December 7th, 2011

DISCUSS: Are Common Core Standards Good Or Bad For Education?

Common Core Standards have caused a dividing line among several voices in education; our own John Merrow has weighed in on the topic as well. We convened several experts to discuss Common Core below. Feel free to post your own comments below, as well. If interested in more of these online discussions, please visit our collection page for the series.

Editor’s Note: We regret an error in editing Susan Ohanian’s initially submitted comments. They have been restored to their original state.

Karen Rambo, Colorado State University

Assessments will be the key here

Karen Rambo is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the School of Education and School of Teacher Education and Principal Preparation. Her research interests include assessment, academic growth, and mathematics education. She is a ten year veteran mathematics teacher.

The assessments for the Common Core will provide two key components: 1) allowing comparisons of how well individual states are educating their students, and 2) providing critical frequent feedback to teachers on how their students are performing. The former is of interest to policy makers and the media, but it is the latter that gets me excited about the potential of the Common Core. If the creators of the assessments can design tools that allow for frequent specific feedback of student performance, teachers will have the potential to be quite nimble in adjusting their instruction to meet the need of their students.

When I was a classroom teacher, I (like other mathematics teachers) used assessments frequently to try to find what my students knew and tailor my instruction to their needs. I now know that those assessments (often created by me) — while well-intentioned — were often insufficient. I knew my content area well, but I was only informally trained in the art and science of student assessment.

Having just completed my graduate work, I have a new appreciation for the technical savvy and expertise that goes into making a quality assessment. When I was a classroom teacher, I would have loved access to frequent relevant student information derived from high quality assessments — as long as the feedback about my instruction and student performance was constructive and not punitive.

The goals of the assessments for the Common Core are quite extensive but admirable. If the assessments of the Common Core can accomplish their stated goals, then I am optimistic about the success of the Common Core in ensuring all students are career and/or college ready.

Robert Rothman, Alliance for Excellent Education

There are three elements in the Standards’ favor

Robert Rothman, a veteran education writer, is a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education and the author of Something in Common: The Common Core Standards and the Next Chapter in American Education (Harvard Education Press, 2011).

The Common Core Standards represent a significant step forward in American education. Long before other nations, the U.S. established a basic education as a right for every child. Two decades ago, states began setting standards to define the knowledge and skills that should comprise that education. Now, with the Common Core Standards, nearly all states have defined a basic education as what all students should know and be able to do to be prepared for college and careers. And, significantly, the expectations are the same, no matter where a student lives.

A lot has to happen in order to realize this vision, and the record of twenty years of standards-based reform is decidedly mixed. But three factors are in the Standards’ favor. First, they are clear and spell out a logical progression over time. That makes sense to teachers. Second, the assessments that are currently being developed are designed explicitly to measure the full range of the Standards. Of course, there could be some slippage, but that is the intent, and because of the influence of tests on instruction, this is a powerful lever for change. Third, the fact that forty-six states have adopted the Standards means that other institutions that paid little mind to standards in the past — such as higher education, teacher education, and textbook publishers — are paying close attention to these Standards.

There have been fierce debates over education policy in recent years, but none of the issues that have become such flashpoints are likely to produce anywhere near the impact on student learning that the Common Core could produce. That’s because they don’t address what Dick Elmore calls the “instructional core” — the interactions between students and teachers that are the heart of learning. The Common Core goes straight to the instructional core. Done right, they can affect nearly every classroom in America — and for the better.

Susan Ohanian, Teacher/Author

We’re being steamrolled into one-size-fits-all

Susan Ohanian is a longtime teacher and author of 25 books on education policy and practice. One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards was provoked by the last time corporate bullies tried to push curriculum mandates into the schools. Her website in opposition to NCLB, Race to the Top, and the Common Core was awarded the George Orwell Award for Honesty and Clarity in Public Language.

