Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why I believe in Common Core

There seems to be a lot of controversy over the implementation of the Common Core Standards, both from teachers and parents alike. Most of what I hear from teachers involves the extra work involved- but that is to be expected with any new set of standards or initiative implementation. I'm not arguing that the implementation has been rocky and less than ideal. But that's not the issue I'm here to address.

What I want to address is the parent concerns I've been hearing, which seem to be coming chiefly because they don't understand what Common Core is and what it means for their students. As a teacher, let me explain why I fully support common core.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) produced a generation of students who do not have basic skills they need to get jobs.

You may laugh at the video, but it is sad and true. I'm lucky and I graduated just before NCLB was implemented. Here's what happened with NCLB- students in grades 3-8 began to be required to take yearly tests in math and reading, while students in certain secondary courses were also tested. Many teachers performance scores were suddenly tied to their students standardized test scores. Standardized tests under the NCLB only tested student's ability to choose a correct answer, not their ability for critical thinking or problem solving. Even further, skills like writing, science and social studies were not tested, so teachers, especially at the elementary level where students are still in self-contained classes, began to spend less time on these subjects to focus in on reading and writing and choosing correct answers. Therefore, we produced a generation of students unable to think independently, write simple essays, and unable to function in a world that is not multiple choice. Those are the students who are going to college and entering the work force now- and they're nowhere near prepared.

Common Core focuses on quality rather than quantity.

Common core requires teachers to cram fewer topics and standards into each year, giving them more time to focus on each topic and standard in depth- time to take students beyond a basic, superficial understanding to a deeper, more enduring understanding. It encompasses many areas of mathematics and language arts, as well as content literacy in other subject areas.

In addition, Common Core has a much more balanced focus on non-fiction texts AND literature- where as many early standards focused heavily on fiction. This additional focus on non-fiction text gives teachers the opportunity to infuse their language arts classes with articles about other content, while teaching students the reading skills that they need to be successful in content areas as well as in life.

More importantly, perhaps most importantly- Common Core brings back the focus to the connection between reading and writing and returns writing instruction to the classroom- in all subject areas. Students are expected to write for a variety of purposes and grade level subjects. They're expected to write in math, write in science, write in social studies and write in language arts. They are required to produce writing that is more than personal narratives and poems.

"Science and Social Studies have been dropped and schools are only teaching math and reading under Common Core". 

I can't believe how many times I've heard this- and just how untrue it is. What is true: Common Core only has math and language arts standards. However, this does not mean that other subject areas have been "dropped- just the opposite in fact. States are generally still using the same science and social studies curriculum they were using before Common Core. But, there's one new difference- when teaching content like math, science and social studies, elementary teachers are generally required to align those lessons not only with the content curriculum, but also with an information reading or a writing standard from Common Core. Secondary teachers are often required to align their lessons with both the content curriculum and the 6-12 content literacy standards from Common Core. This means that not only are we teaching students the content, but we're teaching them how to read the content for comprehension and write about what they've read- important skills for college and the real world.

Common Core is not one-size fits all.

Common Core is all about best practices in education- meeting the needs of all students. Common Core requires that students have opportunities for hands-on activities, exploratory learning, problem solving, interaction and critical thinking. These are all important skills that were sadly lost to our students and our teaching under NCLB. Common Core offers opportunities for students to learn in a variety of ways that fit their needs.

In summary....
I believe that Common Core is a step in the right direction to getting all of our students- regardless of their ability level- where they need to go. Implementation is rocky, I'm not gonna lie. But I believe we need to stick with it for a few years and give the standards a chance to do their job and improve our students.

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