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Vincent Genareo: Don't be afraid of the Common Core Standards

AMES, Iowa -- When I was in sixth grade, my family moved from Utah to North Dakota. Besides the lack of trees and mountains, what I remember most was earning the worst grade of my academic career, and it was in math.

AMES, Iowa -- When I was in sixth grade, my family moved from Utah to North Dakota. Besides the lack of trees and mountains, what I remember most was earning the worst grade of my academic career, and it was in math.

I was good at math, but I had not been learning the same thing in Utah as my classmates had been learning here.

Later, I went on to earn a doctoral degree in teaching and learning from UND. So, I was able to catch up, but many others are not as lucky.

Recently, I stumbled across a partisan Fox News story that was designed to scare parents away from the Common Core State Standards.

Let me be perfectly clear:

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The standards are not scary.

Instead, they simply are national K-12 standards in math and language arts, and they're designed to provide some clarity and continuity across grade levels and promote college and career readiness.

They were developed so that teachers of all ages can build upon prior knowledge and work toward achieving long-term graduation goals.

And something happened that rarely happens in education: Teachers were involved in the standards' decision-making processes. Imagine that!

But as I read the Fox News story, I saw that some who have no experience in education are trying to discredit the standards for political reasons.

For example, the story quoted a man who said the standards command all schools to allow wrong answers in math so long as students could support their answers.

That's wrong, of course.

And speaking of wrong, the news story also put forth other misconceptions. Let's try to clear some of them up:

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• "President Obama designed the standards," people say. But that's not correct. Governors and educational representatives from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia developed them. The federal government had no direct role.

• "States are required to adopt the standards." That's also incorrect. States have the option of adopting them; and 45 have done so, including North Dakota.

• "The standards will make us fall further behind in worldwide standings." Rate this one as "unlikely," given that many countries already have national standards -- including most of those that are "beating" us on international education comparisons.

• "The old standards were better." Go to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction's website and take a look at the comparison analysis they did. Overall, the old and new standards generally are alike, with some of the new standards being slightly more rigorous and some slightly less.

• "There will be a list of required readings and lessons, which will lead to some sort of hostile government takeover (details forthcoming)."

This, apparently, is a silly Fox News thing. The standards have recommended readings, as our standards did before.

The population influx from the oil boom is bringing children to North Dakota's school systems from across the country, and many of them are academically behind their peers. The goal of the Common Core Standards is that soon, students will be able move to or away from North Dakota without having to cope with a vastly different curriculum level in math or language arts (the way I had to do in sixth grade.)

Having some basic national standards is good for students, good for teachers and good for our state.

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Are the standards perfect? Not yet. Nothing is. But they are needed in all states, including North Dakota. And they're not scary.

Genareo lectures at Iowa State University.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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