There has been much talk lately regarding the Common Core Standards and its negative impact on schools. Some states like Indiana have even gone as far as opting out of the new Standards. Across the nation, educators and parents have also started opt out campaigns against the Common Core assessments. While there is just cause for concerns over the time and pressure involved in preparing kids for these tests, the assessments should not be used as the rationale for completely obliterating the Common Core.
What’s all the hype?
Frankly, I don’t understand all the controversy surrounding these new Standards. Why do educators condemn education reforms without identifying their benefits and solemnly implementing them? It seems like schools don’t want the hassle or refuse to look for the positive in the educational change. With so many mandates that do not involve educators in their implementation, it’s understandable that educators would be fed up and not willing to invest the time and work involved to apply them to their instruction. We have all witnessed the fallacies of The No Child Left Behind law and its too ambitious demands that led to its eventual downfall. Perhaps, education leaders did not heed the lesson with the adoption of the Common Core that more complex and longer testing does not necessarily promote better achievement. However, the testing is not what the Common Core is all about. Many educators and parents are not happy with the required standardized assessments that are linked to the Common Core because they produce unwanted anxiety and lost learning time. But if we start to recognize what the Common Core has to offer, the testing would just ultimately be regarded as one of the ways of assessing learning and not the highlight of the Standards.
The Common Core is what great teaching is all about
The crux of what the Common Core offers is nothing new. It is what all great teaching for mastery ought to look like. If we advocate success and ongoing learning and achievement, then the Common Core should be nothing new or different. The new Standards should confirm what successful schools have been doing all along, and they should raise the bar for those schools that have not been meeting expectations. If we expect our students to dig deeper and elaborate on their thinking, then the Common Core is in line with this way of thinking. If we want our students to extend their learning and explore other perspectives and ideas to enrich their thoughts and influence their own perspectives then we are right at home with the Common Core.
Rigor doesn’t mean more
Recently, I had an enlightening conversation with my fifteen years old son about the Common Core. I wanted to get his impression from the student’s perspective. I was kind of taken back when he exclaimed, “I hate it!” Obviously, I was intrigued. I wanted to know how his teachers are meeting the Common Core and the cause for his resentment. He indicated that now his teachers provide them with bulky packets in which they must demonstrate understanding about the reading through various writing exercises. The horrible part is that these packets are not even reviewed in class. Are we just stapling a bunch of worksheets together and expecting students to spend many hours completing them? Assigning more work for students to do does not define rigor as reflected in the Standards. Rigor involves thinking deeply and thoughtfully about what is being read not necessarily answering more questions that may not be relevant in enhancing learning. Teachers must still scaffold learning and guide students in understanding complex content to help equip them with tools and strategies for approaching such texts. Providing this kind of support through modelling and explicit instruction is still the best way to encourage students to develop an appreciation for literature as they take risks navigating challenging texts.
What’s involved for implementation
Many school districts feel that the Common Core Standards are too demanding and involve too many changes in curriculum, assessments and infrastructure. True, the Standards require some changes in order to achieve their intended purpose. However, the changes are not drastic or unreasonable. They involve increased rigor in the content materials and tasks we use with our students. They involve more targeted planning to allow for more creativity and collaboration among students. They involve changes in scheduling and learning time so that students are able to learn with and from each other. Moreover, they promote increased involvement of students in the learning process; students are not just passive receivers of knowledge but inquisitors and explorers of new knowledge.
To be implemented effectively, the Common Core Standards need to be collectively “unpacked” or interpreted by teachers and administrators. Schools must then identify the current instructional practices and strategies that are aligned with the Standards. It is also critical to pinpoint the positives in the Standards and use them to modify practices to enhance teacher effectiveness and thereby improve student learning. Schools that diligently adopt the Standards will realize that they truly advocate great teaching and learning opportunities.
Hallmarks of the Common Core
One of the most important hallmarks of the Common Core is the idea of reading and discussing literature closely. Every great teacher knows that analyzing literature deeply by developing thoughts, perspectives and questions about the reading is the impetus of critical reading and analytical writing. When students are encouraged to have thoughtful discussions, propelled by their own inquires and comments, a great sense of engagement is spurred in the classroom. Having the opportunity to participate in thoughtful dialogue enriched by inquiry and critical thinking promotes unparalleled excitement about learning.
Another equally relevant aspect of the Common Core is the emphasis on creating strong arguments. If we think about it, writing powerful arguments is the foundation of most writing students do in high school and college. Students are asked to support their claims whether they are analyzing a piece of literature or defending their perspectives on controversial issues. Having the ability to provide powerful evidence to strengthen one’s argument is absolutely crucial for our students’ development into independent thinkers and learners.
Common Core Investment
The road to success is difficult and bumpy sometimes.
Some indicate that implementation of the Common Core involves too much preparation time and changes in the way we deliver instruction. My response is that everything that is expected to bring about positive results will take time, effort and commitment. The road to success is difficult and bumpy sometimes. If our mission is to develop educated and growth-oriented students, then we must be willing to pay the price. We must be willing to invest in our students in order to develop critical thinkers and problem solvers that are confident about asking questions and developing strong arguments. We must be willing to look for the positives in the Common Core and use that to enhance our instruction, our curriculum and our approach to learning. While the Standards do require some extra work to be implemented well, the return on the investment is well worth it.