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Common Core: Why Does It Work?

Updated on June 14, 2014
HLKeeley profile image

HL Keeley has received a Bachelors degree in middle grade education. She is currently teaching high school.


What is it and why is it so despised? As an education major, I do have some bias toward my feelings with common core. However, the arguments against common core nag the English part of my major’s concentration. In middle school, students are taught to write a persuasive essay. I will reiterate: IN MIDDLE SCHOOL. This is reinforced every year up until the student graduates from high school, so students know how to write a persuasive essay because they have to write at least one for around seven years. As a refresher, persuasive essays are done for students to try to convince the reader that their opinion is correct. What you are about to read can be considered a persuasive essay, not an academic essay, but still I am trying to get my readers to see why I like Common Core in the school system. The major reason why I like it is because it unifies the United States Education system. It is changing the teacher centered classrooms into student centered classrooms. The standards are scaffolding what the children are learning. Scaffolding in simple terms means that it is using previous knowledge to help understand to new content.

What Exactly is the Common Core?

Common Core is a set of standards from Kindergarten to Twelfth Grade on what the students should be learning in each grade in the content areas of Math and English. They are education goals in these content areas for grades to achieve. These all lead to the end goal of passing the dreaded standardized testing at the end of the year and later on the SATs and/or ACTs. The SATs, which is the scores that most colleges accept, focus on the content areas of Math and English by breaking down the test into three parts: Writing, Reading Comprehension, and Math. These three separate scores combine for the total score, but what many graduating high school students do not realize is that each section has its own score that universities do look at separately when it comes to specific colleges like the College of Education or the College of Nursing. I learned that the hard way and while my math scores made the cut for me to exempt the math part of the Praxis I. My reading and writing just skimmed underneath the exemption line, so I had to take the Praxis I which is another standardized test for teaching majors.

Common Core and Standardized Testing

The results of standardized testing are so important for those who pursue a future in college, but what about Social Studies and Science. I am really good at Social Studies. It is actually my strongest subject, followed by math, English, and then Science. That list was based on grades, not interest. Math and English would switch in the interest list. Anyway, when I found out there was not Social Studies, I was actually really bummed out and no one really told me why it is not on there until college. Math and English are application based subjects. There is not memorization of facts, but the learning of how to do something when presented with certain actions. I was going to use the word problems, but English does not have “problems” like Math does. For Math, students are given math “problems” to solve. The numbers are different while the process they choose is the same. Remember how I said, the “the process THEY CHOOSE.” This will be important later in the article. For English, I am using what I have learned in grammar, spelling, and the actual literature part of the class to write this article. I use the same knowledge to write my Facebook statuses, an email, speeches, stories, poetry, texting, and everything I have to write. While I choose to ignore the basic grammar structure in Facebook statuses and continue to use “…” in Facebook chats and texting in the incorrect way, the knowledge is there for me to write it properly. Standardized testing is seeing if a student does know how to use it properly and when the rules apply in different writing. I also need to acknowledge my favorite part of the test is the writing part because it is the acknowledgement that in every writing piece the voice will be different. It acknowledges that writing styles are different and grammar usage is different. As long, as you, do not make grammar Mistakes…this noticeable (yes I spelt that wrong on purpose) and u dew try, the scores will be pretty decent on the writing section. I do not grade them, but if this is a struggle for you or someone you know, my suggestion is just to write whatever you want and practice.

Those who created the Common Core know more about how the SATs and ACTs are graded better than me, which is why the goals are created the way they are. They are preparing students right when they walk into the school. Schools do not revolve around the principle that students need to get high score tests, although the results of the tests reflect on the school which is a reason (not “the” reason) teachers help students prepare for the tests. I believe “the” reason teachers help students prepare for the tests is because the teachers know how stressful the tests are. The tests are not created by the teachers. The tests are not created on what the student learned in school, but what the test makers believe the student should have been taught in school and what they should know by the end of the year to advance to the next stage of education. Sounds unfair? Some of these students do understand that the teacher did not make the test and what they learned will not be specifically on there. They question the teacher just as much as parents do. Not all students, but as a future teacher in the making, I enjoy those students that question because they should question. It is affects them and their future. It shows they care.

Have you seen the viral Facebook post about Common Core making Math "harder" to learn?

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USA vs. The World

That is not the universal answer though. Those students were taught with Common Core. I just helped with test anxiety. What if no standards existed? What does the teacher teach? What did the students learn before? What did the new student from Ohio learn? The education system is different in every state, but all the students are taking the same tests. I personally believe that every student should have the chance to learn the same things that they will need for the test. Every student is different and applies information differently, but the information should be the same. Common Core is trying to unite the education system in America. That Ohio student can have a clean transition into their new school system in Massachusetts. When the world compares the United States education scores to the rest of the world, it is not each state in comparison, but all the states together. It is unfair to compare apples to oranges, but countries want to be the best at everything so they will keep on being children and being like “I am better than you!” It is not just countries, but universities and schools. Students pick schools on which will look better on their degree, so when they go to an interview and their competition is from Yale, they can scoff and be like “Well, I went to Harvard so I am better than you.” When in reality, employers are looking at who they are and how they are going to apply the knowledge they got from college to help make the company grow.

