By Rita Platt
The debate about the pros and cons of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is raging! At this point most of the arguing is fueled by policy-makers and academics, and as is often the case, the voices of classroom teachers are largely absent. I teach several graduate classes on the CCSS and often the only thing my students “know” about the standards is garnered from the arguments and not from the standards themselves. Set politics aside for a moment and study the standards! Then, we can get back to politics. Teachers, let’s start a conversation! How are you feeling about the CCSS? What should we be celebrating? What should we be watching out for?
1. The standards are good! The CCSS are straightforward and sound. Leave all of the politics out and read through them. They really are good. One big bonus is that they are articulated by each grade. Finally we don’t leave it all up to 4th, 8th, and 12th grade—we have a guide to the approximate age when students can master learning targets (not the be-all-end-all, but a guide; see Watch Out!). A careful perusal of the standards reveals that they really are a “staircase of increasing complexity.” Look at a “learning progression” analysis of a standard (like the one linked above) to see how standards grow through the levels.
2. The potential for collaboration! The CCSS add a measure of specificity to our sharing that has never existed before. We finally have a platform for a common conversation across states. Using this shared base we can work together to create strong resources and assessments. More importantly, we can problem-solve across space and time. Imagine how we can use Web 2.0 technologies; lesson plan wikis, YouTube channels, Twitter chats, Live Binders, Google Docs (the list is endless) to share ideas. Check here for a preview of what’s to come. Teachers, we can and should be a powerhouse in education—and we barely have a voice now. The CCSS unite us and what unites us has the potential to make us stronger!
3. They promote deep-thinking! There is a wonderful focus on deep-thinking throughout the standards. Beginning in first grade, learners are expected to identify author’s message and guess what? Not only can they do it, but the conversations sparked are amazing! Students are also learning to use detailed, informed evidence to support their assertions. This is a skill Americans are sorely in need of, watch the “news” if you have any doubt about the need to be competent in the ability to cite evidence to back up our opinions and ideas.
1. Testing companies are making way too much money! And, perhaps worse, the new tests promise to take a big chunk of instructional time. We should all be wary of this. Data-based teaching is, without a doubt, a best-practice. The question is; what kinds of tests yield the best data. The answer is; probably not the kind being written by Smarter Balanced and Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC).
2. Big Business is using the CCSS as a marketing tool. There will soon be a gazillion products available to help teachers with CCSS implementation. They won’t all be good but they will all make money. So will countless outside consultants. We must advocate for spending money carefully. The ill-fated implementation of No Child Left Behind lined the pockets of many opportunists and scammers. Teachers, let’s work together to not let this happen again.
3. Learning cannot be automated, not all kids learn at the same pace and that is not only normal, it is unavoidable, and it is okay. While the heart and soul of the standards are good, this is a major flaw in their philosophical foundation. The standards should be a guide. But, we are human beings and by our very nature cannot be forced to fit an arbitrary time- line. Standards are antithetical to a grade-level system. Students must move through standards at their own paces. This is even truer for English language learners and students with other special learning needs. We don’t expect everyone to walk or talk at exactly the same time and this should be true for all learning and developmental milestones. We must begin problem-solving and advocating for students’ rights to learn at their own paces.
There. I went first. Now you? Come on? What do you think?
Rita Platt is a Nationally Board Certified teacher. Her experience includes teaching learners of all levels from kindergarten to graduate students. She currently is a Library Media Specialist for the St. Croix Falls SD in Wisconsin, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute, and consults with local school districts.