Where Do We Stand With Common Core?



After five years of Common Core,

We’ve got trouble right here in River City. . . and Kansas City. . .and Atlantic City and lots of other cities. Indiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma have repealed Common Core standards altogether, and at least fifteen states are having second thoughts and are in the process of reviewing them. My home state of Missouri is in the process of replacing Common Core standards with their own standards and I think will soon be in the “repealed” column.

Wait! What is Common Core, anyway?

If you have school age children, you no doubt know, but for those who don’t—Common Core is a set of standards specifying what children should know and be able to do at each grade level, K-12. They apply to mathematics and English language arts.

Who wrote them?

A group of governors, chief state school officers and “education experts” from 48 States. The idea started with the National Governors Association in 2007-08, and apparently was originally the brainchild of Janet Napolitano. You remember—former Secretary of Homeland Security—who at the time was the governor of Arizona.

Why did they write them?

The idea was that in order to lead the world in innovation and remain competitive the U.S. needed to have uniform high standards throughout our educational system. If all states would adopt these standards, children  would all be more or less on the same page and would benefit from the best in educational theory and practice as determined by the “experts”.

So—what happened after they were written?

The standards were ready by 2010, and it was then up to each individual state to adopt them in lieu of their own standards. Even though the federal government had no hand in writing the standards (it’s illegal for the feds to establish a national curriculum) a seductive incentive to sign on was provided by a $4.3 billion Obama initiative called “Race to the Top.” This grant competition gave states that agreed to adopt the Common Core standards extra points on their applications. Forty-five states and the district of Columbia  adopted the standards in 2010 and got the money; four—Texas, Nebraska, Virginia, and Alaska—abstained. Minnesota adopted the English Language Arts standards only.

What’s the Problem?

There has been strong, sometimes vehement opposition to Common Core across the political spectrum. Conservatives object to what they see as federal intrusion into education, which they believe should be left to the States; both liberals and conservatives object to the excessive testing, which is part of the program, and what many see as unnecessarily convoluted teaching materials. Engineer fathers  are perplexed by the presentation of  complicated solutions to simple math problems and worried mothers say their children are so stressed by the tests that they are throwing up on test day. For many, Common Core is seen as taking all the joy out of learning. An “Opt Out” movement where parents simply keep their children home on test days has gained strength in many places, including New York City.

And now States are finding they can’t afford it!

With “Race to the Top” money now pretty much spent, many states are finding that they just don’t have the resources to invest further in teacher training, acquiring instructional materials. and implementing  the technology for the tests, which are administered on the computer. Two groups, The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium were granted a total of $362 million dollars in federal funds to develop tests for Common Core, but the fee for using these tests has proved prohibitive for many school districts.

What’s going to happen now?

We’ll see. A lot of money has been spent, some would say wasted, in an effort to implement these standards nationwide. There is strong political support, Jeb Bush being the most prominent political figure in favor of Common Core. Nevertheless, in my opinion,  entropy will prevail and while some of the Common Core ideas may be adopted, state boards of education will eventually resume their legitimate task of setting standards for the children in their state. And I think that would be a good thing. I have specific reservations about Common Core, but I’ll save them for later. This post is already too long.




Filed under Education

It’s That Time of Year

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When the Ginkgo paves our streets

With golden yellow fans,

And we like royalty

Lightly tread upon them.

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“Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet, Give Me Something Good to Eat”

From One Potato, Two Potato: The Folklore of American Children by Herb and me—here’s our take on Halloween:

“Early in the last century, Halloweeners were mainly boys who disguised themselves to conceal their identities while they played tricks on adults, removing from a house, for instance, the front-porch steps, a length of guttering, or the screen or storm doors—all in near silence.

“But most contemporary Halloweeners are not interested in tricks of any kind. They want loot. They show up at the houses of strangers dressed in costumes meant not to disguise but to be admired.

“They come to beg—well, actually to collect—since they believe they have a right to what the householder gives them. In pagan times, people offered food to the dead on Halloween. Later, people doled out soul cakes to anyone who came by, but mainly to the poor. Today, we give candy to the well fed, who arrive with shopping bags. These bagmen are often accompanied by their parents, who protect them from marauders who might make off with the loot.

“A begging holiday seems somehow appropriate for big cities. It gives children license to approach strangers and reminds  people that they live in a neighborhood, even if then don’t spend much time there.

“A shadow of the old trickster’s Halloween remains alive today in the ritual demand, ‘Trick or treat.’ But many children don’t even understand what they are threatening. They think the phrase means ‘Trick for treat,’ and that if asked, they must do a jig or something else to pay for their candy. Usually they aren’t asked. They show off their costumes, collect their loot, and march off to the next house, occasionally punctuating the night with a Halloween rhyme:

Trick or treat, Smell my feet, Give me something good to eat.

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Filed under Folklore

Flower in the Crannied Wall . . .


