By Teachers, For Teachers
While teachers and classrooms are doing everything they can to differentiate and personalize instruction for every student, policy-makers are focusing on creating uniform standards across the map.
As a trend or hot-topic in education, common core standards have always been one of those ideas that resurface every few years. This time, they are gaining momentum and taking hold across the nation.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative has created college-readiness, career-readiness, and K-12 standards. This initiative has the potential to impact 91% of the student population in this country.
According to its mission statement:
The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.
As of July 2011, 43 of 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards with all the other states except Alaska and Texas agreeing to adopt them, showing that this movement is now a reality. These states will adapt their teaching and learning standards in English/language arts and mathematics to match the rest of the country.
Although every state has its own standards, there is limited correlation between them. Only 18 states offer detailed standards at the course or grade-specific level. Many states supplement their standards with assessment frameworks, sample test items, lesson plans, curriculum guides, or resources for specific populations (such as English Language Learners); however, not every state provides the same type of support.
It puts students at a disadvantage. If a student moves from one state to another, she may find herself far ahead or far behind in comparison to her new classmates, solely because her former home state taught content in a different order. If a student comes from a state with weak standards, he may struggle more in college than a student whose home state offered rigorous ones.
Simply: America has a tradition of local control of education.
The question of what to teach our children can be highly politicized. Imagine trying to please the “red” and “blue” states – which books are acceptable to teach? Do you teach evolution? What about sex ed? The interest groups and talking heads on TV could have a field day – which doesn’t help students or teachers at all.
People say common standards will make education fairer, especially for low-income kids. People aren’t against making education fairer, but the issue isn’t that simple. It may not be fair to expect low-income kids, who frequently suffer from years in overcrowded, underfunded schools, to meet the same standards in a certain course or grade level.
Comparing Standardized Stories: Christine & Kelley
Consider Christine and Kelley, two teachers from California. California has a strong set of standards that are often used by other states as a model. Christine and Kelley were in a credentialing program together.
After graduation, Christine started teaching in East Los Angeles, while Kelley moved to Marin County, just north of San Francisco. They both taught high school English.
Christine’s students are low-income students who live in communities plagued with drugs and gang violence. Many of them are English Language Learners, and the rest are reading far below grade level. In many cases, they have more education than their parents, even though they haven’t graduated high school yet.
Kelley’s students are predominantly wealthy kids from stable communities. Their parents are highly educated professional people who spend money on tutors and SAT training courses and elite summer programs.
Yet both of these groups are currently required to meet the same standards. Is that really fair? The standards are either extremely high for Christine’s low-income students, or too easy to be valuable for Kelley’s well-supported students. At the same time, are you being fair to the low-income students expressly mandate that they can't reach the same standards as their privileged counterparts?
Imagine how much more complicated that becomes when the standards cover an entire country. Is it fair to ask students in a New Orleans school that is only half-rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina to do the same work as students in a comfortable suburb in Massachusetts?
But no matter what concerns teachers have, the common standards movement is well on its way, thanks to the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
What is the latest news on the Common Core State Standards Initiative?
The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers created a state-led process to develop common standards. They have focused primarily on English and math standards and have persuaded a majority of states to agree to participate in this process. States will establish their own implementation schedule.
The standards are based on research and designed to meet the following criteria:
• Aligned with college and work expectations
• Inclusive of rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills
• Internationally benchmarked (“FAQ,” http://www.corestandards.org/)
With everything going on in your classroom, it can be hard to find the motivation to follow the latest in policy news, but it may just change how you’re expected to teach.
Is your state implementing Common Core Standards? If your educators need help adopting these new standards in their classrooms, check out this professional development resource to schedule an in-service Common Core Standards workshop.