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11 Things I Love About Common Core

Posted by on January 23, 2014

common coreAmerica’s first public school opened in the mid-1600’s to only a handful of hungry students. Most colonists agreed education should be done at home, not in a one-size-fits-all schoolhouse. Even in the late 1700’s after John Adams famously pronounced, “There should not be a district … without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense …”, it took until 1918 before all children were mandated to attend public schools.

Even though no one agreed on what students would be taught, a condition that continues to this very day. To misquote William Butler Yeats, often it was more about filling the pail than lighting the candle.

Today, over 3 million teachers and 99.000 public schools educate the almost 50 million schoolage American children at a cost to the taxpayer of over $590 million–but here’s the kicker: lessons are delivered in accordance with 50 separate state education standards. No wonder we struggle to be even ‘average’ on the world academic stage.

The National Board of Governors changed all that when 45 states supported their Common Core State Standards. Adopted in 2010, it immediately found a busload of detractors, engendered fierce arguments, but perseveres in its effort to reform how America prepares its children for college and career. I’m not going to debate these guidelines today. Instead, let me share the top eleven things I love about the new Standards that are now the law of the land all over the country:

  1. They teach speaking and listening. Of all the skills that make a difference in a child’s future, their ability to speak and listen to others tops that list. How have we not included this in the past? I have no idea and truly don’t care. I’m happy it’s part of the plan now.
  2. They differentiate between fact and fiction. Too often, Hollywood movies that fictionalize history is taken as fact by viewers. Teachers show the movies as though this is what really happened. The ability to compare two presentations of events and determine truth from Other is a mature concept which appear in the 8th grade Reading-Literature (#7) and Reading-Informational (#9) standards, but the requirement of educated minds to question the world, seek out authentic information, evaluate what they hear/read/see/taste is a common strand throughout the Standards.
  3. They make tech part of a learners life. Oh that makes me happy. Considering children enter kindergarten with a love for technology (iPads, parents’ smartphones), it only makes sense that we scaffold on that appeal to educate them
  4. They spiral. Learning builds year to year, each grade level scaffolding the next. If a student struggles on a subject, it is easy to spiral down a level, shore up that knowledge to bring the student up to grade level. Or, conversely, if a student excels in an area, teachers can spiral upward to the next level of learning. Differentiation has never been so clear.
  5. The anchor standards are highly flexible in how teachers achieve them. They encourage ‘flexible learning paths’. Teachers understand the broad strokes and are expected to fill in the picture. For example, I can use games (that’s right–visual) to achieve the goals of reading (literature and informational–not foundational or Language) to accomplish goals like Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.3). Wonder how? I’ll be posting on that soon. The bigger point is: Common Core is not a curriculum. It spells out what should be accomplished, but not how. That’s up to the teacher. They can use any method that works for their student group.
  6. it isn’t a curriculum–it’s a guideline. That bears repeating: It isn’t more material to stuff into already over-packed teaching days. It’s a framework to organize thoughts, goals, ideas. A school adopts a curriculum and uses Common Core to implement, focus, and highlight.
  7. it gets teachers thinking ‘outside the-way-its-always-been-done box‘. There’s a lot to accomplish, none of it prescripted. It uses words like collaborate, publish and share, domain-specific language, lead high-level text-based discussions, focus on process not just content, respond to the varying demands of audience-task-purpose-discipline, comprehend as well as critique, value evidence, demonstrate independence, build strong content knowledge, leaving the who-what-when-where-why-how in the teacher’s competent hands.
  8. It concentrates less on hard skills than a way of thinking, asking students to create thought habits, be problem solvers, approach life as critical thinkers. It expects students to integrate and evaluate, interpret, make strategic use of [technology tools], understand other perspectives and cultures, value evidence, comprehend as well as critique. The teacher decides how best to accomplish these goals.
  9. It focuses on not just college, but career. Some students aren’t right for college and that’s OK. Bill Gates wasn’t right for college.
  10. It gives teachers permission (and a nudge) to teach more traditional literature. Yes there’s good new literature, but there’s so much great older literature. How do you pick? Common Core gives permission to students to value books like Wizard of Oz, , The Odyssey, Metamorphoses, Sandburg’s Fog. I get goose bumps just thinking of what’s contained in those tomes. This literature shaped our world, added similes like ‘it’s a tale of two cities (replace with the comparative noun of your choice)’, ‘me thinks he doth protest too much’, and more. I love all literature, but to understand my world, I have to understand what great have said about it.
  11. a return to non-fiction. For those of us who believe ‘history repeats itself’, this is a no-brainer. For those of us who believe students must understand the world around them to fix its problems, this is brilliant.

