Were Common Core critics right?
One of the most astonishing comments to come out of the Kentucky Board of Education’s October 6, 2015 meeting came from Bob King, the president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE).
King said his group was seriously considering radical revisions to entering college courses to create a remediation-course-free system where every student would start taking credit-bearing courses right away. He was going to create this utopia with the use of “Co-Requisite Courses,” a mixed model where students who were behind would get extra help, or “acceleration” to somehow catch up to better prepared entering students during the first college year.
It sounded like a whimsical dream to me, and it didn’t take long for reality to set in. In fact, like a nervous speeder looking at the fast-approaching cop in his rearview mirror, King even hinted at that during his comments to the board. King said he was getting some pushback from his college math professors.
Well, that comment about pushback might go down in Kentucky education history as one of the biggest understatements of all.
In fact, King has a revolt on his hands.
The first shot across King’s bow was fired in a May 28, 2015 letter from the heads of the math departments of just about all of Kentucky’s four-year universities. These department heads really took King to the woodshed for his obviously impractical ideas. A few quotes from the letter make it obvious that the math troops are really unhappy.
Regarding where this idea got hatched and who agreed, the letter says:
“There has been no general invitation by the CPE for input on the Guiding Principles from Kentucky communities of mathematicians and mathematics educators.”
So, just as we so often see with our K to 12 system, the Co-Requisite idea is a top down plan.
Regarding the obvious fact that math must be learned in a sequential format, the letter says:
“Placing these students into courses for which they have not met prerequisites can only lead to either lower educational standards or increased failure rates.”
“This will result in lower standards for college students than currently exist for high school students.”
“In particular, basic skills in elementary algebra have effectively been discarded”
Perhaps even more shocking, the letter compares the proposed college standards to those in Kentucky’s current K to 12 Kentucky Core Academic Standards, claiming:
“Adoption of the default placement model described in the Guiding Principles would indicate to the K-12 community that the postsecondary system no longer adheres to even these minimal standards for college readiness, let alone the more rigorous standards of the KCAS.”
Wow! Kentucky’s leading math professors say King’s idea would actually reduce entering college standards to somewhere below the level that high school graduates are expected to meet!
More shots fired
The math chairs’ letter has now been joined by a more detailed paper from Professor Steve Newman from Northern Kentucky University.
Newman’s paper, “Concerns about CPE’s Co-Requisite Model Initiative,” opens with this revealing comment:
“The Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) is finalizing a plan to solve the college remediation problem by eliminating remedial courses and imposing a one‐size‐fits‐all model based on the assumption that all high school graduates are prepared for college level work. This assumption is clearly false, and will result in lower academic standards and expectations for incoming college students. Indeed, it is difficult to see how these standards and expectations could be set any lower.”
“The impact of the co‐requisite model as a statewide standard will be particularly destructive in mathematics because students will no longer be held accountable by the postsecondary system for learning any algebra, not even the most basic algebra universally regarded as essential for college readiness in mathematics.”
As a note, Prof. Newman does make some favorable comments about Kentucky’s current College and/or Career Ready statistics. As our readers know, the Bluegrass Institute has concerns about the accuracy of those numbers.
However, the main point from both Newman and the Kentucky math chairs is that the proposal from King would create an even lower standard than the College and/or Career Ready standard. That is clearly a huge problem!
In closing, I must point out that critics of the Common Core State Standards predicted a dumbing down of college standards as an inevitable consequence of the adoption of what former Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday repeatedly admitted (such as here) were only “minimum” standards. After all, standards that omit high school trigonometry and pre-calculus are not going to get many kids ready for real college work.
But, if the new college standard won’t even require high school mastery of algebra, we have a real problem.
Clearly, the answer isn’t to dumb down the standards in Kentucky’s colleges. The real fix is to improve the quality of what comes out of Kentucky’s high schools. And, trying to hide that currently unacceptably low quality by magically ending college remedial courses isn’t going to fix the problem.