States are busy implementing Common Core State Standards. According to the Common Core website, “Forty-three states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) have voluntarily adopted and are moving forward with the standards.”
The Home School Legal Defense Association says this national standardization of English Language Arts and Mathematics will affect all students, even homeschoolers, in three ways: “First, designers of the expanded statewide longitudinal databases fully intend to collect data about homeschool and private school students. Second, college admissions standards will be affected: Common Core standards for college readiness will be used by institutions of higher learning to determine whether a student is ready to enroll in a postsecondary course. Third, curriculum and standardized tests are being rewritten to conform to the Common Core.”
In this post, I’ll discuss the second way Common Core will affect homeschoolers.
It’s simply a fact that homeschoolers have to take standardized tests like the SAT and ACT to get into college, even in states that require no standardized testing of homeschoolers for the duration of their K-12 school years. Homeschoolers have to take these tests and do well on them in order to legitimize their atypical education in the eyes of college admissions boards.
In some ways, standardized tests are great for homeschoolers. They provide parents a way to see if their child is measuring up to his same-age peers. They give parents an idea of what subjects need more work and in what areas their child is excelling. And, importantly, standardized tests prove to the world that, academically-speaking, homeschooling is successful for the majority of its students. According to the National Home Education Research Institute, homeschoolers “typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests.”
What happens to homeschoolers when these tests get rewritten to conform to the Common Core standards for Math and English?
With the utmost respect to HSLDA, so what if “the new assessments and revised tests will create de facto national testing?” We already have “de facto national testing” for every student who wants to get into college: homeschoolers, public schoolers, and private schoolers alike. We have “de facto national testing” for anyone who must pass the ASVAP to join the military or take the GED to get a job, too. Granted, HSLDA’s fear is that the CCSS will lead to a nationalized curriculum for all students.
But this de facto national testing” does not have to impact what we actually teach in our homeschools. Our job (in part), as homeschooling parents, is to academically prepare our children for their future, whether it’s vocational training or college, or in the words of the Common Core, “college and career-ready.”
Of course, we know our job as homeschooling parents goes far beyond the academic. We’re tasked to prepare our children for life, not just the way in which they’ll earn money for their lives. Character, spiritual and social formation are all included.
Sarah Mackenzie, in her new book, Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace puts it this way: “Here’s a hard truth we might as well get used to: much of the best learning cannot be proven, documented, or demonstrated. The kind of encounters that form our children’s hearts, minds, and souls occur as they come in contact with great books, learn to ask hard questions, and their minds are trained to think logically and well.”
If parents are doing this, the standardized tests are a mere formality. Students who grapple with original texts, big ideas, classic literature, and math concepts in concert with math operations will be able to perform well on standardized tests. Parents must “Change the way you assess your success. The quality of the encounter is what matters.”
Common Core Does Not Prepare Teachers How to Teach
A recent article in the NY Times Magazine by Elizabeth Green details the problem with requiring teachers to conform to the Common Core standards in math, but not helping them with the “how.” She argues, “The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it.”
American teachers, she argues, “learn to teach primarily by recalling their memories of having been taught, an average of 13,000 hours of instruction over a typical childhood.” Frustratingly, the way teachers were taught math was ineffective. Americans usually are good at operations and formulas, but can’t connect these to actual concepts, Green says.
Most of us can recall how we were taught: the teacher showed us the new idea or operation for the day, we practiced it together as a class, then we were set to work doing an infinity of math problems on our own. If we didn’t get the concept, we practiced what seemed like hundreds of problems wrong. I remember how shockingly unusual (and therefore terribly frustrating) it was to have my AP Calculus teacher in high school make me go try to figure out my mistakes instead of just telling me (“teaching me”) where I went wrong.
This idea of making students “figure it out” is foreign, literally, to American schools.
Green compares American math education to the Japanese system, juxtaposing an “ ‘I, We, You’’ approach “with a structure you might call ‘You, Y’all, We.’ ” In the Japanese approach, students first have to try to figure out the new concept, then they work together to do it, then they do it as a class. The onus is on the student to “figure it out;” they’re not spoon-fed information like American math students and then made to practice, practice, practice, and, Green argues, the Japanese perform much better than Americans.
American teachers don’t teach this way because it’s not how they were taught. American homeschooling parents probably were not taught this way either. So, in order for homeschooling parents to redeem the education of their children, they have to redeem their own educations, too. They have to change how they’re teaching their children.
What Does How We Teach Have to Do With Common Core?
Common Core implementation is leading to changes in standardized tests. I assert that this will not affect homeschoolers, here’s why:
As long as homeschooling parents help their kids learn math, language arts, and other subjects, in whatever way works best for the parent and child together, homeschooled kids will pass the new standardized tests anyway because they’ll know the material.
Helping your kids learn math may take a paradigm shift like moving from “I, We, You” to “You, Y’all, We,” but the homeschool environment is perfect for this kind of learning. The one-on-one instruction in the homeschool is ideal for the parent to be able to actually assess what her child has learned on a daily basis, and without resorting to standardized tests.
The key is, as Sarah Mackenzie says, “The quality of the encounter is what matters.”
Parents are in the perfect position to make their students “figure it out,” because they don’t have to teach to the standards like public school teachers are required to do. Homeschooling parents can eschew the Common Core standards, whereas public school teachers are bound by them. Homeschooling parents who focus their efforts on quality encounters will see their children succeed, much to the surprise and chagrin of Common Core advocates, on any SAT or ACT they take.