Flower in the crannied wall,

I pluck you out of the crannies,

I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,

Little flower—but if I could understand

What you are, root and all, all in all,

I should know what God and man is.

Flower in the Crannied Wall

                           Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1863


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Holy Hat!

This week, the ladies who lunch gathered at the Conservatory Garden in Central Park for the 33rd annual “Hat Lunch,” a benefit  that supports the upkeep of the park.  Extravagant and sometimes eccentric hats provided the fun. The ladies provided the support: $3.5 million to help keep Central Park  beautiful. While the hats were extraordinary, I daresay few of them were as over the top as the hats fashionable women of the Edwardian era wore regularly. Here is Herb’s Great Aunt Nettie Wilson, the family’s  favorite daughter, decked out in a wonderful example. The photograph dates to around 1907. We still have the gold watch; the hat has not survived. Auntie's_Hat  Of course the hat was only part of a fashionable outfit. The dress typically sported a high stiff collar, a “puffed pigeon” chest, a tight waist, and a  jutting rear end. The skirt swept the floor. Edwardian winter fashions 1907 And then there was the Great World War, and the fashionable silhouette underwent a dramatic transformation. By the 1920s it had assumed a more sensible verticality and exposed the legs. Devotees of Downton Abby know the look well.  0k9k3hlje1owxf


The “S curve” corset”

Two pieces are better than one!

Two pieces are better than one!

Women tossed away the corset that had viciously cinched their waist, pushed their breasts up, and poked out their behinds in favor of two more friendly undergarments: the bra and the girdle. Some of the younger modern women, the ones who were skinny to begin with, even decided to forego the bra and the girdle and roll their stockings below the knee. And the hat that had threatened to take off in a high wind was replaced by the head-hugging cloche. Oh, what  relief it was!


Filed under Fashion

A May Day Memory

I have a very wonderful memory of a long-ago May Day in the 1940s. My mother and I were staying with my grandmother in Lansing, Kansas, a tiny town at the time, notable only because it was the home of the Kansas State Penetentiary, where my grandfather had been quartermaster for many years. He had suffered a stroke and my grandmother needed the help of my mother to care for him. So she and I left my father in Kansas City and settled in with my grandmother for what was to be a stay of a few months.

Life in Lansing was very different from that in the big city! I was enrolled in the elementary school and much to my amazement suddenly achieved an unfamiliar status as the most popular girl in the class, owing to my big-city resume.

I didn’t know there was anything special about May Day, but late that afternoon the doorbell rang repeatedly. When I answered, there was no one there, only a series of paper cones filled with wild flowers  which had been hung on the doorknob by anonymous admirers. I can honestly say it was one of the best days of my life.

1901 —May Day in Central Park, Maurice Prendergast.American artist 1858-1924

1901 —May Day in Central Park, Maurice Prendergast.American artist 1858-1924

The celebration of May Day seems to have been a pagan religious custom. Later secular versions included dancing around a May Pole and the leaving of May baskets, a custom that so enhanced my childhood self esteem.


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Remember Hopscotch? Cooties? Miss Mary Mack? “I’m Rubber; You’re Glue”?

Click on image to read Amazon reviews

Click on image to read Amazon reviews

Years ago, before the personal computer had become part of all of our lives, Herb and I wrote a book about the folklore of children: the rhymes, games, customs, superstitions and jokes that children pass on to each other without the mediation or often even the knowledge of adults.

The thesis of that book is that this body of children’s knowledge, while it may seem trivial, is critically important in helping children in a number of developmental tasks. We interviewed hundreds of ten-year olds who eagerly told us—and showed us—their traditional past times. But whenever we talked to their teachers or parents, often we were told, “Oh kids don’t do that sort of thing anymore.” That’s why we originally subtitled the book The Secret Education of American Children.

Now that was a long time ago, and although the book is still in print (and to our amazement has been translated into Chinese) we have moved on to other interests so we don’t really know the state of children’s folklore today. After all, it requires face to face interaction. And today children are spending more and more time in the virtual world playing with their “devices” rather than “going out to play,”.  So maybe children really don’t do this sort of thing much anymore. Still, not long ago we observed two girls on a crosstown bus happily engaged in a rapid rendition of “Miss Mary Mack,” a traditional clapping rhyme with deep roots. Watch to the very end of this 32- second video and you’ll get some idea of why this particular past time has endured.

Seen on the terrace in the park

Seen on the terrace in the park

And then there’s this—observed on the terrace of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Riverside Park. This doesn’t look exactly like the hopscotch of my childhood or that of the children we interviewed for our book. But that’s not surprising. Like any oral tradition, children’s folklore undergoes a sea change as it’s passed along from one generation to another. And new folklore emerges as children make up formulaic solutions to counteract boredom, solve disputes, conquer fear or cement new friendships.

Do you know any ten-year olds? If so, ask them if they “do this sort of thing anymore.” I’d love to know!

oil by HerbKnapp

Oil by HerbKnapp


Filed under Books, Education, Folklore