A Colorado champion for Common Core

Common Core – a unifying force or another educational policy hoop to jump through?

As districts in adoption states begin the implementation process, it seems as though the camps are becoming more divided.

Those in favor are promoting classroom successes and hope for future collaborative efforts. Those who are against cite many reasons, the loudest being the concern about federal control of schools and insufficient evidence regarding the potential for positive impact on student achievement.

So who is right? Are those states who are knee-deep in implementation headed toward disaster, or will those holdouts and naysayers be won over as the process continues?

I, for one, will continue to champion the Common Core. Here’s why.

How collaboration improves my teaching

As I work to implement the Common Core this year, I have had many opportunities to collaborate. I have worked with my peers, both in-building and across the country through virtual networks, such as the Center for Teaching Quality’s Collaboratory.

By losing the restraint of location, we have been able to reflect on our instructional practice and strategies together. I needed support to make sure I was doing all that I could to help my students meet the much higher bar that the standards set for them in my high school language arts classroom. I have benefited from sharing ideas with teachers from a wide array of experience and creativity and my students have benefited from the shift in my teaching.

I wonder, have we been underestimating our students’ abilities all along?

While I have worked hard to increase rigor and integrate skill building in my classroom, my students have risen to the challenge and have flourished. Their critical thinking, ability to utilize text to support their own ideas and versatility with a wide variety of text has surprised me. It has caused me to wonder with my colleagues if we’ve been underestimating our students all along.

One key factor in all of this is the teacher-created, authentic assessments we’ve used to gauge success. My colleagues and I have built numerous performance-based assessments, such as persuasive speeches and text-based seminars to monitor students’ critical thinking and analysis skills.

Critics have pointed out that Kentucky, the first state to implement Common Core State Standards fully, has seen a dramatic decrease in student test scores. My concern with citing this as a sticking point is the fact that standardized assessments, the traditional tool for data collection, have yet to catch up with the Common Core. Until they do, they should not be looked to as indicators of the success of the standards.

A catalyst for change

The Common Core is only one part of the education system.

But the standards have become a catalyst for discussions that need to happen in all corners of education. Discussions about equity across socioeconomic groups. About authentic assessment and data collection tools. About quality classroom instruction. About the balance between autonomy and accountability.

Many critics are focusing on the wrong issues.

It doesn’t matter who created the Common Core; it matters who is implementing the standards in the classroom every day. That would be teachers like me.

The Common Core could be a game-changer. Today’s teachers have the potential to improve the instruction all students receive. But administrators and policymakers must support our efforts. Teachers need time for collaboration to adjust and improve our teaching… AND we need to be able to take part in big instructional decisions, to define what is working and refine what is not.

I will admit that it is scary how much is at stake here, regarding the future of education. The scariest thing of all? That we might miss the opportunity to prepare all kids for the world they will face after graduation.

 

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