The Common Core works on Maryland’s Lower Shore

As school districts in Wicomico, Somerset, and Worcester counties in Maryland begin including ideas from the Common Core State Standards in their lessons, educators and business leaders hope students who live on Maryland’s Lower Shore will catch up to their peers in the rest of the state, the Salisbury Daily Times reports (tiered subscription model).

The tri-county area is mostly rural and has a population that lags both the state and the nation in a few education-related statistics:

  • 85.2% of residents over 24 have high school diplomas (statewide: 88.2%, nationwide: 85.4%)
  • 22.4% have (at least) a bachelor’s degree, compared to 36.1% statewide and 28.2% nationwide

Many states across the country see the same type of difference in educational attainment between rural and metro areas. According to the US Census Bureau, about 33 percent of Illinois adults over 24 hold bachelor’s degrees. However, looking at counties in the state, we find that more than 56 percent of DuPage residents (western suburbs of Chicago) hold at least an associate’s degree, while only about 28 percent of Massac County residents over 24 hold associate’s degrees or higher. Massac County is at the southern tip of the state, on the Ohio River, and it’s made up almost entirely of rural areas.

On the Lower Shore, some business leaders are feeling the pressure to push kids to higher achievement, even in preschool. “Our future is on the line,” the Daily Times quoted Ernie Colburn, executive director at the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, as saying. The chamber, with 800 members, is putting its weight behind a plan by the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, which has the goal of putting Maryland in first place in job growth and education. Mr Colburn pointed to data ranking the US 31st in math achievement, while Maryland ranks fifth among states.

My question is, How can people like Mr Colburn, who sing the praises of the Common Core, set a goal of making Maryland first in education among states? If such a goal were attainable—and I’m not saying it is, but just hypothetically—it is repugnant to the Common Core. If it is not attainable, setting it as a goal in the first place would mean we learned absolutely nothing from the No Child Left Behind catastrophe. There is no way to say, “Schools in state A are better than schools in state B.” Yes, there’s a way to say schools in state A score higher on a narrow-scope math test, like the international tests Mr Colburn refers to, but to go from that to saying education in Maryland is better than education in any other state is quite a leap.

But being the best state can’t be the goal, because the whole point of joining with other states in the Common Core initiative is to encourage teachers to collaborate and share resources and ideas. They’re not going to do that if all we have on our minds is competition. Other initiatives, such as the drive to make Maryland “first,” as if this were some type of competition, are incompatible with the Common Core. It’s hypocritical to praise the Common Core and set a goal of making one state better than another.

Please understand, I’m not suggesting teachers feel they have to make Maryland the top state. It’s the general public that concerns me, as they read about unattainable goals that can’t be measured in the newspaper. Hurtful words, like those spoken by the chamber, indicate the speaker would delight in knowing that kids in Illinois are failing, taking them out of something akin to a sports contest. Teachers in Maryland would never espouse such a mission. That idea, as I’ve said, is repugnant to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, and the quote reflects a lack of understanding about what schools are trying to accomplish by using the new standards.

The article had much more in it, of course, and I would encourage Lower Shore residents to read about some of the lesson plans that use the Common Core. But I’ve written about all of them before on these pages. Just the names are different. The commentary from the chamber leaves me speechless.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.