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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How Will Common Core Change What We Do?

Erin Powers

Education Consultant and Literacy Specialist
Missouri and Illinois educators at CSD's Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Assessment Academy.

As full implementation of Common Core State Standards nears, educators are searching for answers to three questions: 1) What are the CC State Standards? 2) How will they change what I do? and 3) Why are they here? Some of the details are frustratingly elusive as various groups -- publishers, school districts, states, and universities -- jockey for positions in the first post-NCLB initiative. Here’s what we know that can fit into a blog:

 

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) represent the most significant, widespread education reform that has ever occurred in American public schools. Currently, 45 states and three territories have adopted the standards and plan to assess students’ progress on them during the 2014-2015 school year. With these standards, all learning is linked to 10 Career and College Readiness Standards, what students need to know and be able to do in order to thrive at the college level and in the career world. It’s the first time that the country has ever had such a clear picture of the kinds of skills students should have when they leave high school. It’s a big deal.

The CC standards are organized in an intoxicatingly simple, linear fashion that acknowledges that the work of a first grade teacher contributes to the growth of a tenth grade student. This connectedness between grade levels is a welcome departure from some previous state standards that jumped from topic to topic, addressing a particular skill one year, dropping it the next, and returning to it later on or not at all.

The standards’ organization will help teachers focus on the big picture and see how their work with students is connected to a child’s academic past and future. No CCSS strand can be mastered in one year.

How Will They Change What Teachers Do?

CCSS will have varying degrees of influence for secondary teachers. For the areas of English language arts and mathematics, CCSS will replace current state standards. They will unify goals and expectations for students across the country as well as align assessments. For history, science, and technical subjects, the standards offer 10 areas of key literacy skills to overlay onto already existing state content standards. Because the content and assessments will be the same from state to state, a unified system of measure can be used to compare student growth from one part of the country to another. And states will be able to compete for Federal money, but that’s another topic.

 

The standards address the fact that literacy demands in college, the workplace, and life in general are getting higher, not lower, and to thrive in an information-rich, digital global age, we need a highly literate population.

For the authors of CCSS, this translates to teachers in all disciplines sharing responsibility for students’ literacy development. While English teachers might be relieved to know they will not have to carry the responsibility of literacy instruction alone, CCSS also acknowledges that the informational texts used in various subjects are complex and worthy of study. It makes sense that the best person to teach specific areas of literacy is the expert teacher of the field: scientists, historians, and other scholars. The authors believe that these skills are essential to the success of students in these disciplines.

It doesn’t mean that a science teacher is going to drop teaching the concept of velocity and start teaching essay writing, but it does mean that writing in science, a common occurrence among scientists, will benefit young scholars.

 

The CCSS will help solidify students’ progression to higher-level math, through real-world applications and conceptual understanding, not just procedural knowledge. It’s through concepts that students will be able to go beyond passing the weekly math test and build to a sophisticated understanding of the language of math; hence taking students to the level of achievement needed in fast tech times.

The Technology Piece

The standards also take into account our rapidly changing information age, acknowledging that entirely new genres of reading and writing could develop at any time (Twitter, Facebook updates, and multi-author blogs did not exist in 1997 when many current state standards were in development). To help address the demands of technology, the CCSS incorporates research and media skills into every subject. It’s a spot-on relevant move in an age when anyone can look up the answer to anything on the Internet.

No longer do books, or adults, hold all of the information. Students have to be able to navigate through, independently, a vast amount of information, learn and mimic new genres, and communicate with others near and far. It’s with this in mind that the CCSS focuses on key skills and concepts that will serve students for a lifetime in our ever-changing world.

What’s Next?

Of course, we have to note that the CCSS require new kinds of assessments. Hopefully, these tests will turn our education system away from the rote memorization and test prep culture fostered by current high-stakes assessments. Instead, they have the potential to support classrooms where complex reading, writing, and critical thinking is everyday work in nearly every part of the country. Places where students question the author, evaluate claims and evidence, and consider multiple perspectives. We don’t know much about how, exactly, the assessments will look, but they promise to match the kinds of higher-order skills demanded by the standards.

They will not be simple multiple-choice tests, identifying sentence types, word origins, and the result of the Roman Empire’s war with Carthage. In an era when teachers are more often judged based on students’ test scores, this shift is huge.

Like anything else, how the CC Standards are implemented will make all the difference. The authors are very clear: CCSS does not include information about how teachers should teach. From this, I infer that they understand the complexity of teaching and learning. I suspect they know that binders of ready-made packaged programs and curriculum are worthless without a high quality teacher who’s given the opportunity, respect, and support to design learning for his or her students.

Unanswered Questions

It’s this clear message that makes classroom teachers so vulnerable. We don’t know how, exactly, CCSS will be implemented at the state, district, and school levels. Will teachers get to design new units of study? Will they be offered an opportunity to collaborate around the idea of what these standards mean for their students? Will they have a chance to reflect on student progress, to refine their practice, and make meaningful instructional decisions? To believe in something, you have to own it.

If teachers don’t own it, the full potential of CCSS will get lost in the bureaucratic minefield of our public schools. My hope is that the implementation of CCSS will pair with empowering the most influential person in the classroom: the teacher.

How has your school prepared for Common Core? Please share with us in the comments section below.

Erin Powers

Education Consultant and Literacy Specialist
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Becky's picture
Becky
Gifted Education Specialist

I'm curious about this. Do you mind sharing where you are (just the state)?

