Right now, in English classrooms at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School our students are doing amazing work.
They are lawyers putting Lady Macbeth on trial, closely reading Shakespeare’s language to find evidence to prosecute or defend her. They are literary detectives, reading “The Great Gatsby” as if it were a murder mystery to discover F. Scott Fitzgerald’s hidden plot. They are media critics, analyzing the use of rhetorical appeals in advertisements and political speeches. They are investigators, examining contemporary research to determine whether technology is ultimately beneficial or detrimental to teenagers. They are poets, essayists, short story writers, bloggers, filmmakers and more.
On March 7, there is a hearing in the Massachusetts legislature considering a voter initiative that would repeal the Common Core in Massachusetts and send us back to math and English standards written over a decade ago.
Repealing the current standards would be a terrible move backwards for Massachusetts students and teachers alike.
In my decade in the classroom, I’ve had the opportunity to work with both the current Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks incorporating the Common Core and the previous set of standards. The Common Core frameworks encourage us to push our students’ skills and learning in new and innovative ways, to go deeper into texts, to think more critically and to write more authentically. More than the old standards, these skills will help our students succeed in college and in life.
The frameworks are not based on specific books or teaching strategies; they do not tell us exactly what to teach, or how, and they are not tied to any single standardized exam. They do not take away my nor my colleagues’ creativity. What Common Core does do is provide an excellent framework for us to help our students gain the skills and knowledge that they will need to be successful in the future.
In many ways, the Common Core has revolutionized my teaching. The older frameworks were often vague in requiring students to demonstrate their proficiencies, yet incredibly specific about which particular vocabulary words and concepts they had to know.
Now, my teaching focuses less on requiring students to define “metaphor” and more on developing their reading, writing, speaking, listening and language skills. Instead of asking students to “identify and analyze the point of view” in a text, I help them to use close reading strategies to “distinguish what is directly stated in the narration from what is really meant” by Fitzgerald’s use of an unreliable narrator in “The Great Gatsby.”
This ability to read closely and discern meaning is applicable beyond the English classroom and better prepares my students to read literature and nonfiction alike.
Likewise, the Common Core writing standards ask students to write in a variety of genres, for many different purposes and audiences, in ways that the old standards did not. As a result, I have developed a much stronger and more thorough writing process to help students develop their ideas, find evidence to support their thinking, organize their writing and revise their work to truly improve the quality of their communication.
We must preserve our current Common Core frameworks so that teachers, at my school and across Massachusetts, do not risk losing valuable instructional time. I know that we will continue to collaborate, innovate and ensure that our students are learning. But I hope that we are able to do so without being in a state of instructional limbo, waiting while the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spends time and money creating and evaluating new standards and assessments.
Will we have to develop all new curriculum materials? What about our professional development? What about the students whose educations must continue in the midst of this chaotic transition?
The truth is that we have good standards right now. Time and money is better spent helping teachers to implement these frameworks and to assess our students’ learning in engaging and authentic ways. Our time is better spent teaching. Our students deserve that.