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Common Core 101: The basics

Just one example of parents voicing concerns over changes in our educational system
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It seems as though these days you can't go on Facebook, peruse Twitter, or even talk to a neighbor without seeing a post about the Common Core. You can easily find articles about how inappropriate the standards are, how they make all teachers teach from a script, how they take away any and all opportunity for creativity for both teachers and students, how the state tests are too consuming...I could go on and on.

What most of these posts fail to recognize is that "Common Core" is being used as a blanket statement. People are throwing the phrase around to address the standards, the state-released curriculum, the assessments, teacher accountability, and everything in between. I am here to tell you that they are not all one in the same.

In an effort to help all parties sort out all the intricacies of the Common Core, I introduce Common Core 101. Today I share with you the basics:

  1. The Common Core State Standards are expectations for what students need to be able to do to be considered college and career ready. They are things like being able to read a text closely, determine the central idea or theme of a text, interpret words and phrases used in a text, or evaluate the argument presented in a text, among others. The standards are based in research and are internationally benchmarked. The purpose of creating such a document is to diminish the gap we currently see when high school seniors graduate and find themselves lacking certain basic skills needed to be successful in life outside of high school. Nationally, nearly 40% of freshmen at community colleges and nearly 20% of freshman at four-year institutions have to take at least one remediation course. Clearly there is a gap that needs to be addressed in the K-12 years, and the Common Core Standards were put into place to remedy that. The previous 2005 NYS Standards that had been in place were similar in idea, but just were not rigorous enough to help our students gain the skills they need to be contributing members of society after high school. I cannot stress enough that the standards are just that, standards. Teachers, schools, and districts have the autonomy to decide how they will help their students reach those standards.
  2. The New York State Curriculum Modules are curricular materials. They were shared with teachers across the state as examples of what Common Core-aligned curriculum might look like. They were never mandated, or even suggested. Rather, the curriculum modules were shared as districts began to think about what curricular changes were needed in order to help students work toward the Common Core Standards. No district in New York State has to adopt the modules. If districts choose to adopt them, they have the flexibility to adapt them as they see fit, pick and choose what they believe is the best fit for their students, and leave behind what they do not feel is warranted. While they do, unfortunately, appear to be scripted, the intent was never to require all teachers to use a scripted curriculum as a one-size-fits-all approach to implementing the Common Core. I cannot stress enough that the modules are optional, and should a district choose to adopt them they are not to be followed as a lock-step script.

It is important to remember that standards are not curriculum. They are two very different entities. Standards are things we want students to be able to achieve, and a curriculum is the tool(s) we use to help them get there. While the standards are the overarching expectation we want all students to achieve, teachers have the power to make decisions around the curricular resources to get them there in a way that is most meaningful for them.

Once we tease these two major pieces out, I think it becomes very clear that the standards themselves are not bad, evil, inappropriate, insert any other negative comment floating around today. Who would argue that we should challenge our kids more, give them skills to be able to work through difficult tasks, teach them to be critical thinkers and true scholars????

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