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What is the Common Core?

This year, 46 states including New York have

This year, 46 states including New York have begun introducing the Common Core in classrooms. Not exactly a new curriculum, the Common Core adds more writing and analysis to topics already being taught. Credit: Heather Walsh

There's so much noise around school testing this year that one would think "high-stakes" and "standardized" were New York's newest cuss words.

The noise has been so distracting that it took me quite a while to understand what's really been going on in classrooms. I had thought that the Common Core was a new curriculum fad, one of the many waves to roll through over the past 30 years. Instead, it's a way of training students to attack problems and think analytically.

Sure, I had noticed that my daughters – in eighth and tenth grades –  were doing different homework. Instead of the floppy standards of prior composition, they were required to write introductions, provide evidence and craft conclusions -- in subjects from social studies to science, not just in English class. In math, they had to show the steps they took to get their answers.

I talked to my daughters about the Common Core and its goals. "That would explain the lower grades," my 10th-grader mused about her academic performance this past year. But in the next breath, she said, "Well, I guess I'll be better prepared for college."

My take-away is that we're not doing our kids any favors when we fail to raise education standards, and they know it.

Some New York parents have boycotted the standardized tests, in part because they're making kids so anxious. Third- and fourth-grade parents and teachers feel as though the Common Core requires abstract thinking from kids who are much too young.

"The mother of one student I am tutoring called me on Sunday morning in tears trying to do a 4th-grade practice test with her daughter," one longtime teacher wrote. "The stress that this is causing families is beyond belief. Imagine an ESL or special ed student trying to do the same assignment without the benefit of private tutoring. They don't even have a chance."

I wrote more about the concerns here. I sympathize. The Common Core is being rolled out in 46 states, and the Obama administration, along with New York State education officials, have done a terrible job explaining the changes. But I'm still hopeful that the higher standards will benefit our country and will have been worth the disruption.

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