We’d do well to heed 19th-century abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher warning to gardeners against being “made wild by pompous catalogue.” These days, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) hucksters pitch a pomposity more noxious than giant hogweed. We should name the CCSS for what it is “a dangerous distraction from the real needs of children. No matter how many hundreds of millions the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pours into developing, promoting, and enforcing the CCSS, no matter how many desperate governors sign on to collect blood money from Arne Duncan’s flimflam supporting Gates’ obsession, no matter how many curriculum border patrol agents police school hallways to make sure all 15-year-olds are reading Death in August on schedule, the poverty rate of children attending most urban and many rural schools exceeds.

Here’s a central problem: despite all the money and policing that goes into this, the poverty rate of children attending most urban and many rural schools exceeds 50 percent — and that remains the elephant in the room. The fact that so many of our children live in poverty, not teacher incompetence or a dearth of rigorous texts, is what should concern us. If the Standardistos weren’t so intent on downgrading the very idea that fiction teaches important lessons, they might heed Alice Walker’s observation: The most important question in the world is, “Why is the child crying?”

Back during a different education crisis, I received an emergency credential to teach English in a New York City high school larger than my hometown. When one of my students refused to read the assigned text, I panicked and ran to my department chair. He gave me the best pedagogical advice I ever received: “Then find a book he will read.”

Later, when I taught 8th grade, 15-year-old Keith was astounded to read his first book ever. “I read it, Miz O. I really read it. Honest. Listen, I’ll read it again.” Keith’s reading of Hop on Pop is one of the triumphs of my career. Funny thing: My principal hadn’t understood my determination to subscribe to the Dr. Seuss book club. And today’s CCSS fundamentalists would term Keith’s experience as my failure to supply the “substantial supports and accommodations” to give him “access to rigorous academic content” such as Little Women, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and Travels with Charley.

As ever dutiful teachers across the country provide scaffolding to force feed rigorous books chosen by committees outsourced from Achieve, Inc., millions of children will never want to read another book. Look up the definition of rigor.

Billed as the CCSS architect, David Coleman delivered a teaching guide to the pompous and sterile pedagogy underlying CCSS when he spoke at the New York State Department of Education in April 2011, proclaiming, “[A]s you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a sh*t about what you feel or what you think.” Certainly, nobody writing the CCSS gave a fig about what teachers thought, and now the model lessons designed to turn English classrooms into boot camps for the global economy are spreading faster than ragweed. Coleman heralds the CCSS emphasis on nonfiction, insisting that readers gain “world knowledge” through nonfiction, which he calls “informational text,” as though fiction doesn’t provide readers with plenty of critical information. Skeptics might doubt that replacing Brown Bear, Brown Bear with a Wikipedia entry on Ursus arctos will fix our balance of trade — but the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Web site is listed as a CCSS exemplary text.

Although I find it easy to mock the CCSS exemplary texts, don’t misunderstand: If the CCSS listed all my favorite books, I’d still denounce it. Different readers need different books, and teachers discover children’s needs through close encounters, not by committee fiat. Education policy makers should read Arnold Lobel’s lovely little fable “Crocodile in the Bedroom.” A crocodile who loved the neat and tidy rows of the flowers on the bedroom wallpaper was coaxed outside into the garden by his wife. The crocodile couldn’t stand the “terrible tangle” and retreated to his bed, admiring the neat and tidy wallpaper. There, “he turned a very pale and sickly shade of green.” With David Coleman as their spokesman out on the stump, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the U. S. Department of Education –acting in concert with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, — prescribe a very pale, sickly shade of green future for our deliciously messy classrooms. Certainly, Lobel’s moral — without a doubt, there is such a thing as too much order — is critical here. Letting corporate school reformers steamroll our schools into a neat and tidy standardized one-size-fits-all product puts our children in great peril.

John Cronin, NWEA

What’s important is the quality of the response to adversity

John Cronin is the Director of the Kingsbury Center at Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).

For ten years now, thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), teachers have focused their efforts on increasing the rate of student proficiency on state assessments. Our organization’s research has found that proficiency standards on these assessments are generally very low. And because NCLB’s accountability formula is focused on increasing proficiency rates, most schools devote their energy to moving relatively small numbers of kids performing near the proficiency bar -“bubble kids” in educator lingo - above it.

