Eleven-year-old Leo Tuttle is a fifth-grader at an Indianapolis private school, where he struggles to keep up with the demanding curriculum.
But the school is where Leo’s mother, Erin Tuttle, wants him to be, rather than a public school or even the Catholic school he previously attended.
Erin Tuttle moved Leo to the private school when her home state of Indiana, along with 45 other states, agreed to follow the Common Core State Standards Initiative for all its public schools and those following the charter school program, such as the Catholic school. The Common Core standards are a set of guidelines for schools, initiated federally, to improve and make consistent education standards in math and English language arts.
The goal of Common Core is to “... articulate what students need to know in grades K-12 in order to be ready for college or a career after they graduate,” said Mike Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, which supports and promotes the standards.
Many students and teachers saw the standards for the first time this year, as the program was being phased in nationwide. And now that they’ve seen it, many are not happy with it, and they’re joining an ever-increasing group of critics who are lining up against it.
Teachers complain the program was pushed through too fast, that there wasn’t time for schools to make the adjustment, there wasn’t additional funding available for new textbooks, and that they just weren’t included in the process when the Common Core was created.
"You forgot some of the most important people in this whole process, and that was the educator,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana Teacher’s Association. “The one person who could really help make or break this was the educator, and you didn't include the educator from the very beginning in terms of building an implementation plan,” she said.
In addition, a growing number of parents nationwide, including Erin Tuttle, are joining forces to eliminate the Common Core, which they claim “dumbs down” their children’s education by using inferior methods compared to teaching techniques used in the past.
Conservatives call it an extreme abuse of federal overreach, one that limits the control states and local communities have on their education programs.
Indiana is the first state to pull away from the Common Core. Oklahoma lawmakers have passed a bill repealing that state's participation in Common Core, and there are now some 300 bills in state legislatures nationwide that deal with Common Core in various ways. Some would slow down, reduce, or eliminate altogether implementation of the Common Core”, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
That would be a major blow to the program, which was strongly touted by the Obama administration as a way for children in the United States to be globally competitive.
“Education is an important component to the economic well-being of any nation,” Casserly explains. “When the United States started to look at these international comparisons and saw that we were beginning to slip behind other countries -- like Korea and Belgium and Singapore and Malaysia and other entities… the United States really needed to raise its academic performance,” he said.
Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder agreed. "Isn't it important that we're globally competitive?" he asked. "We were lagging, we were getting behind. And what the Common Core does, presents a set of standards that will help us get back to that globally competitive place we need to be."
While education levels in many parts of the country need improvement, critics concede, a one-size-fits-all approach to education is not the solution.
"Settling for a status quo of mediocrity for every state certainly shouldn’t be the answer," said Tuttle. "We should be striving for something much higher than that, something that is internationally competitive, something that will allow our children to be competitive in a global economy." But, Tuttle adds, "the Common Core simply won’t do that."
Common Core supporters claim all the criticism is based on misinformation, that it’s not federal overreach because the program is voluntary. Indiana was able to back out without any penalty. The standards are more of a concept.
"The Common Core State standards are not a curriculum, they’re not a textbook, they’re not a set of lesson plans,” said Casserly. And they weren’t created in a vacuum, he said. While the standards were being created “some 10,000 comments” were submitted by parents and educators.
Now that Indiana has backed away from Common Core, Erin Tuttle may move her son back to his old school. But first she wants to see how far her state will stray from the federal standards, and whether it will go back to what she claims were the higher standards the state followed before Common Core.
“People across the country will be watching to see what Indiana does next,” she said.