One of the most hotly debated topics in the field of education over the past few years has been the Common Core State Standards. Every week there are numerous articles in newspapers, magazines, and other news media referencing the Common Core. Depending upon the source, the Common Core has been referred to as everything from the first step in a government takeover to the solution for all problems in public education. Neither assumption is the truth. What are the Common Core State Standards and why has a set of educational standards created such angst and drama in our nation? This blog will address those questions.
Simply put the Common Core outlines the essential skills that all children should be mastering at the end of each grade level (K-12) in the areas of English Language Arts and Math. The standards are sequenced to prepare students for college-level material and for future careers by the end of grade 12. They do not tell school districts how to teach these skills or what teaching materials or resources to use for that purpose. That is the responsibility of school districts as they develop curricula to help their students learn these standards.
In fact, the idea of having standards is not new to Connecticut (or America). Even before Common Core, states had standards for districts to use to develop curricula. However, the standards varied greatly from one state to another. For example, there was no way to compare the student achievement of a third grader in Massachusetts with one in Kentucky. Their states’ standards and assessments were different, and what constituted acceptable achievement in each state was different, as well.
Results from national and international assessments not only showed us that students weren’t performing at consistent levels across America, but they also weren’t performing as well as students from other countries. Our students did not demonstrate the level of knowledge and skills that they would need to be competitive in the global workforce. Colleges and universities were also reporting that an alarming number of students were unprepared and needed remedial instruction in reading and math before they could begin college work. It was very clear that too many students weren’t learning the skills in public school that they would need to succeed. The Common Core standards were developed in response to those concerns. Led by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, teams of teachers, administrators, and educational experts provided input and guidance as the standards were developed. This process was without a political agenda; it was a bipartisan approach to helping American students face the challenges of the future.
But Common Core does more than simply establish higher goals for students. It sets them for teachers as well. It asks them to change their pedagogical methods through “six instructional shifts”—three for ELA and three for Math. These are expectations for what classroom instruction should look like when it is aligned with the standards.
The creation of comprehensive, rigorous standards is one step to improve student learning. However, it is only the first step! So much more still needs to change before the Common Core can have a positive impact. Districts need to translate those standards into curricula that teachers are able to understand and use. Instructional practices must be changed so that standards are taught to the level at which they are written. Our focus needs to change from discussions about the need for the Common Core to the implementation of the Common Core. The question can no longer be “Why have we adopted the Common Core?” but rather “When will all children receive the education that they deserve?”
And the answer to that question should be “Now”!