[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles about how Common Core State Standards will affect Clayton Valley-area students.]
A new way of teaching is barreling down into California classrooms that has educators scrambling, parents puzzled, and unwary students at the forefront of what is being described as an educational revolution.
When Common Core curriculum hits local schools next year, gone will be cursive writing, traditional math tracks and some classic literature. But in its place, supporters hope, will be a new style of teaching that will raise U.S. students’ “accountability” at an international level, and teach critical thinking skills some say colleges are craving.
“We absolutely support the new Common Core State Standards,” says Clayton Valley Charter High School Executive Director David Linzey. “ The advantages for all students is that they are going to have access to a more rigorous and relevant curriculum. The previous California State Standards focused more on breadth of knowledge by testing students on a high number of standards for each content area. The new CCSS were developed to be fewer, clearer, and higher.”
Process was flawed
The Common Core movement launched in 2008, when some educators and politicians, concerned about dismal achievement among U.S. students, put forth the idea is to “modernize” education and share state standards. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia will share K-12 goals, which include more relevant lessons and higher critical thinking skills, and in return receive funding from President Obama’s federal “Race to the Top” initiative
It sounds like manna from Heaven, but across the country, opponents of Common Core are increasing in number, decrying everything from the actual material being taught to the way Common Core was approved and implemented.
Northgate High School mom Lisa Ackerman is an unofficial leaders of the anti-Common Core movement in Mount Diablo Unified School District, and she says that from the very beginning there was something wrong with the process.
“Politicians would like you to think that it was a collaborative process, but the groups who came up with Common Core aren’t elected officials,” she says. The movement was developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, two lobbying groups, with support from such places as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. New testing of Common Core standards will all be done on computers.
Ackerman also decries the small window parents and other concerned parties had to understand and approve the new standards. The state adopted the plans in a small two-month window in November-January of 2009-10.
Also of concern was the fact that Common Core calls for a nationwide database of all students that can be accessed by anyone. “This is a safety issue for me,” she says.
She also fears that by looking “deeper” rather than “wider,” students will not get access to important learning materials, such as the classics in literature. “And some of the books that are on the approved list aren’t appropriate for high school sophomores,” she said. “They’re too adult.”
But at this point, the district is still working out the exact books that will be used, and it is possible many will be biographies, or articles read on e-readers.
Teaching the ‘real world’
Technology is a huge aspect of Common Core, and Ackerman is worried that the cost of adding new equipment such as e-readers — and the training involved for teachers in all areas of the curriculum — will cripple an already cash-strapped district.
District officials queried still don’t have a firm analysis on what switching to Common Core will cost the district, or how much federal and state money will be available.
In fact, the only sure thing about Common Core right now is that students will no longer take STAR tests next spring; instead, certain grade levels will be tested on different subjects, and a sampling of students at each school will take online tests that mimic future Common Core testing.
But all of that isn’t deterring education leaders like Linzey and MDUSD Superintendent Nellie Meyer from embracing the new model.
“As with any transition to new curriculum, there will be a learning curve for teachers in the classroom,” Linzey says. “We are supporting our teachers in this transition with extensive professional development. We believe in the purpose and focus of the Common Core State Standards, which is to better prepare students with 21st century skills of higher level thinking and literacy. They are based on research on how students learn best and what’s needed to prepare them for college and work.”
Linzey and Meyer cite several key areas where Common Core will be beneficial:
- Fewer, clearer, and higher standards, so content can be taught to a greater degree of depth using more critical thinking and then expecting effective application of knowledge to real-world situations.
- They are aligned with college and work expectations, so that all students are prepared for success upon graduating from high school. “Colleges are really the tail that wags the dog,” Meyer says.
- They are internationally benchmarked, so that all students are prepared for succeeding in our global economy and society.
- The research and evidence-based.
“The benefits are that students will be better prepared for college and the careers of the future,” Linzey says. “Additionally, teachers will be encouraged to go into greater depth in their lessons and make greater and more relevant application to student’s lives.”
If all this sounds puzzling, you’re not alone. Actually implementing Common Core will be a major undertaking, and Meyer and Linzey say parents should familiarize themselves with all the aspects of the curriculum — the good and the bad (see Sidebar for a list of online resources).
Like any new thing, it’s not going to be easy,” Meyer says of implementing Common Core. “That’s just the nature of change.”
Sidebar: Common Core resources
The California Dept. of Education: cde.ca.gov/re/cc/
The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (In the process of designing/developing the new Common Core assessments): smarterbalanced.org
Contra Costa County Office of Education Common Core resources: cccoe.k12.ca.us/edsvcs/cccs_main.html
Californians United Against Common Core: CUACC.org
Common Core website: corestandards.org