Editor’s note: Tracy is an assistant professor of education at Converse College in Spartanburg, SC. She works with middle level and secondary English language arts pre-service teachers. She is part of the “Seawells on Schools” blogging consortium.
As the dust settles with Race to the Top recipients identified, states will have to decide if they will move on with plans to adopt the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Since Race to the Top money was tied to adopting the CCSS, I’m curious whether states that did not receive funding will stay the course. My hope is they will.
I like the Common Core State Standards. I like the way they are written, and I like what they say about student learning. As a former high school English teacher and instructional coach, I never thought I’d be saying that because one of my biggest concerns has been that classroom teachers were not directly involved in the creation.
Over the years, I’ve participated in three iterations of revision for South Carolina’s English language arts (ELA) standards. Each time classroom teachers and other educational leaders took the lead on writing, revising and implementing these standards. What’s different with the CCSS is that teachers have not had a direct hand in creating the standards. Yet, public feedback was solicited on three separate occasions as the standards were written.
As a member of the SC CCSS Implementation Team, I saw that the concerns and suggestions our teachers had with the standards were the same as other teachers across the country (based on the published public feedback to CCSS), and after each solicitation of feedback, changes reflected teachers’ input. A group of about 100 ELA and math educators, mostly classroom teachers, participated in the comparative review, comparing our existing SC standards with the new Common Core.
Our teachers were pleased with the final draft of the CCSS, which was made public in June 2010, all agreeing the standards are more specific, clearer and require higher levels of thinking than our current standards.
Opponents have said the standards represent a loss of local control of education and that the standards represent a national curriculum. Neither assertion is true.
First, I do not think the standards represent any attempt to take away state or local control of education; I see no conspiracy here as some have feared. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers launched the initiative to (in the words of former Governor Roy Romer) “ensure that every child across the country is getting the best possible education, no matter where a child lives or what their background is. The common standards will provide an accessible roadmap for schools, teachers, parents and students, with clear and realistic goals.”
And the CCSS do not provide a “body of knowledge” for teachers to teach. However, they do provide very clear, high-level thinking expectations for students, their teachers, and their parents. Sometimes I wonder if the opponents have even read the CCSS document.
The CCSS are not a panacea to right what is wrong with our public schools. Rather they are an attempt to make certain all children in every state have access to a similar education. States strapped for resources will benefit from the consortia created by participating states to pool resources for implementation of the standards and to develop common student assessments. Additionally, educators will have access to instructional resources and materials from the partnerships with other states.
When I read the standards (corestandards.org), I see standards that show essential learning, standards that don’t necessarily require additional resources, and standards that foster engagement and innovation. Perhaps most important, the standards allow much, much room for teachers to be creative and innovative in their classrooms.
The curriculum is what the teacher will make it; the standards do not dictate what to teach. I see them as broad, comforting guidelines that give direction to what teachers will teach. As a professor of education who works with pre-service teachers, I like that these are the standards from which my teachers-to-be will develop their lessons and curricula. I want these education students to understand the importance of critical thinking which the CCSS provide.
With the adoption, the most critical part of the process begins. How can we be sure these standards can make a difference? First, we must end the frenzy surrounding testing. We don’t stop testing, for there is much to be learned from the data to inform good classroom practice.
But we MUST rethink the approach: the high-stakes emphasis. We must ensure no teacher should ever feel one test will determine the quality of his or her career. Dan Brown in a blog for Center for Teacher Quality talked about the importance of teacher accountability without teachers “feeling terrorized.”
Also, states must work to provide teachers with the professional development they deserve to understand what these standards can mean for their classrooms. If the standards are to become viable and effective, they must be supported by aligned curriculum and aligned assessments. And this will take time. But, teachers can accomplish this when they are given time to work together, talk together and build the curricula that will support the spirit of the CCSS.
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