After attending a seminar on the common core state education standards a couple of weeks ago, I received a certificate granting me 1.5 hours of professional development credit from the Arkansas Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

After attending a seminar on the common core state education standards a couple of weeks ago, I received a certificate granting me 1.5 hours of professional development credit from the Arkansas Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

I don’t really know what good that will do for me because, as I said in last week’s column, I didn’t learn much from the statewide video conference. However, I’ve done a great deal of research since then, thanks in part to some people who responded to the column with more citations.

The best source of information in Arkansas for non-educators is sponsored by the Arkansas Department of Education — http://www.commoncorearkansas.org. Former journalist Seth Blomeley, who is now communications director for ADE, also referred me to a section of the department’s website on the common core — www.arkansased.org/about/galleries/vg-core-march2012. There you can view the same film clip shown as part of the video conference which shows Gov. Mike Beebe endorsing the common core.

I certainly respect the governor’s opinion on educational matters, especially since he’s a fellow alumnus of Arkansas State University, but I felt I needed a better understanding of the common core than the video provides.

From the commoncorearkansas.org page you can maneuver to what’s called the CCSS Wiki Homepage, which offers “What Every Arkansas Educator Needs to Know About Common Core State Standards” and the Crosswalk page. Having been a college professor for 13 years, I thought that might be useful, and maybe it is for public school teachers. But it would require a lot more PD credit for me to understand most of it.

The Crosswalk provides some information about what students will be expected to know at specific grade levels, which is the primary aim of the common core. Having struggled through algebra years ago, I didn’t bother with the math section but managed to find the writing section, which is something I can understand, and I’ve got a great concern about the lack of writing skills by today’s high school and college graduates.

An overview of the writing standards is found in a presentation, “Charting the Course Ahead: Arkansas Implements the Common Core Standards.” Here it is:

• Expect students to compose arguments and opinions, informative-explanatory pieces and narrative texts.

Focus on the use of reason and evidence to substantiate an argument or claim.

Emphasize ability to conduct research — short projects and sustained inquiry.

Require students to incorporate technology as they create, refine and collaborate on writing.

• Include student writing samples that illustrate the criteria required to meet the standards.

Notice what’s missing there? Any hint that use of good grammar is critical to a student’s writing skills. Hopefully, that’s found somewhere in the pages and pages of standards, but it surely should be part of an overview.

Writing is quite difficult to teach, especially if the student doesn’t get a good foundation in language skills early in the educational process. And it’s even more difficult to grade, especially if the teacher lacks good writing skills. Unfortunately, that’s where we are today, and I’m concerned that the common core doesn’t seem to offer a change for the better in this one narrow but important basic skill.

All this is important because Arkansas has joined with 40-something other states to implement the common core, and the process has already started for kindergarten through second grade. Next year comes grades 3-8, and in 2013-14, grades 9-12. Common assessments start in 2014-15.

Although this initiative started with state associations, the push has gained momentum through pressure from federal education programs — No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. The theory is that we can cure our ills in public education — and there is ample evidence that we are falling behind other countries in educating our children — by adopting standards that are the same from state to state. As it is, there is a wide disparity between what Massachusetts and Mississippi try to do, as well as their results.

The same thing is true even within a state, which shows how tough it would be to make standards common across 50 states. But we’re going to try, and certainly it’s a worthwhile cause.

Some don’t believe the common core initiative is the answer, though. I heard from Gretchen Logue, co-editor of the Missouri Education Watchdog, who referred me to www.truthinamericaneducation.com, a website run by what she calls a nonpartisan group. The site includes a strong argument against the common core, but some of the network participants are not known for being nonpartisan.

One of the most interesting sections deals with the costs of implementing the common core nationally, estimated at $182.6 billion over five years. Another section questions the constitutional or statutory basis of establishing national standards, assessments or curricula.

Another opponent is The Heritage Foundation, which tends to follow partisan lines, but a recent article cites a study by the more independent Brookings Institute, “The 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?” by Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at Brookings and a member of the National Math Advisory Board.

Loveless concludes that the common core initiative would have little impact on student learning. The study also disputes the accuracy of interpretations of international test scores, used both to justify educational reform and to measure it.

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Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at royo@suddenlink.net.