The Common Core Standards

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Even though I’m well entrenched in retirement from teaching, it still remains a passion for me. I’ve always been interested in new developments in education and how they will play out in the classroom. The current discussion that intrigues me is about The Common Core Standards (CCS).

Ohio and 45 other states have adopted the CCS.  Therefore, our fair city of Cleveland is teaching to the CCS. We, as Cleveland residents, should be interested in seeing if our schools are keeping up with other schools  in other cities with similar demographics. The CCS, even in its infancy, should allow us to do this.

The CCS is international. It is designed, in part, to help improve the standings of the United States against other industrialized countries. Since it is standardized, teacher training, student resources like books and websites, and testing materials will be universal and cheaper to produce. Students who move frequently will find it easier to slot into their new learning environment and teachers will find it easier, in theory, to help students catch up. Students and teachers will be on a more even playing ground across the country.

CCS is supposed to be rigorous. It does not teach to the lowest common denominator but asks the students to achieve according to their own progress instead of making comparisons with other students. Special needs students will be given different tools to assist their learning and assess their growth. In addition, CCS stresses higher order thinking skills. Students are asked to understand what they have learned and why they are learning and not rely on rote memorization.

On the other side of the argument, as with anything new, there will be huge adjustments. Teachers will require training and be asked to teach with new methods and procedures. CCS is broad now and only 85% of the curriculum is standardized with the other 15% free to be adjusted to each state and population depending on the particular diversity of that district.  There may be more testing in a time when it is argued that students are already over tested- sometimes 4 times a year.

Some people argue that states with high standards already would have to accept lower CCS standards. And CCS only covers the subjects of English-language arts and mathematics. At the moment, states would have to use their current standards for science and social studies.

When I read about these arguments, I don’t see what all the fervor is about. If we are to teach students to work in a global economy and society with a diverse population, we must change and compete. Change is never easy and I don’t think we should expect easy for our teachers nor our students. We must be more rigorous, up-to-date, and demanding or we lose. We already have standardized books, websites, and teaching resources that are determined by big states like Texas, California, and New York. Over testing can be eliminated. Test anxiety in students is counter- productive and tests nothing.  As far as assessing only English and math, every program starts out with the first step. Other subjects can be added later. The 15% non specified curriculum is a good thing. There are differences in states, regions, and districts. America is not as homogenized as many industrialized countries like Japan or even Canada yet we have to compete with them. We need to be creative, tough, and persistent to do this. It is within our national character to do this.