How about you? Now that you’re diving into Common Core, what are your favorite parts of how it’s changing your teaching?

More on Common Core

Common Core Breathes Life into Keyboarding

Common Core requires publishing. Technology makes that happen

7 Ways Common Core Will Change Your Classroom




Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a columnist for Examiner.com, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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21 Responses to 11 Things I Love About Common Core

  1. aka MA (@MusingMaryAnn)

    I really have to ask – Have you ever sat in, on a day after day basis, on a Math or English class and watch the students? Paid attention to what is being taught and how? I understand that you see supporting Common Core as something that will help forward your career but have you ever thought about the students and not you?

    What you have here is the superficial talking points that State Ed Departments across the country are using as fluff – talk to classroom teachers in Math and ELA, look at the poorly written activities that websites like engageNY have “developed” for teachers to use. Also, take a look at the developmentally inappropriate content in Math and ELA and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    It is disingenious of you to support something that you personally do NOT teach. I’m sorry, a tech teacher is much different than someone who teaches a class (Math, Science, Social Studies and ELA/English) that is bombarded with endless testing expectations, incomprehensible expectations and most importantly – expecting students to simply “raise the bar” when they have been taught with certain past expectations and then suddenly told that we are expecting more without giving you the tools in your previous years of education to reach those expectations.

    • Jacqui

      MaryAnne’s is one of the more benign responses I got to this post. I’m amazed at the vitriol, the personal insults, the hyperbole, the lack of specific evidence, that well-meaning readers (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and not allow emotion to rule my response) think is appropriate in a conversation. I can only imagine they are beyond the point of reason which results in their flaming reactions to Common Core. I do understand that, so let me address a few of ‘Musing MaryAnn’s’ thoughts.

      First, of course I’ve sat in math and English classes–and taught them. The tech teacher must do that to recommend tech materials that support the teaching and inquiry going on. I’ll do a lot more of it because Common Core places a high value on digital tools to deliver learning. I take that obligation seriously.

      Supporting Common Core doesn’t ‘further my career’–this blog is free, no one pays me to write about Common Core. I found this an odd statement. If my points are similar to someone else’s ‘talking points’, I’d like to see that link. I have thoroughly read EngageNY and the Common Core Standards, with different conclusions than you. That’s not a bad thing. Democracy is built on the right of all of us to engage in robust and even heated discussions of topics. I think time will tell which opinion is right, but we won’t know this year.

      I am never disingenuous in my articles here. They are always based on my experiences and those of my colleagues. And, being a blog, they are always my opinions. That is a good thing–that we-all can civilly discuss a topic, cite evidence, quote sources, educate each other. I look forward to that sort of interaction with readers.

      Your last few sentences are really good, MaryAnn. Common Core does expect students to ‘raise the bar’–as well as teachers. It is a high bar, one the current education status quo has had trouble meeting for many years (being college and career ready) and one that students will not achieve the first year. If your district thinks that will happen, then that’s an implementation issue, not a problem with the Standards. Common Core lays a foundation of skills, attitudes, higher-order thinking, that is used in future years’ learning, students can’t get it all in just one year. I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes the full K-12 cycle for us to see how well it works. The question I have (after reading a lot of reactions like MaryAnn’s) is will we give it time.

      Note to readers: If you feel you must be insulting, rude, abusive, to get your point across, I will not publish your comment. Follow the same rules you teach students to use in conversations–perspective taking, evaluation, listen and respond, cite evidence–well, you know the drill.

  2. bp

    Not to be a “Debbie Downer” but these standards are not the law of the land as there is no federal law mandating them. It’s an individual state by state adoption. While I applaud the goal behind CC, why does everyone see them as a magic bullet? Just because a state adopts them doesn’t mean that a state has the resources to support their implementation nor the accountability to insure that every district adequately implements them. NCLB had “pie in the sky” goals with negative unintended consequences.

    • Jacqui

      You’ve put your finger on the big problems, BP. Schools are struggling with implementation. Sure, in theory, they’re great, but so is world peace. How do we make it happen? I have my fingers crossed.

