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Updated: 08/14/2013 08:00:24AM

Common core: not a new concept

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The concept of a “common core curriculum” for public education has become the issue du jour for those who find a conspiracy behind any idea that they themselves did not come up with.

Perhaps it fails the first law of tradition: “We’ve NEVER done it that way!” We are more comfortable with the flip side of that observation: “We’ve ALWAYS done it this way!” This is not a concept unique to education. It is found throughout government, throughout business (including the newspaper business), and perhaps nowhere more imbedded than in religion. (There is an anecdote in the Anglican communion: “We may be open to a little genteel heresy, but keep your cotton-pickin’ hands off the Book of Common Prayer!”) The common core curriculum concept can be defined in many ways, but as we understand it after consultation with our inner circle of educational advisors, the object is to ensure, insofar as practicable, that all students in grades K through 12 are mastering essentially the same educational skills at the same time.

Thus, if little Johnny’s parents move across town, across the county, or across the state while Johnny is in the fifth grade, he will be academically prepared for what is being taught in the fifth grade at his new school. It is not an unreasonable expectation, and it most assuredly is in Johnny’s best interest.

The alphabet begins with A and ends with Z, no matter where the campus, and that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1400 and 92 is a historical footnote that perhaps all students should be expected to learn at about the same point in their academic careers.

Granted, as Johnny works his way up the academic totem pole, the focus of the curriculum properly turns more toward developing critical thinking skills, but these arguably are built on a foundation of basic knowledge.

By the time Johnny reaches college, he will be exposed to significantly different views by different professors teaching liberal arts courses with the same names. This also is part of the educational process.

But in public schools, it is reasonable to expect that schools will teach essentially the same material in common core subjects at the same grade level.

Not only are youngsters thus prepared for the next grade in public school, but hopefully are positioned to succeed in college or the workplace.

We previously have commended Polk County School Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy for accepting this educational objective of the Florida Department of Education, instead of joining in knee-jerk opposition.

The mission statement found at states, in part: “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 common core curriculum, though wrapped in new educational jargon, is not a new educational objective.

We find this concept embraced by a respected Polk County educator in these words: “We have placed in the hands of the teachers a Uniform Course of Study with manual of instruction to the teachers. This has done a great deal toward unifying the work in the schools and bringing about an educational system in the county. The teachers are required to familiarize themselves with its contents and adhere strictly to the Course of Study.”

Is that not the essence of the Common Core approach to education? This quote is taken from a letter written by Polk County School Superintendent J.L. Hollingsworth in his biennial report to the Florida Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1897.

(With special thanks to the Polk County Historical Association which published the report in its July newsletter.)