The Common Core standards represent a major departure from current state standards in three respects:

1. The standards are substantively different. A May 2011 University of Pennsylvania study found only low to moderate alignment between current state standards and the Common Core. This suggests that teachers will be expected to deliver significantly different curriculum as we make the transition to the new standards.

2. The expectations are higher. The Common Core standards are grounded in the concept that students should leave school ready to enter college without requiring remedial courses. If the tests associated with the standard truly reflect this, then meeting this standard requires much higher performance by kids than is currently demanded by state assessments.

3. The standards affect everyone. The accountability expectations associated with the Common Core focus on evaluating schools and teachers by the growth they produce for all students rather than the number of kids who achieve proficiency. Teachers can’t meet these expectations by focusing on a few bubble kids; they will have to deliver instruction that is aimed at moving all students forward, regardless of their current performance.

All of this is a good thing, but it’s a huge change. Schools have spent the last decade calibrating their practices to a system that was focused on moving a few more kids each year over a low, fixed, achievement bar. Now we’re asking educators to teach to a much higher bar and adapt practices that move every kid forward. Let’s not be surprised when initial results on assessments of the Common Core seem disappointing, and let’s judge schools instead on the quality of their response to these challenges.

B. Jason Brooks, Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability

It could be great — or it could be an exercise in futility

B. Jason Brooks is the Director of Research at the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability.

The new Common Core learning standards in English language arts and math are a firm step in the right direction. As a nation, we are saying what students should know and what they should be able to do at each grade level. Yet, as significant as this development is, reformers need to tread cautiously to put this effort, and its potential results, into proper perspective.

Simply changing learning standards won’t result in improved student outcomes. Other things – big things – need to change as well.

Academic content that gets tested is more likely get taught, especially if there is a teacher-evaluation system in place that takes student achievement on assessments into consideration. Recognizing this, the federal government awarded nearly $400 million to state consortiums to fund the development of new rigorous assessments based on the Common Core learning standards. The hope is that these exams will allow states to evaluate how well students are meeting learning expectations.

It remains to be seen if state leaders will have the courage to implement assessments that are as comprehensive and rigorous as they need to be. Results of the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam, commonly referred to as the “gold standard” of assessments, reveal that a whopping 63 percent of the nation’s 8th graders failed to demonstrate grade-level proficiency in reading and 57 percent failed in math. Are these numbers the type that state education leaders are willing to admit? In the past, states have watered-down their exams and lowered the scores needed to pass, and thus artificially inflating pass rates, rather than telling families that most students aren’t being adequately prepared for college or a career. States must avoid similar temptations for the new Common Core is to be a success.

While national standards movement shows promise, the devil will be in the details of its implementation. Without proper rigor in both the content of these standards and the assessments designed to measure what our children have learned, this latest Common Core standards effort will rightly be little more than an expensive, time-wasting, over-hyped national exercise.

Joe Aguerrebere, Former President/CEO of NBPTS

A true turning point in our education policy history

Joe Aguerrebere is a former President and CEO of NBPTS (2003-2011), as well as a Deputy Director of the Ford Foundation from 1994 to 2003.

Common Core has the potential to provide consistency, focus, and coherence regarding what all students in this country should learn where there is now wide variation in student learning and performance. However, standards are only the beginning. The standards move us toward some agreement on the first pillar of a quality education program, which is a consensus on what students should learn, often referred to as a curriculum. A second pillar addresses what and how we actually teach inside the classroom, or instruction. A third pillar involves what and how we assess learning so that we know what is working and what needs adjustment.

Moving ahead, there are many concerns to address. The first is that the standards are currently limited to English/Language Arts and mathematics. A well-rounded education demands more than a focus on two subjects. In addition, the groups that develop the standards for any subject should contain more generalists who can provide a counterbalance to the content heavy influence of subject matter specialists. A bottom line question for the inclusion of any set of standards should be “why does learning this stuff really matter in life?”

Secondly, standards should never be seen as final, but rather dynamic with periodic updating to maintain their currency. Therefore, the governance structure for oversight must be performed by a body that is inclusive, transparent, and independent. The current oversight is performed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. Unfortunately the membership of these organizations tends to change rapidly due to the volatility of electoral politics. This leads to a risk that the standards can be affected by shifts of political ideology and consequently lose their credibility. Therefore, a governance structure must maintain an arms-length relationship with any policy-making organizations.

