If you read any articles about education or heard any new commentators speaking about education in recent weeks, you were bound to hear something about Common Core. The early articles about Common Core were about embracing this innovation and the more recent ones are about various states (most recently Indiana and Oklahoma as noted in the Sunday New York Times) that are considering repealing Common Core. What is this new political football? And how does it impact your children at Wornick?
The American education system has historically been locally controlled (neighborhoods and states). When you went to school, you were taught whatever the school selected textbooks dictated. When standardized tests appeared, you were then taught whatever facts you would need to master so that your school would “score well.” The states with the largest populations consistently determined the content of major textbooks since these books would be designed around received wisdom and/or the standards from those states. It wasn’t until 1990 when all states enacted standards. There was a fair amount of variation in standards state by state.
By 2009 there was consensus (a foreign political concept today) around the idea that there should be national standards – this was the beginning of Common Core that went into effect in some states in February of 2010. By now, forty-three states have adopted them.
What exactly are the Common Core Standards (CCS)? The standards are for language arts and mathematics. Some of the language arts standards apply readily to social studies and science. These standards were based on research regarding what students need to know and to be able to do in order to be successful in college. The biggest innovation in these standards is that from K-12, there is greater emphasis than heretofore on reading for information (as opposed to reading almost exclusively fiction). Students are expected to find and cite appropriate passages to illustrate a key idea. In the mathematics standards, there is a similar emphasis on deep understanding and analysis as opposed to simply learning an algorithm and plugging in numbers. In short, the CCS’s place an emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical thinking.
So why is there growing controversy about the standards? The standards call for the sort of teaching that has been the hallmark of Independent Schools like Wornick. Teaching children to think critically and to analyze means that teachers spend a lot of time of asking questions rather than giving children simple answers. It takes time and it takes teachers with particular mind-sets. Small class-sizes facilitate this as well. Additionally, this sort of learning does not lend itself easily to the classic standardized tests that are a major part of public education. These factors pose a challenge to large classrooms even in the best districts. Additionally, many teachers across the country have had limited professional development to really practice the type of teaching that Common Core demands.
Our school has embraced Common Core (http://www.corestandards.org). Our teachers frame their teaching units and lessons around the standards. This year, we’ve engaged a group of educators (mostly retired principals and superintendents) who belong to an organization called Pivot. The Pivot educators have been helping all of our staff connect the threads of Common Core through the entire K-8 curriculum. The week before school started we spent two intensive days studying the standards and selecting two standards to work on together to make sure they are properly aligned grade by grade. We will continue this work throughout the year during our in-service days.