It often seems like educators and students alike are learning about how to improve education, ironically. Some students and teachers advocate for the removal of Common Core, the prevailing American elementary and secondary curriculum, whereas others stand by it.
For instance, Elizabeth Shank, an Algebra 1 teacher at Paso Robles High School, generally feels satisfied with Common Core and the education system as it stands today.
“I think there are a lot of benefits to Common Core, just like any sort of state standard that we’ve had in the past,” she told me. “We have benefits, but there are pros and cons to everything… So I think that Common Core being implemented has made, overall, improvements with the students,” Shank summarized.
On another note, in response to a question about which specific improvements she’d like to see in the high school curriculum, Shank added, “Well, the Common Core curriculum has also shifted down a lot of material that used to be higher-level down to lower-level classes… So I would like to see a smaller amount of material to cover and allow it to go into depth to the capacity that the teachers would like to go into it as. The students would be more successful because they would have a better understanding of the concept, not just rules and algorithms on how to solve a problem.”
The educational system has seen a multitude of changes in several ways throughout the past 50 years, according to statistics gathered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and the U.S. Department of Education. Some of these changes have been overwhelmingly positive. For example, in 1968, around 54% of high school graduates opted to enroll in college, compared to a staggering 70% that enroll today.
“Since 2000, attainment rates among 25- to 29-year-olds have generally been higher for females than for males at each education level. Additionally, attainment rates have increased for both female and male 25- to 29-year-olds across all education levels,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the U.S. Department of Education.
California, a state with a mandatory Common Core curriculum, clocks in at a graduation rate of 82 percent versus 83 percent for the nation as a whole. Meanwhile, college attendance rates between 2005 and 2015, when Common Core and No Child Left Behind Act standards continued to be put into place, rose by 14% for the U.S. These statistics indicate that Common Core is doing well, in this respect, of preparing students for high school graduation and moving on to college.
However, not all of the changes to the educational system have been positive. A nonprofit organization dedicated to education reform known as Achieve collected data indicating how recent high school graduates felt about getting a job. That 2014 survey of 1,347 recent graduates indicated that 90% of the students felt that high school should strengthen and provide more opportunities for real-world learning, while 87% asserted that they would like to see improvements in early communication regarding college and/or career opportunities.
“I see high school as more of a preparation for college less so than for preparation for going into a job,” reflects Joseph Gregory, a 26-year-old teacher’s assistant. Supporting this point, a report released by Pew in 2015 reveals that less than a third of Americans aged 16 to 17 held a summer job, despite this being most high schoolers’ sophomore or junior year. This decline appears to have been consistent over the past 40 years.
Meanwhile, a March 2016 California study by 100 education researchers from both public and private universities concluded that there was no “compelling” evidence that Common Core is improving education, in the words of The Washington Post. These researchers also found that “high-stakes tests” did not benefit students and that the standards fall short of what supporters stated they would accomplish. Nonetheless, the Common Core website defends its benchmarks, insisting that they have been approved by teachers and address all the key concepts of student understanding.
Overall, the education system has undergone notable reform over the past fifty years, but many insist that different reforms than those currently being used must occur to further improve the structure of academics. Students and teachers, those most affected by the system, have a variety of ideas on how the changes already in place have affected schools for the positive or negative. There is some indication of progress, whereas other factors hint at regression. All in all, while it seems that Common Core may play a part in furthering education standards and slightly improving test scores nationwide, many professionals and non-experts, including those at PRHS, disagree with the notion that these guidelines will benefit students in the long run and prepare them for the future.