Lastly, we know that student learning and performance will vary with some students reaching the standards and others not. What happens to students who have not mastered the standards? Unless standards are used to set targets and develop action plans to help all students achieve, we run the risk of standards being used as new barriers to keep students from charting a road to college and careers.

What we do now will determine whether standards become another barrier or a constructive tool to support all students.

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Back when the national History Standards were rejected, I was still a historian, not yet a teacher. But, they were about as good as anything I could imagine. We haven’t gotten any wiser in only 20 years have we? On the other hand, twenty years later there is a lot more history be be studied … Granted, that’s just one subject.
I’ll be interested in seeing how this works out, but mostly I suspect its an academic exercise.

Common core standards (or virtually anything else!) will of course have varying impact depending upon the motivation and intention of those engaging with them in some manner. If those involved have some narrow, even hidden, objective(s), the efforts will be doomed from the start. If the interested parties bring their initial positions AS WELL AS their commitment and motivation to find what Covey (new book, “The 3rd Alternative”) argues as the better alternative - believed by all parties as better than their initial positions, then enormous progress will occur.

By the way, I would argue that far too much emphasis has been given to COMMON at the expense of including CORE in these efforts. I would argue that if efforts were made to identify COMMON CORE standards, there would be far less concern about what was included and what was not. It’s far easier to eliminate those topics that don’t satisfy the core knowledge test.

Of course, anyone with practical experience in education knows that delineating standards are not in and of themselves the cure to the quagmire in which the US educational system finds itself. Not will assessment be the only answer, especially if assessment is annual and without timely, useful feedback. Moreover, although I admire much about the goals and content of the standards, I question the motivation. Public schooling was not instituted in this country as a direct means of capitalistic success; however, the involvement of near incestual relationships between foundations, funding, and major decision makers taints the belief many have in the motivations of players in this important and potentially life-changing venture.

