If you are a parent of a child in school, and if you don’t live in Alaska, Virginia, Texas, Minnesota, or Nebraska, and if you don’t live with your head under a rock, you have probably heard of the new Common Core Standards that states are being forced encouraged to adopt, with the dangling carrot of federal funding. There is a ton of uproar about it.
Maryland is implementing the English and Math Common Core standards this year. And because there is such a hoopla about it, I thought maybe I should get an opinion.
My gut reaction to common standards in place throughout the United States is a positive one. I moved to the United States right before I started second grade. I spent second grade at an elementary school in Georgia. Right before third grade, we moved to New Jersey. We stayed there awhile—we left halfway through my ninth grade year, to Florida. I finished high school in Florida and moved to Tennessee for college, and then finished up my bachelor’s back down in Florida.
Two of my kids started elementary school in Illinois. Now we live in Maryland. The plan is to stay here for the foreseeable future, and we actually put down roots (read: bought a house), so we can’t just gypsy away in the night, even on the days when we want to.
I don’t think my story is particularly unique. As our job market changes, as people remain less loyal to companies that are showing no loyalty to them, people move. Crossing state lines is easy—there are not security checkpoints to make sure you “belong” (well, maybe in Texas…), you don’t need to show your passport, and the Full Faith and Credit Clause means that you’re still married when you move, even if your new state doesn’t like it.
Moving from Canada to the United States and beginning the second grade was traumatic. Less educationally and more that I didn’t know the appropriate lingo to tell people not to cut me in line. Also, I may have still had traces of the English accent I started with (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and the Canadian accent I probably developed in kindergarten and first grade (O Canada!). While having an accent as a grown up can be cool, it turns out that in elementary school it just makes you different.
The move that was the most challenging for me growing up was definitely the move in high school. My school in New Jersey was stellar. I was in an honors English class and spent the first half of the school year studying Shakespeare and writing college-level essays analyzing his works.
We moved to Florida in December, and I started at my new school in Florida in January. Aside from the social awfulness of moving during my freshman year of high school (of which I could write an angsty teenage novel, I’m sure), I all of a sudden was in a new learning environment. I was put into an honors English class in Florida. My first day of school, the teacher gave me a seat, told me to sit down, and said that I could do whatever I wanted as long as I didn’t bother her. I’m fairly driven, and I really like English, so I looked through the syllabus and saw that I was going to have to read a book from the list and write about it (I don’t remember the parameters). So, I chose The Scarlett Letter, and quickly finished it and wrote something that was probably brilliant. Or, at least, as brilliant as a 14 year old can write about issues that she doesn’t understand when the teacher isn’t helping to draw out the ideas and the literary techniques that she should be thinking about. I got a C. No feedback. No rewrites. No meetings with the teacher to understand it. I never turned in another assignment. I got a C in the class.
I also started in French. I learned some in Canada, promptly forgot it when I came to the U.S., and began taking it again in middle school in New Jersey. When I moved to Florida, I spoke French better than my teacher. She didn’t like that, and tried to fail me because I hadn’t turned in an assignment that had been given before the holiday and that I wasn’t aware of. She also accused me of cheating because when she gave me the midterm along with everyone else, to see how my French was, I got a perfect score.
In New Jersey, I had been taking a World History class. That was a junior level class at my new school. There weren’t enough chairs, and the teacher didn’t bother to ever find me one. My first day in class I sat on a stool in the front of the room. Then some girls took pity on me and I sat with them for the rest of the year. Aside from one group assignment to do a presentation of some kind, we mostly sat in class with BET or MTV on the class television while the students gossiped. I wish I was exaggerating.
Interestingly, in my Geometry class (also an upper level class in Florida), the two schools used the same textbook. Unfortunately for me, in New Jersey, we had started at the beginning and were going through the book. In Florida, they had started about halfway through the book, beginning with materials that were tested on the High School Competency standardized test that you had to pass to graduate high school. When I arrived, they started back at the beginning. So, I learned all about triangles, twice. I never learned whatever came next.
So, basically, my experience with moving across state lines during my education was not pleasant. Educationally, I was not challenged when we left New Jersey. It was hard to adjust to the new curriculums and expectations, and a much slower and less vigorous learning pace. Don’t get me wrong—I did have some fantastic teachers in Florida, and I switched from learning French to Spanish, and made some amazing friends.
But having such different educational standards doesn’t necessarily make sense as our country’s borders become more fluid. Most people who were going to college in Florida were likely to go to one of the Florida schools. It makes sense—Florida offered scholarships and grants to their high school grads (which I took advantage of when we moved back to Florida to finish our degrees). I think a lot of states have similar programs, and as college gets more expensive, those programs are going to become more critical.
That said, what if I had done the opposite—what if I had moved from my Florida school to my New Jersey school? I probably would have taken at least another year to graduate, simply because the pace of education was more relaxed and less vigorous and I would have had to ramp up, and perhaps take more basic skills classes to get on track. Additionally, how is it acceptable that some kids are learning all of these valuable skills in one state, but in another, they are left behind (political reference intended)?
So, all that to say that I think that there is value to having a common set of standards that are used across the states to teach the skills that really really really every kid should know, or if they don’t, should not be able to graduate from high school. Really. And in case four ‘really’s weren’t enough, REALLY.
Next up: Are the standards good standards? And is the implementation of these standards going well?
Stay tuned, and hopefully I’ll get around to writing another blog post.