America’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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.