Why a standardized core curriculum? Robert L. Arnold, Professor of Education, Emeritus - 326 Bay Lane - P.O. Box 103, Willsboro, NY 12996 - - Website: Identifying a standardized core curriculum makes it easier to construct standardized tests that will be made”longer and more comprehensive” according to David Abrams, Assistant Commissioner of the New York State Education Department.” These longer and more comprehensive standardized tests will be utilized to measure improvements in learning outcomes. According to Abrams, “These changes are in preparation for the transition into assessments based on the New York State Common Core Standards, which will begin in 2013.” He says “We are also moving toward the use of growth metrics for institutional, principal, and teacher accountability.” (code words for using student scores on standardized tests to identify failing schools, principals and teachers) This is being repeated across the USA. New York State, after initially rejecting the standardization premises, finally gave in and agreed to participate in return for money. How can thousands of adults, college professors, popular educators, teachers, congressman, senators, governors, presidents, school superintendents, chancellors, commissioners, assistant commissioners, the Secretary of Education and members of the public be so wrong? THIS CAN BE EASILY EXPLAINED! If deliberations and actions are based on a set of invalid assumptions and beliefs, conclusions and plans will be wrong, wrong, wrong. For example, everyone knows there are no two people alike in this world; not their DNA, not their experiences nor what they have done with their experiences. Yet, all these people are willing to ignore this fundamental truth and under the slogans, “Race to the Top” and “No child Left Behind” plan to arbitrarily impose on an innocent public, on parents and their children, a misinformed and arrogant position that supports standardization, believing that one-size-fits-all. WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS POSITION? For starters, a standardized common core of content for the school curriculum and the standardized tests designed to measure performance by students ignores developmental differences in individual learners. Human development is known to occur along an invarient sequence, unless of course, this sequence is driven off course by life’s trauma, developmentally inappropriate experiences imposed by educators or some malady that interferes with the usual growth patterns, Emergence of advancing levels of biological development is unpredictable and cannot be accelerated by instruction. If you need proof of this consider accelerating the arrival of puberty. Development is fundamentally shaped by a unique genetic code, supplemented by a unique set of experiences and a unique transformation of those experiences absorbed into the neurological mechanisms of each individual. A well known and validated developmental sequence of cognitive capabilities has been around for at least sixty years, developed by the late Jean Piaget. This sequence has four highlighted and observable levels of performance in the cognitive behavior of learners. These points along a cumulative developmental sequence were labeled by Piaget first as a motor response to sensory input, followed by a pre-operational, pre-logical, imaginative capability for defining sensory input from experience, followed by a concrete operational, logical, capability for acting upon one’s direct experience, and finally formal operational capabilities characterized by abstract manipulation of sensory data including logical thought, hypothetical deduction and critical/creative thinking. These mature capabilities are necessary for advanced problem solving. Full development at each point on the continuum of development is dependent upon full development at each prior level. WHAT DOES A FOURTH GRADE TEACHER FACE EVERY DAY? In a group of ten year olds, one can typically find three levels of developmental capabilities based on Piaget’s schematic. There will be a few pre-operational, pre-logical, youngsters, many concrete operational youngsters capable of logical operations applied to concrete, direct experience and a few formal operational youngsters who are fully capable of hypothetical deduction and abstract, critical and creative reasoning. HOW WILL A STANDARDIZED, ARBITRARILY-DEFINED BODY OF CORE CURRICULAR CONTENT AND ACCOMPANYING TESTS RESPOND TO THESE DEVELOPMENTAL REALITIES? Youngsters who are developmentally at the pre-operational, pre-logical, level of functioning will likely fail to even guess what the writers of test questions had in mind. This group will most likely be destined to receive remedial instruction, when in fact, what they probably require is more time to develop biologically and be allowed to process their personal experiences in their unique, perceptualy-based fashion. The consequence of misunderstanding the results gleaned from standardized tests label these students below grade level, therefor needing remediation. Not only will this information be used erroneously to grade teacher and school performance, it will label these individuals with the stereotype of deficiency that will likely last for a lifetime. It will also necessitate costly remedial programs that can be avoided if only there can be patience shown with the principles of human growth and development. The concrete operational youngster will be able to predictably answer questions that bear some resemblance to this individual’s direct, concrete experience. Any questions that require comprehending hypothetical or abstract ideas will not likely be answered correctly, although some educated guesses may be possible. Answering questions correctly is limited by the current intellectual capabilities of the individual, and the extent and quality of experiences acted upon at his or her level of development. The concrete operational youngster will not perform at the expected level demanded by the advocates of standardization. The results from these tests will lower the acceptable performance-indicators of the classroom and the school. Failures are predominately due to developmental capabilities, that are biologically based and influenced by the quality and quantity of experience. The concrete operational youngsters will be labeled on grade level statistically allowing for a certain amount of failure consistent with an average of scores on the tests. The individual with formal operational capabilities will be able to answer questions correctly that require logical connections, abstract reasoning and educated guesses, provided there has been experience with direct and related content. This experience need not be in-depth. Most school experiences are superficial and yet correct answers on tests are still possible. The sub-group of developmentally advanced learners will be showered with accolades for meeting the standards. However, this individualized performance is primarily due to advanced developmental capabilities, ushered in as a result of this individual’s more accelerated biological, gene-driven growth, differing from fellow ten year olds. This happens regardless of innate neurological differences that may also exist. These youngsters will be considered above grade level. WHAT IS THE GOAL? All learners in the current standardized paradigm will be asked to try and reach the performance of formal operational youngsters. This achievement for most ten year olds is impossible due largely to developmental differences, and often due to a lack of exposure to developmentally inappropriate experiences.When an arbitrary grade level definition is applied it takes into account the average performance of learners, due to its imposed definition, the scores bear little resemblance to the real performance of individuals of their age. WHAT OTHER PROBLEMS EXIST WITH THE CURRENT STANDARDIZATION MENTALITY? If these developmental shortcomings in the use and interpretations of standardized test results, based on a standardized common core curriculum, are not troubling enough, consider this thoughtful treatment of “Unanswered Questions About Standardized Tests” written by Marion Brady and published in the April 24th, 2011 edition of the Washington Post.

