Common Core: targeted solution or large-scale experiment?

Forty-five states have fully adopted Common Core Standards and an additional state has adopted the standards for English language arts. In part, the initiative rose out of mounting frustration at U.S. ranking in international standings and lack of student preparation for today’s science and technology-centered jobs.

According to the Common Core Mission statement, “The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”

Criticism of the new initiative tends to center around several areas, including concern over data collection, lack of piloting, limitations on personalized/individualized instruction, states that say no to Common lose federal money, conflicting interpretation of global standing, generalized frustration with standardized testing, and the claim that like MAP, MEAP, and so many others, it’s still “teaching to test” and just another one-size-fits-all approach

The one-size-fits-all-idea can cut both ways, however. In recent years in the U.S. it has become routine to keep moving students forward in the system, even when their skills are sub-grade level. Many would argue that it’s reasonable to expect that anyone who has completed 8th grade or 12th grade should be able to do X, Y, or Z with measurable proficiency. Although kids, like adults, are all different and learn in different ways at different speeds, standards do help ensure that kids—and teachers—are aiming toward the same goals.

Yet Finland, which consistently comes out at the top in international rankings of education systems, does not achieve its impressive results through standardized testing. In fact, Business Insider, suggests they accomplish it by “going against the evaluation-driven, centralized model that much of the Western world uses.”

Drawing from multiple sources such as the Smithsonian and New York Times, BI compiled an at-a-glance snapshot of Finland’s education system that underwent reform 40 years ago. Among other statistics, it reports that Finnish children do not start school until age 7, they rarely take exams or do homework until they are in their teens, they are not measured at all for the first 6 years of their education, there is only one mandatory, standardized test, taken at age 16, all kids are taught in the same classrooms, the country spends about 30 percent less per student than the U.S., about 30 percent of students receive extra help during their first 9 years school, and 93 percent graduate from high school.

Furthermore, as the Center on International Education Benchmarking notes, “High quality teachers are the hallmark of Finland’s education system. Teaching is Finland’s “most respected” profession, and primary school teaching is the most sought-after career.”

The 2012 population of Finland was 5.414 million or about twice the size of Chicago. How much can we extrapolate from a country so different in size, culture, politics, and, economics? Can we afford to do nothing in the face of declining performance, and is Common Core the answer? What are your thoughts about U.S. academic performance and Common Core? Share them here.