While good critical thinkers should avoid drawing too many conclusions from one example, analyzing a single case from multiple angles often generates insights that can be applied to broader issues. With that in mind, let’s continue to try to answer the question I posed last time: Did the Governor of Florida’s recent Executive Order mean the state of Florida has abandoned the Common Core?
Having looked at the issue through the lens of bias and meta-cognition, let’s now explore it using another vital critical-thinking requirement: background knowledge.
While logical puzzles and equations can use abstractions (such as mythical creatures or arbitrary letters) to fill out the premises and conclusions of an argument, when most of us are trying to think critically about a topic, we are critically thinking about something. And the more we know about that something, the better we can think about it.
For example, a quick Google search will show you that the Common Core is a set of English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics standards developed by the US state Governors and Chief State School Officers who worked together to build modern common standards that could replace the diverse state-specific standards that proliferated with the emergence of the accountability movement in education.
Note that the development of Common Core was a state initiative (or, more specifically, an initiative involving states working together) and adoption of the Core to replace existing state standards voluntary. But when this initiative was embraced by the incoming Obama administration, which used federal dollars to persuade states to adopt the standards more rapidly (which 46 out of 50 states did), the project became characterized as a federal mandate to homogenize education through the imposition of national standards.
Once the standards became politicized, opportunities for reasoned discourse dissipated (although many lucid critiques of Common Core were made and still stand). This led to a number of states “abandoning” Common Core, with Florida simply following the lead Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and others to withdraw, joining states like Texas and Alaska which were never Common Core adopters.
But if you look at the ELA and math standards of some states that have left or never embraced the Core, you will notice a surprising number of similarities between the latest versions of those standards and the Core standards the state allegedly abandoned or never adopted. This is because states tend to update their academic content standards at least once every 5-10 years, and even states that no longer support Common Core had to respond to an existing set of standards still in use by most of the nation when they worked on their updates.
There are outliers. For example, Minnesota adopted Common Core ELA standards, but kept their original 2007 math standards (which have yet to be updated post Core introduction), Texas has purposefully resisted restructuring their standards to look more like the Core, and Oklahoma scrapped the Core, replacing it with updates to previous work.
A general panning of Oklahoma’s replacement standards demonstrates how difficult it is for a state to create (or revive) an entirely original approach to ELA and math education in a hurry, and if you look at Minnesota’s pre-core math standards, they resemble a relic of an earlier age when states – working diligently with input from multiple stakeholders – still ended up generating standards that seem outdated when compared to more contemporary work informed by the latest research in how students learn.
The fact that states were allowed to make a certain percentage of changes and still remain a Common Core state has left us with an interesting situation whereby some Common Core states (like Colorado) look a lot less like the original Common Core than do states (like Alaska) that claim to have never adopted Core standards.
So might Florida go the way of Oklahoma and trash their current standards in order to create new ones? Or might they rebrand them, add or take away some stuff, reword a number of individual items and declare themselves liberated?
That is a question about an unknown future which requires a deliberative discussion, yet another critical thinking technique which will be the subject of the next post.