  3. JodiK

    I will be very transparent up front. There is little of anything connected to the Common Core with which I agree. But I will not go into all the reasons here. The one question I keep asking though, is Why? Why did we need to throw away 45 state standards, many of which were superior to CC without any evidence that CC stds work? Why are we aligning the GED, SAT’s, ACT, state assessments, etc. to an untested program? Why did we need to implement this initiative so quickly, and not do it correctly by starting in K-1? Why are there no accommodations for special ed students? Why were the standards written behind closed doors, with those involved having to sign confidentiality agreements to not speak of the proceedings? Why weren’t more teachers involved in writing the standards? Why were so many writers employed with testing companies on the committees? Why are the standards copyrighted? Why weren’t the standards field tested before going national? Why were they tied to applying for RttT grants and had to be adopted whether money was granted or not? Why are they being touted as state-led when the NGA and CCSSO are nothing more than lobbying groups? Why are so many teachers quitting due to the adoption and implementation of CC? Why, then, if these standards are the answer to all our education ills, are more than 20 states now trying to remove them from their states? If someone could answer these Why’s, maybe then, the Common Core Standards could stand on their own merits and could see them for what they are, good, bad or indifferent.

    • Jacqui

      Lots of good questions, Jodi. The reason Common Core–or, more succinctly, change in how we educate our children–came about is because American education isn’t working. A study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute says that these new Standards will improve ed in 85% of the states. 15% had a better system prior to and hopefully their governments will make adjustments for that. But truly, our education is broken and something had to be done.

      I was shocked how quickly so many States adopted it. Probably had to do with government subsidies or some such encouragement.

      I, like you, am surprised how fast SAT and ACT are lining up to comply with Standards that can’t possibly be fully taught for several years (because they scaffold year to year). I’m not sure how that will work. I don’t know enough about when ACT/SAT will fully make the switch.

      That would have been a good idea–start in kindergarten and add a year at a time. Clever. While I find a lot to like in the Standards (as itemized in the article), phasing it in probably would have helped implementation.

      Teachers quitting–I understand. These are huge changes, not the least of which is a massive increase in the daily use of technology in the education setting. I know from experience there are still many teachers who resist integrating tech into their lesson plans and inquiry. Now, they must. No choice. Gotta do it. That means they have to learn it. I am not judging good or bad on that, just evaluating.

      In the trenches, I hear 10-to-1 against Common Core. If it can survive five years, and teachers adjust to the many radical changes in an industry they thought they knew–were comfortable in their ability to perform–we will probably be better off. I may be wrong. Time will tell.

      Thanks for your rational, well-considered comment.

  4. Valerie

    Sorry, but I haven’t found anythign to love about the common core. Things to hate about the common core.
    1. The implementation of it. In so many ways it’s wrong. to implement with a 2nd grader and say you can’t go back when they don’t understand the new method of teaching and show them what they would have learned in 1st grade if the core had been implemented back then.
    2. Teaching by script and not being allowed to go off script to explain when the kids don’t get it.
    3. daily testing stresses out kids, especially young kids.
    4. teaching kids to count on their fingers instead of memorization of basic math facts.

    and on a more personal note all of these resulted in my daughter struggling with math, which used to be her favorite subject. She thought she was stupid (yes her words) and she gave up trying in all subjects because she felt she coudln’t get anythign right. She told me she couldn’t get anything right and it all began with math this school year.

    Well, her attitude has improved dramatically in the last 3 weeks. What turned it around? No more common core, especially common core math! We are homeschooling. In 3 weeks I’ve already seen her improving. 3 months of common core math, resulted in a loss of 2 years of skills. She’s still not at where she was before the nightmare of the core, but at least she’s finally improving instead of regressing.

    • Jacqui

      Thanks for the feedback, Valerie. The implementation of Common Core seems to be problematic in many areas–and it sounds like yours is included. It shouldn’t be–it’s not a curriculum–but ‘should’ doesn’t always matter. I’m so glad your daughter is doing better.

      • Dee

        I’m sorry but I am with Valerie on this. My son is great at math. He can do it in his head. He also has ADHD and getting him to write things out is difficult. He doesn’t understand why he can’t just stick to the “old school” way of math because it works for him and it doesn’t stress him out. When you’re a kid with ADHD and you feel like there’s not really anything you can do or are good at except one thing and then are told your answers are wrong in that one area you’re really good at all because you didn’t follow the CC and did it old school is destructive to a kid. As far as I’m concerned CC can go back to where it came from. There are too many unknowns with this program but it’s being thrust upon our children regardless.

