March 1, 2014

Homeschool Resources and the Common Core

As a former classroom teacher who has chosen to remain aware of happenings within the public school system, I’d heard rumblings about the “common core state standards” (CCSS) for a couple of years. I knew it was an initiative adopted by almost every state and that it would mandate the teaching of a uniform set of standards in the public schools, without much regard for individual learning differences. I’d heard that kids would be subjected to round after round of standardized tests, and that personally identifiable information about each child would be collected and stored so educational “experts” could direct children into what they deemed to be “proper” career paths for each one. And I was aware that billions of federal dollars had been granted only to states that adopted the CCSS; thus, the mandate amounted to nationalized control of education in violation of the 10th Amendment and at least two federal laws. As a taxpayer and informed citizen, all of that bothered me immensely.

Until recently, though, I still considered the issue to be “out there” – a troubling problem for the nation and something I should take into consideration at the ballot box but nothing that would affect me directly. After all, I’m committed to homeschooling through high school and so, I reasoned, my kids wouldn’t be affected.

However, I received a resounding wake-up call at the beginning of March 2013, when two enormously popular homeschool curriculum providers proudly announced that they’d made changes to accommodate the CCSS. I was stunned. The CCSS was supposed to be a public school issue; what was it doing in my world? I didn’t use the particular products in question, but I immediately wondered how many other providers would also “go common core.” How could I provide a different, distinctive type of education for my children if all the homeschool resource companies adopted the CCSS?

That week, I began seeing rumors on social media and via homeschool mom blogs about other companies that were going to align, and I became even more concerned. But the lists I saw didn’t include many resources about which I was curious, and I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was reading accurate information or innuendo. So I decided to contact every curriculum provider of which I was aware. And I created a Facebook group for my homeschooling friends so we could all share what we knew in regards to various vendors. Over the next few weeks, my friends invited their friends, so that we had over 1,000 members by the end of March. And I took the lead in a full-scale research effort to survey every known provider of homeschool-related material about its position on the CCSS.

The group and the research have both grown exponentially over the last year. To date, The Educational Freedom Coalition (TEFC) Forum on Facebook has nearly 7,700 members – many of whom pulled their kids from public schools (or aligned private schools) for the express purpose of avoiding the CCSS. And so far I’ve been able to categorize more than 1,900 resources used by homeschoolers, storing the information on a separate website, The Homeschool Resource Roadmap, in order to make it available to all homeschool parents.

In the process, I’ve learned that the CCSS has, indeed, influenced many curriculum and resource providers homeschoolers use. Specifically, about 30% have made conscious changes – whether large or small – in order to align their materials with the CCSS. Another 7% haven’t made any content changes but have instead “correlated” their products (i.e., advertising where their materials – as written – match aspects of the CCSS). And almost 4% have coincidental connections, meaning that, though the materials they produce themselves haven’t been changed or correlated, some key resources they include in package programs do come from explicitly aligned companies.

That said, almost 59% are opting at this point to remain completely independent of the CCSS initiative, and that’s good news for those who prefer to keep the mandate out of their homes as much as possible. But last summer and fall a few companies that had initially said they’d remain independent decided to correlate or align instead. And CCSS mandates currently exist officially only for math and language arts. So some of the non-aligned companies may choose to align themselves once CCSS-style standards for science, social studies, and other content areas are published.

The situation puts homeschooling parents in a quandary. If we agree that public school mandates have no place in homeschooling, we likely want to eschew the CCSS as much as possible. And the vast majority of homeschoolers I’ve met over the past year feel that way. However, given the statistics, it’s likely that many of us use at least one resource that is now somehow connected to the CCSS. Of course, we want to believe our favorite materials will still be okay. And we often develop a personal affinity for the publishers of our most beloved resources, feeling an admirable loyalty to them; after all, everyone in the homeschooling community is part of a special, unique endeavor, and we should stick together. So it feels like a betrayal to consider giving up a product over the CCSS.

And I’ve certainly never advocated for a boycott. Actually, I wholly support the right of each homeschool resource provider to develop materials as it sees fit. My database exists simply to provide a clearinghouse of factual information for homeschooling parents so they might make fully informed choices for their children according to their individual convictions. And I’ve often told members of the Facebook group who’ve asked my advice about a particular resource that I cannot possibly begin to make that decision for them; rather, we must each wrestle through the ramifications of the options before us, make the wisest choices possible, and then continue to do our jobs in training up our children day by day. If that means choosing to stop using a CCSS-connected product, we can help the providers by respectfully explaining the reasons for our choice. After all, homeschool resource publishers – as with any business – will want to meet consumers’ needs. But we need to communicate our desires in order to help them do so.

If you’re like me, you’d prefer to raise and educate your children in peace, without interference from outside influences. Unfortunately, though, we can’t ignore the CCSS. It’s entered our world, and we each need to make decisions about how we’re going to address it. In order to do that, of course, we must start with information – about the CCSS and about how our resources have connected with it. If you have questions about the CCSS itself, I recommend the articles and videos at Truth in American Education. And if you need information about homeschool resources relative to the CCSS, please check out the Common Core Project page at The Homeschool Resource Roadmap.


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