There’s been a lot on news coverage as of late about parents opting their kids out of state assessments that are based on the Common Core standards. I happen to be among the silent majority of parents who are opting in.
Standardized tests are nothing new to education, but those aligned with new standards represent a major maturation of testing with an emphasis on thoughtfulness over regurgitation of memorized facts.
As someone who makes his living advocating for educational improvement for all kids regardless of zip code, I’ve actually read the standards. I embrace the concept of rigorous learning standards by grade level that benchmark what American kids should be learning against what schoolchildren across the globe are learning. I want my kids to succeed in the modern world, equipped with skills for life. I want to set a good example for my sons that quitting when things are tough or new isn’t admirable.
I’m not alone in the embrace of tougher standards that ensure America’s children are developing genuine content knowledge, critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will help them compete with Europe and Asia’s children. Indeed, the U.S. Army, leading corporations and business associations, educational groups and prominent social justice and nonprofit organizations share my viewpoint.
Common Core is not an abstraction for me. As a parent of two public school students in Ohio, I work with my sons on a daily basis on their homework assignments.
In Ohio, Common Core addresses math and reading. I suspect if I were taught math this way in grade school, I would have been a far bigger fan of math. Just last night, I worked with my first grader on his homework that involved his performing addition and subtraction, as well as a creative activity that helped him to further absorb the mathematical concepts via creating his own word problems and math exercises that had him literally drawing out his problem-solving process with crayons. Math isn’t some disconnected, mechanical process for him.
Regarding reading, I offer the example from my older son’s homework, which is aligned with Ohio Common Core reading standards that include:
- Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says and when drawing inferences from the text.
- Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
- Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).
I see these standards come alive through the many types of literature my son reads. For example, he read Caddy Woodlawn, whose protagonist makes the transition from urban life to frontier life. He wasn’t asked to memorize passages, respond to fill-in-the blank questions, or answer true or false questions. Rather, he was required to analyze what he read at a level appropriate for his age. He regularly wrote essay responses to questions, with the expectation that he would break down chapters by their main themes and cite supporting evidence from the text to back up his main ideas.
The PARCC tests my kids will take this year will determine their absorption of this way of learning. Teachers teach to the tests far less, but rather impart skills that will help their pupils learn to write and write well, conduct analysis and solve problems. Some kids won’t do well under this shift in emphasis in the early going. But as we learned from early-adopter Kentucky, kids and their teachers quickly rise to the challenge.
If you are a parent who wants to opt out of today’s state-driven, bipartisan and cross-sector movement towards ensuring America’s kids achieve quality learning standards, that is your prerogative. I happen to be a parent who wants my kids to opt into learning environments that promote the 21st century skills needed to navigate and thrive in a complicated world.
There are different sides to this debate, but I will put my trust in standards born out of a movement where leading employers defined the skills they seek in the modern workforce and applied them to standards; where leading social justice organizations took a stand against low expectations of poor children and embraced the idea that an “A” earned at an inner-city school meant the same as an “A” earned in a wealthy suburban school; where teachers nationally are allowed to slow down and teach subject matter with an emphasis of depth over breadth; and parents like me can be assured that states like mine are equipping our kids to succeed in a fast-paced, technology driven world that exists in and beyond our local school district.