Application of Knowledge

This is where the idea of scaffolding has come in. You learn that 5 * 6 = 30 (* means “multiply,” I do not use X). How do you learn that though? For an English person, I learned that “Five sets of six cards will give me a result of thirty individual cards.” For those that never understood why you had to write out how you got the answer, now you can see why. It is to help the teacher see that you understand what exactly the problem is saying. For those who are visual, they see this:

There are five columns and six rows.

Another way of saying 5*6 is 5+5+5+5+5+5=30; 5+5=10+5=15+5=20+5=25+5=30.

No matter how you say it, see it, or actually do it, the answer is the same. The process to get to the answer is different based on who is doing it and how they understand it. The actual math problem is scaffolding on what they have learned in addition to learn multiplication. Math is easier for me to explain scaffolding, but it can be done in any subject.

Other Examples of Scaffolding

Social Studies: Students learned all the Greek Gods and their names. Now they are learning Roman Gods, they can use what they learned about Greek Gods because the Romans have the same, but with different names.

Science: The continental plates are always moving and colliding. Later when they learn about volcanoes and mountains, they will learn that the formation of volcanoes and mountains are caused by when plates collide and move the ground up.

English: Verbs are action words like “run,” “jump,” and “fly.” Sentences consist of a subject and predicate. They scaffold both of these ideas to learn the following: Verbs connect the subject and predicate. “Be” verbs are the words that “link” the subject and predicate together. A couple of examples of “be” verbs are “are,” “is,” and “be.”

Denver Post cartoon satirizing the effect of standardized tests on public education.
Denver Post cartoon satirizing the effect of standardized tests on public education. | Source

Education in the Real Word

It all circles back to application of knowledge which is “education.” It is not “what can the company do for you,” but “what can you do for the company?” My personal dreaded question in the interview, “what makes you different from the other applicants?” I always saw that as bragging, but until I went into professional settings, I just realized that what they were asking is “What is something that you can do that will make our company stand out and be different from other companies?” They do not want you to bash the other applicants, but to see how the company will grow because of the addition of you to the company.

I used the example of businesses and careers because that is why most people go to school. They want to get a good job and live a steady life. Not everyone, but it is a very common belief I have seen when I was president of the National Society of Leadership and Success at Western Carolina University. That paragraph above is the same thing I told many of my members who came to me for help with interviews or just why to join the organization. As president, I tried to help them see how they shine and how they impact the organization. To be successful, I believe you need an education. My definition of education is learning the facts and applying them to your current situation.

Since businesses want to know more about whom you are, you need to know who you are first. Teachers now focus on the class as individuals. How does the class learn best as a group and individually? Do students learn better from working with another person? Do they learn better by taking the time to figure it out on their own? What does the student need help with? Can they speak in front of a group or people? Teachers are constantly learning about their students to challenge the students to break out of their comfort zone and learn where their strengths and weaknesses are. The teacher is there to help them overcome their fears and help strengthen them. Teachers use the community to help the students apply the information they are learning into the world they live in. The teachers now encourage discussion instead of straight lecture and memorization. The students are active in their own education. They have more of a say about what they are learning. Also the teacher can see how the students are retaining the information. Sometimes “tricks” can hurt students, especially if they made the trick up as seen in the following video.


Common Core is strengthening the change in the education system as a whole throughout the nation. People have comfort in the “old” ways, but nothing is perfect. Scaffolding helps with students remembering different aspects of a lesson because it is connected to other information. It also helps refresh what they have previously learned. It is a basic guideline of goals for teachers across the nation for the students to learn instead of having students learning different things at different times prohibiting scaffolding. If we are being looked at as a whole country, then the whole country should have a unified education system. It also creates a more fair system for acceptance into a university. Is a straight A student who got an A for attendance and a 4.0 GPA better than a student with a 3.0 who actually knows a lot of the information, but cannot take a test because of anxiety? It is all a numbers game and makes the students appear to be all the same type of student. Teachers have that control in the classroom to make it an individualistic experience and help benefit the students.

Common Core is still new and changing, but instead of throwing it away and replacing it, I think it needs to be constantly being fixed. Also, I am a firm believer that to form an opinion on something they need to know the facts, especially when it comes to education. People were hopping on the "Get Rid of Common Core" because of a picture. Common Core does not tell the teachers how to teach, but what to teach. There are many different ways to get to an answer, but the students need to understand how they got the answer and why it is correct.

Inspiration for this Article

At first, I was pretty confused about how to solve the problem. I went to the internet and found an amazing blog from a teacher who describes how it is done and the idea behind it! My teacher confirmed the blog for me and my mind was blown. I am really good at quick math, but once I got to Pre-Calculus, I had no clue how to do it because I did not know WHY IT WORKED. I took my passing grade never looking back. This is basically what most students do who struggle and pass a class. This is why the education system is changing to focus more on WHY then primarily on the HOW. I highly suggest reading that blog which I posted in the the list of links below!

I encourage you to keep figuring out your opinion. I have attached opposing view books and articles to read and I highly encourage discussion. I like viewing different perspectives. Please be respectful! | Source

Should Common Core be eliminated? (Leave explanations in comments!)

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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thank you for your perspective on the Common Core. Hope it produces good results and proves itself worthy of staying around.


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