I see a lot of homeschool curriculum advertisements that tout ?meets Common Core Standards? or ?aligned with NGSS? or ?follows NCSS standards.? What does ?meets standards? mean for homeschoolers? Should it matter? What do these standards say and whose standards should we follow?
Common Core and more
Many of you are probably familiar with Common Core (CC). It caused a big stir a few years back as state after state adopted these standards under the threat of losing federal dollars if they didn?t. As schools scrambled to choose new curricula that aligned with CC, problems emerged. Parents protested. As a result, some states reversed their earlier decision and went back to what they were doing.
But, the debate continues within the homeschooling community. Some parents see it as a much-needed guide for what to teach at every grade. They embrace anything that carries the word ?standards? because it implies some level of excellence. And, they do. However, there are reasons why some homeschoolers reject CC and other standards-based education.
How are education standards developed?
Common Core was developed by governors and state commissioners. They claim that teachers were involved, but those were few. This is one of the chief problems with CC. The ideas behind it?streamlining education across the country and trying to remain internationally competitive?sound good, but teachers were largely left out of the writing of the standards. Therefore, many of the objectives are not developmentally-based. Take a look below and find more here.
Some examples of Common Core objectives
Here is one of the objectives for Writing in Grade 1:
Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or name the book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply a reason for the opinion, and provide some sense of closure.
Okay. What 6-year-old can write an opinion piece? Some of them struggle to write a complete sentence! We all know that little kids have basic opinions about things, but they don?t always know why they feel that way. And again, expressing it in writing is challenging for many. This is a great way to teach little kids to hate writing.
Here?s another example from Grade 1:
Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., explore a number of “how-to” books on a given topic and use them to write a sequence of instructions)
Shared research and writing projects for a child who can barely read? Hmmm.
What about math?
I took a look at two different grade levels, grade 3 and grade 5.
Grade 3 Operations and Algebraic thinking
Solve two-step word problems using the four operations. Represent these problems using equations with a letter standing for the unknown quantity. Assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies including rounding.
Pre-algebra for an 8-year-old? Two step problems? I suppose some kids could do it with pictorial representations, but many would get flustered. Children of this age are not generally capable of abstract thinking about numbers. Math anxiety, anyone?
Grade 5 Number and Operations for Fractions
Explaining why multiplying a given number by a fraction greater than 1 results in a product greater than the given number (recognizing multiplication by whole numbers greater than 1 as a familiar case); explaining why multiplying a given number by a fraction less than 1 results in a product smaller than the given number; and relating the principle of fraction equivalence?a/b?= (n?נa)/(n?נb) to the effect of multiplying?a/b?by 1.
A 10-year-old might be able to do the math, but explain why it works? Hmmm. Maybe. However, I?m sure there are plenty of children who struggle to do the math, too. Relying on memorization is not a good way to learn how to use a tool. Read about a famous experiment that showed what really works here.
What about other standards?
The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) developed a set of ten themes supported by social science standards. It is a professional organization for teachers in the social sciences and the themes and standards are pretty broad. One example under the theme of Time, Continuity, and Change reads: Studying the past makes it possible for us to understand the human story across time. This allows for a great deal of flexibility, but it also opens the door to personal interpretation, which can be dangerous in a classroom setting with an activist teacher. Check out more about their themes and standards for education in the social sciences here.
A team of business leaders, scientists and engineers, teachers, and others who are part of the National Research Council (NRC), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and other technology organizations developed the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Notice that many who contributed do not deal with children at all. They have outlined three dimensions of science learning?disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts (which help kids make connections within the four areas of science). You can check out more about their standards here.
What does ?meets standards? mean for homeschoolers?
Homeschoolers are not obligated to meet any of these standards, whether good or bad. But, if you choose to use materials that meet a third-party standard, that is your prerogative. However, if large numbers of homeschoolers start rejecting curriculums that do not meet particular standards, alternatives will cease to exist. We will, in effect, be regulating the entire community to use standards-based materials. The next step will be government intervention preventing any homeschooling family from using unregulated materials.
If we are going to keep our homeschooling freedoms, then we must be free to use whatever we want to educate our children. Do not be afraid to use library books and your own ingenuity to educate your child. That is why God gave those children to YOU, and not someone else. He has equipped you perfectly for the job and you do not need anyone else?s standards to be excellent at it. Feeling like your homeschool has to meet some standard and that you must use certain materials to be a good homeschooling parent is discussed here.