I work at AcademicMerit (, where we develop online tools for grade 7-12 English teacher. The following piece was written by H. Ogden Morse III who is an English teacher at Falmouth High School, in Falmouth, Maine, and the chief executive officer of AcademicMerit LLC, based in Portland, Maine.

For Ogden Morse, the epiphany came on a Tuesday in September four years ago. He was sitting around a small conference table with his assistant superintendent, principal, and English chair, as they tried to determine whether they should be concerned about the reading and writing capabilities of some of the students in the senior class. Before them, across paper and laptop screen, were various pieces of data—an SAT score here, some classroom grades there—intended to aid them in making this determination.
Only they weren’t. Instead, Morse grew increasingly perplexed as he realized that the four experienced educators sitting around that table were engaged in a comparison of apples and oranges that was proving, well, fruitless.

Morse writes:

The pauses in the discussion grew frequent, as we struggled to find the best path forward. Broader questions emerged: At what level of performance in reading and writing do we ultimately want our seniors to be by the time they receive their diplomas? How will we know when they’ve reached it? And how should we be teaching them these skills?

Now the epiphany: In our latest effort to ensure that we were preparing our students for life beyond high school, I realized, we lacked not only the assessment data we needed to complete the task with the degree of accuracy it required, but also the universal guidelines necessary to determine if our curriculum was built for the high level of student performance to which we aspired.

As I returned to my classroom, I resisted the temptation to ask myself the question “Is it this way everywhere?”—because I already knew the answer.
In every school I visit, some variation of this scenario is playing out, reinforcing a stark reality: We, the educators of America, are not on the same page. Even broadly speaking, there is no consensus about what is expected of our students and how best to assess them—nor is there a basis for valid comparisons of their performance. Instead, we have a patchwork of curricula, and expectations that change from state to state, often school to school.

Add up all these apples and oranges, and the result is a surefire recipe for mediocrity.

None of us in education should be comfortable with the status quo; in fact, we should be anxious for systemic change. And at the heart of that change, particularly at the high school level, are two needs: universal expectations for student performance and innovative ways to assess that performance. Anything less is unfair to students and teachers alike.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative’s standards, whose final version was released to the public in June of 2010, represent a quantum leap forward in addressing the first need. Although not perfect, their very creation changes the tone and substance of the dialogue surrounding this genuinely complicated issue. And the dialogue is crucial. The contentious, long-standing nature of the debate over standards has led to an educational landscape dominated by parochial factions unmotivated to bridge divides. The new common-core standards signal that the time for entrenched thinking is over.

Among those of us in the grades 9-12 English classroom, few, if any, would suggest that students’ reading and writing skills have not declined over the years. Up to this point, we’ve simply adapted as best we could to what we concede on some level has become—in this age of digital distraction—the “new normal.”

But that reasoning falls short. After all, students in foreign countries that outperform us also have cellphones and the Internet. Our challenge as teachers is to foster in our students the skills they need in the modern world, regardless. Doing so starts with agreeing on what those skills are—and the level of mastery necessary for students to be ready for college, career, and life.

There are essentially three components to determining the education that students receive: scope, sequence, and curriculum. While there are many valid reasons for the details of curriculum to be addressed at the local level, much of the genesis of the current crisis in American education can be traced to the misguided traditions that have kept scope and sequence local as well.

In the average high school, scope and sequence are often addressed implicitly during the process of curriculum development—usually, by a few teachers during the summer months. In English/language arts, for example, this means that the scope and sequence for reading are often determined by teachers like me, whose primary training is in literature and writing. And often there is little, if any, communication among elementary, middle, and high schools.

Recognizing the shortcomings of this approach, states now provide some framework for the content in core subject areas. And yet, inexplicably, these frameworks have been developed in state-centric vacuums, with details like writing rubrics often defended passionately and with an odd air of possessiveness.
Since when is the development of strong writing skills in the children within a given state a proprietary endeavor? Can good ideas not cross borders?

