Many have erroneously dismissed the Common Core State Standards as a politically-motivated federal agenda to control education. The fear incited by the media and the uninformed has sadly overshadowed the creative liberty that Common Core brings.
Common Core is not a hostile takeover of curriculum through local control; it is simply intended to establish cohesiveness and norms for each grade level. With normalized standards across the country, a child in rural South Dakota is expected to meet the same standards as a child in upstate New York.
Common Core provides teachers with agreed-upon standards, but it also frees them to become creative facilitators of instruction. Common Core gives teachers the what, but allows them to choose how they would teach.
Having taught in impoverished schools my entire teaching career, I was elated to learn about Common Core. I saw it as the very tool needed to transform schools and to equalize opportunities for student growth. Human and capital resources are minimal to nonexistent at the schools where I’ve taught, and my students were generally several grade levels behind in reading and math. Improvement was frustratingly slow for them, even when they were given extra help. I was hopeful that Common Core could bridge the gaps for these students.
However, I learned quickly that for students to have success with Common Core, teachers have to effectively teach to the standards. The standards must be properly implemented. As Robert Rothman writes:
[T]he standards, by themselves, do not improve education. Standards can do a great deal: they can set clear goals for learning for students and teachers, and establish guidelines for instruction and performance. But to have an effect on the day-to-day interaction between students and teachers, and thus improve learning, states and districts will have to implement the standards.
That will require changes in curricula and assessments to align with the standards, professional development to ensure that teachers know what they are expected to teach, and ultimately, changes in teacher education so that all teachers have the capability to teach all students to the standards.
The standards are only the first step on the road to higher levels of learning.
The unfortunate truth is, when Common Core was initially presented to educators, there was a lack of quality professional development to train teachers. Thus, many educators met Common Core with anger and fear because there were so many unknowns. Since the standards, in fact, leave room for interpretation, there was and continues to be great diversity between districts, schools and teachers in their practical application.
In tandem, standardized tests are given to gauge the efficacy of Common Core. Naturally, educators should be held accountable to ensure children are held to the highest standards, but we should also be concerned when the anxiety of testing replaces the joy of learning Common Core can bring about.
As teachers, it’s time we replace the apprehension that surrounds Common Core with a more productive idea: Common Core is an opportunity for continuous professional development. Common Core requires us to go back to the drawing board and rethink how we’re teaching. In a world where society and the skills required for the workforce are ever-changing, these standards require us to continually reflect on how we engage and instruct our students. Common Core gives us the opportunity to teach strong across all content areas for all students, every day.
For teachers to take the lead in constructing creative ways to carry out the Common Core State Standards, school and district leaders must create the necessary space for teacher leadership, planning time and training. The more we can seize the opportunity for continuous professional development that Common Core provides, the more we teachers will be able to teach strong.