Rocky Mountain western state

You mention "leveling the playing field" and that can happen by holding back the gifted as much as it can happen my moving the struggling learners forward. It's easier. according to some people, to put a ceiling on what the brightest and most facile learners can access.

CCSSI Mathematics's picture

>This connectedness between grade levels is a welcome departure from some previous state standards that jumped from topic to topic, addressing a particular skill one year, dropping it the next, and returning to it later on or not at all.

Actually, we've documented plenty of instances where such ``disconnectedness'' makes portions of Common Core an awkward mess...among other critiques.

http://ccssimath.blogspot.com

Bon Crowder's picture
Bon Crowder
Math Mom & Education Advocate

I'm knee-deep in the Common Core State Standards with my business partner (and Little Brother) creating a site to support parents with the math portion. It's called That Math! and it's at www.thatsmath.com.

Strangely enough, we live in Texas where the Common Core State Standards don't apply. But we read each standard carefully to figure out where parents can plug in math to their daily world.

It's enlightening to read and see what's expected of our children. And it's overwhelming to think about how I didn't understand some of those concepts until I was in graduate school - in math!

Monty Neill's picture
Monty Neill
Executive Director of FairTest

I fear that people are far too optimistic about the Common Core and its impact. For example, the applications by the two consortia said the tests would remain primarily multiple-choice. Each will have only one task per subject/per grade, woefully in adequate. They will be the NCLB high-stakes tests. For more on FairTest's concerns see our fact sheet, http://www.fairtest.org/common-core-assessments-more-tests-not-much-better

Cindy Johanson's picture
Cindy Johanson
executive director @ Edutopia and mom of 2 kids
Staff

Erin -- This is one of the best summaries I have read about the goals, opportunities and risks of the Common Core standards. Your last few paragraphs about implementation and empowering teachers is key. I just read a frightening story about how the Common Core is rolling out in a Delaware school. I really hope this is not an example of what we will see across the country: http://bit.ly/Vp3qry via @dailykos

RichK's picture
RichK
Middle/high school math teacher, Coach for elementary math teachers

Erin, Iwould like to add one thing. You mention that teachers in all disciplines share the responsibility of students' literacy development. I would like to encourage all teachers to do just that, but I would also like the literacy teachers to invest their time helping students read books in all disciplines. It seems that few teachers spend any time explaining how to read and textbook in any area. This seems short-sighted since textbooks are the most useful type of book a student needs to be successful in an academic environment. Reading a math book is not the same skill as reading the fiction or the non-fiction sources used to develop literacy. Maybe reading teachers could spend some time investigating what I believe to be an oversight. Thank you.

M. Rauh's picture
M. Rauh
6th grade social studies & science teacher from Colorado

Having attended a different conference at the same time - I will sum up what I got from the Colorado Council for IRA's 2013 Literacy Conference.

My 2 Big Ideas:
1. Common Core changes literacy expectations (for example: 6th grade readers are now expected to be between what was formerly a high 6th grade reading level and a mid-range 10th grade level) - scary, but teachers were given a lot of strategies to tackle this at the conference.
2. Literacy needs to become a tool for accessing content (not a separate concept). This affects the choices elementary teachers make in the curricula, as well as the way secondary teachers address content.
3. Math is a verb, Social Studies is a verb, Science is a verb, Reading is a verb, and Writing is a verb (and so is any other academic discipline). Students should no longer be learning information - they should be learning how different disciplines access information and problem solve.

A few places to look for help?
-Public Education and Business Coalition: their "Thinking Strategies" take literacy strategies and turn them into a set of tools for accessing any content
-Mentor Texts: if we're going to teach kids to read and write in the different academic disciplines, we have to read those materials, discover how they share information, and mimic the craft of those materials as writers (Looking for strategies to help you do this: Linda Hoyt, "Crafting Nonfiction Writing," and Kelly Gallagher, "Write Like This," were 2 great resources I discovered this weekend).

Erin Powers's picture
Erin Powers
Education Consultant and Literacy Specialist

Thank you, M. Rauh, for the resources. Another one I'd like to add, especially for elementary educators, is by Lucy Calkins.

Sabrina Schongalla's picture
Sabrina Schongalla
High School English/Language Arts

While a few teachers in my building are currently piloting CCSS materials purchased by our district, these new standards remain a mystery to most of us. The materials we have received thus far include handouts and a book of curriculum maps for common core. This material in particular seems counter-intuitive however, if CCSS is truly meant to be how it is described in this blog, as the materials we have been given are not unlike "binders of ready-made packaged programs and curriculum," described by Ms. Powers as "worthless without a high quality teacher who's given the opportunity, respect, and support to design learning for his or her students". In addition to this book and the few teachers who are piloting its lessons, the district has offered some training opportunities, though it is unclear at this time whether this training will be focused on this specific material or the concept of CCSS in general. In a recent chat with my curriculum leader, it was implied that our school will not begin to implement CCSS until next school year, with the understanding that the test for these standards will not be piloted until the year following. As I read through the ideas posted here about empowering teachers I felt that CCSS might have a positive impact, but upon further research into the vision of common core that my building holds, I am not as reassured. I am including the ISBN of the material I described above; if anyone has a lead on better materials that underscore the empowerment discussed in this blog please share!
Common Core Curriculum Maps: English Language Arts
Written by Teachers, for Teachers
www.josseybass.com
ISBN: 978-1-118-10820-8

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