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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Common Core Confusion Persists

I'm not sure why, but Common Core Standards' confusion persists.

Too many see these standards as a curriculum program, test, or tight guide of what or how to teach.

I see it differently. I see the Common Core Standards as a guide to essential knowledge, concept, and skill points, points that should be embedded into worthy, child-centered, dynamic curriculum units.

I recognize that at some levels beyond elementary school, the standards may be too limiting for vigorous, modern day teaching and learning. I can't speak about that specifically because I haven't studied those standards. I also know that, in some cases, at elementary, the standards are too many for the developmental stage of a child at a certain time due to multiple factors. And, I'd like to see the Common Core Standards and other worthy teaching/learning elements move to a progression rather than grade-level since most students learn at a less predictable progression rather than in a step-by-step or grade-by-grade way.

In general, however, the debates about The Common Core, I believe, are misguided. Rather than arguing about foundation standards that serve as a good guide to the ingredients of a rich education, we should be debating about how to structure school programs, curriculum units, teaching/learning roles, and resources so that we are offering students a rich menu of learning opportunities throughout their school life.

We should also be working towards streamlining assessments and making those assessments progressive so that students can test at their current level, and pick up where they left off the next year. That will provide us with better data related to our overall teaching/learning programs. I believe there continues to be room for some testing, but we don't want to overdue it--keep it simple and centered as one kind of assessment used, and rather than use tests to punish teachers and students, use them instead to inform curriculum programs and development at multiple levels with growth producing process rather than punitive responses.

Long ago at a National Board of Professional Teaching Standards Conference (NBPTS) in DC, I spoke to a math teacher involved in creating The Common Core. He convinced me that the standards had worth as he relayed the process involved and the depth the standards convey.

No set of standards will be perfect. Standards should serve as a living guide that is revisited and developed over time. A good guide of main points for teaching and learning serves us well, but the problems occur when people try to teach those standards in demeaning, superficial ways that don't engage, empower, and educate students well.

For example our fifth grade students learn and practice the speaking standards as they serve as anchors for our school-wide assembly each week. They meet in small groups with the principal on Friday at lunch to review the script and make needed changes. They practice their lines over the weekend, and then lead our approximately 400-student school in an early Monday morning meeting that's a lot like the Good Morning America or other morning news/talk shows. It's fantastic. Who can argue with that standard or way of teaching it? These speaking/listening Common Core Standards are further studied as students practice and perform the fifth grade play--a play that every child is involved in. This is another example of rich employment of the Common Core Standards for meaningful teaching and learning. One more example is that students are able to study place value standards in math by coding animated models of that information--that's one more great example of how Common Core Standards can be embedded into rich learning and teaching.

Yesterday at The Annual Massachusetts Teachers Association Meeting, there was clearly confusion about The Common Core, and the confusion seemed to stem more from the way these standards have been employed and tested in school systems rather than truly looking at the Standards as a guide. It's time to clear up this confusion as we move forward in schools, and it's also time to give educators the time they need to collaboratively design rich units of learning--units that embed standards as well as local/student interests and needs in rich, engaging, and empowering learning/teaching endeavor.

Do you agree?