Fueling this attitude, of course, is usually a sense of pride born of the hard work by educators in each state who have invested their time and energy in crafting these documents. But the very fact that they have had to craft them—50 separate times—speaks to the heart of the problem in American education.
The common-core standards in English/language arts provide the very scope and sequence we teachers have been seeking for so long, whether we’ve realized it or not. Delivered clearly and succinctly, they do not impose a national curriculum; rather, they are intellectual skills, and they are connected to specific, complex activities at which students must work toward mastery.

For these reasons, what the standards do represent is the lifting of one significant burden and the refocusing of another. By providing the performance goals toward which every American student should be striving, they eliminate in any substantive way such discussions on a local level—and, in the process, reinforcing for us teachers what our primary task has always been: determining how best to guide our students toward those goals.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative represents a beginning, not an end. Everyone in the standards dialogue must now work to strengthen them, and all states must adopt them. Doing so will establish the common platform on which greater accountability and stronger curricula can be built. Colleges and universities must use them to guide the training of future teachers. And today’s teachers must be willing to embrace new approaches in their classrooms.

To be sure, the common standards meet only the first of the two most pressing needs we face in English/language arts. But the second cannot be achieved without the first. It is only when we have agreed on universal expectations for student performance that we can develop the innovative assessments necessary to provide those of us in schools and classrooms with the apples-to-apples data we need to drive our decision-making, whether that is for all students or just one.

Far more than the “latest trend” in a field full of them, the common-core state standards represent a powerful break from the status quo, a triumph of logic over tradition, and a harbinger of better days ahead for America’s students, teachers, and society.

Unfortunately, at the heart of the common core standards are two deeply uncomfortable truths. 1). The standards are based on a faulty assumption that American education lacks focus. 2) That people who will benefit the most from the standards are the corporations that are developing curriculum materials that can be marketed as addressing the common core.

I interviewed an extraordinary high school English teacher last night. We watched several videos of her teaching. One lesson focused on a group of common core standards that also was designed to help her students write to a state standardized assessment. I was amazed at how well she could take a truly awful assignment and turn it into something halfway interesting to students. The students did a serviceable job, but their writing was dull and their engagement levels lackluster. The next lesson I watched, however, one that was not linked to the common core, was brilliant. Students closely read a work of fiction (something David Coleman believes has little place in a k-12 curriculum) and represented metaphors in both visual and textual ways. I was awed by the work these 9th graders did. Their insights were incredibly sophisticated. Yet, the product these students created would not be sanctioned by a cadre of common core cops that will inevitably march into schools, in one form or another, to make sure teachers comply with the standards.

This young teacher who is so talented is considering leaving the profession because she is worried she will be forced to feed common core gruel to her students. It took all her teaching energies, which are based unit. She doesn’t think she has the stamina to force her students to do more common core aligned assignments. Nor does she have the stamina to put up with the mindless “rules” imposed by her frightened administrators who are demanding data collection, specific lesson plan forms, and that teachers put on the board every day the standards that they are addressing.

The standards will not close the achievement gap. But they will distract us. And in that distraction, corporate America’s grip on classrooms will tighten.

Susan Ohanion hits the nail on the head; poverty is the true problem. Mel Riddle recently highlighted this in a great article that uses the latest PISA scores; scores that compare students around the globe, but also breaks down kids into % of poverty…The finding is that American kids OUTPERFORM all other nations until the poverty level reaches >50%…..It’s not the schools, it’s the nation and it’s priorities

Here’s the article:

My child is a 2nd grader in Mississippi and from Pre-K through 1st grade has had little educational problems. Starting this year, his school has adopted the Common Core Curriculum and I find myself going to meeting after meeting about his failure to perform because the curriculum calls for him to do 4th grade level work in the 2nd grade. My answer to this is; of course he can’t do 4th grade level work in the 2nd grade because he’s only been to the 1st grade. All of the incoming Kindergarten students only know Core Curriculum so, of course, their understanding of how the system works will be greater. I am certified to be an educator but just as Nancy Patterson stated above, when an educator can’t make lessons fun and provocative, the students and the teachers both lose. Now, I am facing that my 2nd grade student is going to fail 2nd grade and there is nothing I can do about it. I work with him, his teacher has intervention time, but the standards are to hard and when more than half of a class is failing due to the curriculum, something needs to changed.

