I like the Common Core Standards. There. I said it.
It seems as though every time I’ve turned around this week there has been a new post condemning the switch of so many states to the Common Core and the fact that it is being pushed through in a highly centralized, top down approach. While I cannot argue many of the points in the well thought out posts from education bloggers such as Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris, I can see positive changes happening between the walls of our school that will benefit our students due to the Common Core Standards. Although I would ultimately like our school to do well on standardized tests including the looming PARCC as much as any other principal, that is not ultimately what motivates me or any other educator I know… The simple test for your Common Core implementation and any effort within your school is, “Is this good for kids?” In our school, with our students, I would answer “Yes!”
Why I like the Common Core:
- Fewer, clearer standards: Although the Common Core is a step in the right direction in focusing the curriculum, teachers must go even further to have a laser like focus on the skills that students need to be successful and guaranteeing that they all learn at high levels. Some of the best movement I’ve seen in our school this year has been simply reflecting on our priorities and deemphasizing skills that are less important to student success. It isn’t that these skills are bad in and of themselves. It is just that we only get our students for so many hours in a day and we must focus our efforts on our highest priorities. Is learning about money and time bad at the lower levels? No. But is it much more important to develop a really solid number sense with numbers 1-10? Yes! Is teaching cursive writing bad? No. But is learning to build an argument using examples from the text or setting up a collaborative writing community using a great tool like Kidblog more important? Absolutely! This doesn’t mean narrowing our curriculum to what will be solely on the test, it just means focusing our time making sure students master the concepts most critical to their success. I highly recommend Focus by Mike Schmoker regarding this topic. It is one of the better reads I’ve encountered in education.
- It is changing how we think about curriculum: In our school, like many others, teachers were expected to teach the curriculum from the textbooks as outlined by the publishing companies. Why do we give the publishing companies this kind of power in our classrooms?!? Although textbook companies claimed to be “Common Core aligned” about 10 seconds after the standards were released to the public, many educators realize that meeting the demands in the new standards will take more than simply forking over the money for new materials stamped “Common Core aligned.” Now, as teachers research the best resources to meet the Common Core, we are moving towards a more balanced literacy approach that incorporates lots of great authentic literature in addition to the best of what our basal reading series has to offer. In math, students are being asked to go beyond simply finding the right answer and deeply investigate concepts in math, finding the most efficient strategies among many. The curriculum isn’t your textbook. Teachers must define the curriculum and identify the best resources to meet their goals.
- There is an unprecedented opportunity to share ideas: For maybe the first time ever in U.S. education, we will truly have a way to compare “apples to apples.” Although I don’t buy into the PARCC (or any other high stakes test) being a true measure of the achievement of a school, just think of the power of having a common foundation to work from together. Imagine a scenario where a teacher in a rural community in the Midwest and one in New York city work collaboratively on a common assessment, teach their students, and then reflect on the results of their teaching together. Today’s tools make that scenario possible. Several of our teachers have found an invaluable resource in Teachers Pay Teachers where they can buy or share great ideas for free or at a low cost. Also, the potential of a community like Mastery Connect and others like it to share common assessments and lesson plans is truly exciting! Imagine having almost the entire United States as your professional learning community!
Although opponents of the Common Core bring up many valid concerns that still have my wheels turning, in our school, the Common Core Standards are currently passing the “good for kids” test and I disagree with those who would call it a “passing fad.” If you get to the core of the issue, is the hesitation of many really the Common Core Standards or how they are being implemented? Until the electorate shows a desire for politicians who have more ideas regarding education than just “accountability”, high stakes testing will be a part of education in this country regardless of what standards are adopted. Kelly Gallagher, in his article “The Common Core ate my baby and other urban legends” (worth reading on the title alone) breaks down many of the myths surrounding the Common Core standards. In many places, implementation seems to have already strayed far from the original intent. What is your experience of the Common Core? Does it pass the “good for kids” test in your school? I would love to hear your thoughts!