Common Core: Friend or Foe?


I remember when teaching standards were first introduced early in my teaching career.  My school, like many in Vermont at that time, had no articulated curriculum and it was a radical idea to have a set of standards that every teacher would follow.  We have lived with our state’s standards for many years now and have gotten quite good at weaving these standards into our teaching and assessing our students to see the progress they have made.  Standards have become “de rigueur” for Vermont’s teachers.  As we look forward toward the new Common Core standards,  their might be a few sighs at the thought of more curriculum meetings but we certainly do not have fear in our hearts.

As I gear up for the Common Core myself, I am surprised to see the backlash against these new standards.  Indiana recently voted to reject the standards and Alabama tried to do so as well.  These states claimed that  the Common Core standards “dumbed down” education..  Conservative pundits have even encouraged parents to petition against the standards or demand that their children be held exempt from standards based instruction.  The Conservative argument is that the United State’s Government has no right to stick its finger into a state or town’s local control of education.  Hm…standards based instruction is a left-wing liberal conspiracy?  Wait a minute, what started the standards based instruction movement in the first place?  It was the publication of the report “A Nation at Risk by President Ronald Regan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education!  This might be why education reformers are against the Common Core as well.  The reformist cry is that more testing and accountability will distract from good teaching.  As James Dean tells his parents in Rebel Without a Cause “You’re tearing me apart!”  What I know for sure is that it is far more dangerous to return of the days when a school’s curriculum depended on whatever textbook a school board member or administrator happened to pick on a whim.  Sure, many teachers could do an outstanding job without any standards but others will wander off like a boat without a rudder.

Before we reject or run away from the Common Core standards, let’s take a look at a few of them.  Here’s a writing standard for fourth grade:

W.4.7  Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.

Asking fourth graders to conduct research and to use multiple sources to investigate different aspects of a topic seems pretty rigorous to me.  I don’t see any “heavy handedness” here either.  The standards do not tell you what to research or how you will gather information.   There is still room for creative teaching in this standard.
Here’s a reading standard for second graders:

RL.2.9  Compare and contrast two or more versions of the same story (e.g., Cinderella stories) by different authors or from different cultures.

Again, providing second graders with multiple perspectives through literature and asking them to read carefully to notice similarities and differences in text is exactly what we should be doing.

As for me, I am going to keep on preparing for the Common Core and will seek voices of reason as teachers talk about these new standards and good teaching.  Again, it’s all about balance.  We can have standards without feeling shackled by the “establishment.”  It’s really all about teaching and not about standing on a soap box!


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