act.

The reality is that the government is only now accepting the fact that perhaps Common Core could work. States that want to implement the Common Core in lieu of No Child must request a waiver from the federal government. As a matter of fact E.D. Hirsch, author of the “What Your … Grader Needs to Know” and long time staple for many homeschoolers, has even recognized that the CCSS is moving in the right direction.

Another myth is that the CCSS will bring about a whole new nightmare of testing. As of right now the CCSS is not connected with any testing. Instead the CCSS only promotes critical thinking skills via the use of “real books” and “real experiences”. Actually the CCSS is really not testable, and people like myself who oppose testing are hoping that this new set of standards might actually help destroy the over testing mentality of the education system. After all, how can critical thinking be standardized and tested?

This is part of the reason textbook companies are scrambling. The CCSS promotes the use of more real nonfiction reading. As the CCSS outperforms state and national standards textbook companies are changing the way they present educational materials. Look at Pearson for example and thier partnership with Colonial Williamsburg. This program was even sold in 2011 to homeschoolers via the Homeschool Buyers Coop.

Last, the CCSS is not comprehensive nor do they claim to be comprehensive. Actually when the first few pages of the document are read it clearly states that the CCSS should be used as a supplement to other standards. (as a homeschooler you could even interpret this as “to your standards”) Instead the CCSS is nothing more than a compilation of expected skills for students of a particular grade, not a particular age. Plus, it is understood by those who have spent countless hours reviewing the standards that if a student does not meet a certain set of skills within a certain grade then the teacher should go back and meet the student at his/her learning skill. This means if a fourth grade student can not produce a clear and coherent paper then the teacher should look at the 3rd grade equivalent and develop a program of guidance and support (page 21 of the English and Language Arts document

Really the Common Core State Standards was developed to help cover the core essentials of learning that is expected within an educated society. Currently, colleges are only exploring the CCSS because this set of standards is too new to be able to develop any type of admissions procedural process.

BTW: I’m a homeschooling mom of 14 years who happens to oppose testing and pigeon holing students. I was trained in education before the No Child Left Behind Act took effect and chose to homeschool based on our hectic family schedule. I’m also a graduate student in a library program. For the past six months I’ve researched the CCSS in relation to the library standards and a procedure called Writing to Learn (a non testable, but successful learning procedure).