        • Jacqui

          In your shoes, I too would dislike what is being called ‘Common Core’ in your district. But truly, there’s nothing in CC that says you can’t differentiate for student needs, adapt to unique circumstances (like your son’s ADHD). They are Standards, not a curriculum. I know from talking to friends that many teachers blame CC for the inflexibility of teaching, but I think blame lies in implementation.

          Are you familiar with Daniel Tammett–wrote ‘Born on a Blue Day’. He was mainstreamed educationally despite being autistic. Any teacher knows that diagnosis requires individualized lesson plans. Problem was, he wasn’t diagnosed until well into his educational career. Yet, his teachers accommodated what they saw as his unique needs and he thrived. That’s differentiation–that’s the job of teachers. To take a body of learning that must be accomplished (i.e., CC) and figure out the best way to communicate it to each student.

          There’s nothing in CC that says your son can’t explain how HE finds the solution to a problem. It merely asks that the student explain. Daniel Tammett sees it as a horizon he reads from left to right. Your son will be different but just as authentic. His answers aren’t wrong. Maybe he isn’t being asked the right questions or maybe he’s not being listened to (which makes me very sad).

  5. scervantez

    Wow! I’m amazed at the overall dislike of the CC Standards! I don’t think they are “everything,” but they are a step in the right direction. This is a chance to teach to real “mastery,” and not mediocrity. Teaching real “thinking” skills, not spoon-feeding the masses of children that come through our doors. Kids don’t know how to problem-solve, they are used to the teacher giving them everything. How efficient is that when a student can go to the internet and find just about anything they want? The challenge here is make sure they have the critical thinking skills to ask the right questions, evaluate data, and synthesize the information they find. How realistic is it to teach all of our subjects separately, when in the real world they will use math, reading & writing skills together in many different ways? How nice it will be when I get a new student in the middle of the year and they will be somewhere in the vicinity of where my students are – not a year behind. Change may be scary to some, but I think it is scarier to continue as is; Remember the CC is a framework, it is the teacher’s skill that makes it successful or not. The fear I see is that there isn’t a Teacher’s Manual for a lot of this – which to me is freedom, but to others a real problem. Get your creative juices flowing again, how can you use PBL to make your students independent learners, responsible for what they learn? How unfair are we to ask our students to turn off their technology when they enter school? Do you know how many things students can do with technology to show their understanding of a concept? Will some students try to abuse it? Of course they will, they’re kids! It’s our job to monitor, which isn’t so hard once the students are doing the work and you are guiding them. “What am I doing this year that will help these children not only for next year, but for the rest of their lives?” If I ever get to the point where I don’t ask myself this question, that will be the time I leave teaching.

  6. Hillary Y.

    As a parent of two very bright students, I have to say I love Common Core! I finally feel that my kids are being challenged. They aren’t bored in their classrooms and saying they don’t want to go to school. The way they are being challenged to think critically, compare and contrast and analyze is a breath of fresh air to me. Before I felt that they were being held back, waiting for the other students to catch up to them, but now they are given the opportunity to stretch their intellectual wings and see where it takes them. I’m saddened by the negative backlash from parents and teachers regarding Common Core. Change is hard and I think it’s going to take time for all of us to adjust to this new way of teaching and being held to a higher standard can be scary. I just pray we give it time before we abandon it. I think it has a lot to offer, maybe it’s not perfect, but a lot wasn’t working before so it was time for a change.

    • Jacqui

      You are a breath of fresh air, Hillary. I am constantly on defense with Common Core, which confuses me. Most issues are with implementation, not content. They are Standards–not a curriculum. Still, that seems to confuse so many. How is that?

  7. Christine

    The STANDARDS, RttT, over-testing, stressing out students, ambiguous and tedious assignments; I don’t care what you call it, (and this is in NO way a personal insult) it’s ALL awful. We have seen enough, experienced it, lived it, seen the effect on our children, and done our research. There are no selling points that could possibly change my mind as a parent. Having teachers and administrators reach out to me, thanking me for speaking up tells me I am on the right side here. Again, this is not at all personal, Jacqui, but after four years, in the two districts we have lived in, on top of all the parents I have met in NYS, Common Core, and the ENTIRE reform in education is a disaster.

    • Jacqui

      It makes me really sad to here feedback like yours. I can tell it’s heartfelt, from the trenches. Common Core seems to be going sideways in so many places when it should have been wonderful.

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