common core equity
Is this the example of equity in common core? Does this equity produce excellence?


A reader commenting on a previous post raised the question (inadvertently) about the true goal of Common Core.  He wrote:

However, the issue of the CCSS only going to Algebra II is a well-beaten dead horse that everyone knows is a complete non-issue. The CCSS never claimed to be the highest level of achievement any student should aspire to. It was always intended to be a minimum. People who use the Algebra II issue to claim that the CCSS “dummys down” the math curriculum should take a look at how many HS students were going beyond Algebra II before the CCSS. Certainly not all of them, by a long shot.

I responded to his opinions (at the link) but want to highlight his contention of  People who use the Algebra II issue to claim that the CCSS “dummys down” the math curriculum should take a look at how many HS students were going beyond Algebra II before the CCSS. Certainly not all of them, by a long shot.

He didn’t provide any statistics on ‘how many students were going beyond Algebra II before the CCSS’ and that is was ‘certainly not all of them, by a long shot’, so we can’t speak to its validity.  But it begs this question I raised in my response:


As for your opinion on how many students were going beyond Algebra II before the CCSS, that argument can be framed that in the interest of equity, we are not going to offer the higher level math classes all children need to take for prestigious universities because it’s, well, not fair to those who can’t handle the math, so the other students will just have to console themselves that CCSS public education will make them ready for community college. It’s got to be an equity issue, doesn’t it, since you imply the majority of students were not taking math beyond Algebra II. And if we don’t offer math beyond Algebra II, that cuts down on those STEM jobs requiring higher math….but if, as the article stated, 71% of the STEM jobs are in computers, does it makes sense that higher math isn’t offered in CCSS?


If you believe this research predicting most STEM jobs will be in computing or designing apps, is it a good ‘Return on Investment’ for public school students to offer those higher math classes for the actual few students who will attend medical and engineering schools?  Will only those privileged students from private schools be able to take the courses making them eligible for the elite universities?

Or perhaps it’s not so much that the kids can’t handle rigorous academic levels for demanding STEM jobs, it’s that we don’t have the jobs for students as we have outsourced those to foreign countries or are offering the ‘plum’ STEM jobs to those individuals who can afford a student/work visa to take those jobs in America at a lower pay rate.

Arne Duncan must be wrestling with this public relations nightmare of defending the standards as taxpayers are questioning why ‘higher, rigorous’ standards are only preparing students for community colleges.  He appeared at a White House Summit with superintendents to discuss yet another Federal initiative on the importance of technology in the Common Core State Standards Initiative:


Secretary Duncan was responding to a question posed by David Hoffert, the superintendent of Warsaw Community Schools in Indiana at the time, who asked whether technology was seen as a “bridge to equity of education for all students.”

Duncan responded in part,

If we are honest with ourselves, while we have made – in some places – some progress on closing gaps, we are nowhere near where we need to be and I don’t think there’s a district in the nation and I know there’s not a state in the nation that can claim that those gaps have been eliminated. For me it is not just about closing gaps, it is about raising the bar for all kids…you don’t want to close them by having white kids…you know, dumbing down what they are doing – it’s bringing up our children of color.

Duncan added,

And you guys might know this as well, for the first time in our nation’s history this school year, our nation’s students are majority minority.

What is the reason that higher level math doesn’t exist in the standards?  How are students expected to take high school Chemistry and Physics if they don’t have the prerequisite math?  Is this quest for equity for ‘closing the gap’ a convenient talking point that in effect, does narrow the opportunities for higher curriculum, aka ‘dumbing down’ all children, regardless of their subgrouping?  How does ‘lowering the bar’ mean the same as raising the bar?  How can you ‘shoot for the stars’ when you are only allowed to fly at 30,000 feet?

Read this article from a Chief Academic Officer of a Charter School in Massachusetts speaking of linking equity to the Common Core.  She (and the teaching staff) accepts the standards as being more rigorous but is especially sensitive that the expectations align to equity:

Linking Equity with Common Core

Student achievement, standards alignment, student growth—whatever you want to call it—cannot be viewed in a silo. Rather, our team needs to see that every thing we do – every decision we make with a lesson plan, every assessment we design, every classroom layout we consider, every student we greet and get to know, and every standard we teach – creates an environment for our students. We must be highly aware of our own biases. We have to deeply know our students, and not just their competencies in the classroom. We need to know their backgrounds, their hopes, and their understanding of themselves.

The “trick” in the 2014-2015 school year is for our school to understand that the adopted standards inform an aspect of our students experience of their educational path, but that the whole journey has to be devised, created, and implemented by our team. We could make that journey single-minded and not embrace the diversity within our community or we can make that journey a robust one; one that pauses for clarity, embraces difficult conversations, and encourages the development of cultural competencies in all of our community members.

I have learned the most difficult thing to do as a leader is shift mindsets. I am charged with shifting our staff’s mindset. I will know this two-focus approach has worked if at the end of the year our team members view it as one singular movement. I will know that our work has been successful when our alignment to the Common Core is done under the umbrella of equity. (emphasis added)

Is the Goal for Common Core Equity or Academic Excellence?  Do diminished academics create academic excellence?  If the answer is that higher level coursework is not being offered and states are only ‘allowed’ to add 15% and discouraged from doing so, the answer must be this is all about lowering (not raising) the bar so all can succeed, regardless of the statements of Arne Duncan.  Reducing the reach for excellence is diminished opportunity for all.


Published November 23, 2014


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