I really feel that the school curriculum does not take people’s unique talent and difficulties into consideration. It attempts to judge people on such narrow criteria and fails to prepare children for a dynamic changing world.

The Common Core Standards state the goals that a student should achieve by the end of the school year. How those goals are taught or reached are up to the schools and teachers. The Common Core Standards document is not a curriculum.

So the CCSS are a curriculum guide, to my understanding. Where the teacher displays her/his true abilities as a great educator is, in the ability to serve those students who have needs well above those Common Core Standards, equally distributing importance to those who are low. Teachers tend to have a difficult time making their classroom a place that all children can move forward and grow regardless of a students level of ability. I have found that peer groups with varying levels can be helpful (at times) because information can be re-inforced from the high achievers to the low achievers and back the other way low to high. Everyone can benefit. It can be stimulating and helpful to all. Once everyone has a firm grasp of the concept and there is no confusion (standard is met) there should be time to expose the entire class to a higher level a step above the standard of the concept….not for mastery. To allow the students exposure to the next level. Structure and predictability is a necessity but it can get boring. Students need a little “surprise” occasionally to keep material fun! Some students may “get it” some may not…. This is no matter, the mere fact that it has been touched on will “turn the light bulb on” so to speak in a future lesson. It will be a “dangling carrot or a “taste” of what is coming. Like a sneak peak or preview to a sequel. Food for thought. Thanks

1. Educatation is big business and politics. If you don’t recognize this you are fooling yourself
2. Common Core is a system. People don’t learn anything from a system except how to beat it, or be beaten by it.
3. Common, standard, and system all equal the same size box for everyone. Great for politicans and corporations, bad for individuals, critical thinking, and diversity.

Common Core, NCLB, and any other national movement will fail because they do NOT address the underlying pedagogical premise of constructivism which has damaged and continues to bring down our schools. Constructivism is the paradigm that underlies all curricula that is currently “a la mode” and in fashion. This curricula has been in fashion since Dick and Jane came on the scene pushing sight words and placing phonics on the back burner. “Drill and Kill” is NOT in fashion, instead students must come up with their own answers, discuss with others and work as a team. This is constructivism and this is what will kill even the best of intentions in education. Simply put, there are two ways to teach: 1. Let the kids discover on their own - constructivism. OR 2. Traditional learning, where we pack our kids with information, teaching them EVERY thing and once we have proficient, readers, writers, spellers, mathematicians, THEN we let them struggle with answers. You see, in the constructivist classroom we waste LOTS of time, “discovering”! But little ones crave knowledge and they love to learn and become proficient. This can only happen when we place the desks facing front and teach, teach, teach. Now we can use great programs to do this, like Sing, Spell, Read & Write - my favorite or Musical Math, these programs are innovative and multi-sensory, but they are at their core traditional. We teach facts and kids become proficient. On the other hand, though highly successful, these programs are not popular, rather, Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Workshop reigns supreme in our schools, this program with it’s “leveled library” and every kid reading on a different level, without lots of instruction, is an abysmal failure yet the administrators LOVE it. They force teachers who know better to use this junk and then when our kids can’t read, the teachers are to blame NOT the system.

How do I know? I’ve been in this business for 22 years as an educator.

It all depends on how you look at it, if you go into this thinking that its aweful than it will be. It will be aweful, and you wont be able to adjust, and it wont turn otu the way it is meant to be. But if we go into this with a positive attiitude than it will turn out good. You will be able to adjust and actually learn a new way to do things. It will benefit those who want to be able to learn. We shouldnt blame the teachers, we should blame the students who wont go along with what is proven to work. The studnet wont allow the teachers to teach what needs to be taught. Kids are becoming more and more inconsiderate, teachers dont have to do this, they are doing it to help. The US scores are way behind other countries and so the US is no longer being nice and easy, they are now becoming more strict and forcing us to do what we need to do. I want to see what is going to happen, how people respond to this, and after awhile how it turns out, hopefully it snaps people back to their senses.

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