Mystical, dark, malevolent, ominous, pornographic. Glancing at my Twitter streams (#commoncore, #nced, #ncpol), I've seen each of these words applied to the new Common Core State Standards. But I've been teaching for 26 years, and guess what? I've embraced these standards in my classroom practice. What's the big deal?
A simple question for me, I guess. I understand and work in the classroom of today. The value of these standards is crystal clear to me: They are simply things that a thinking student should be able to do.
Those lacking a ground-level view of the classroom seem to be the ones leveling complaints. Let me briefly run through them.
The common standrards are a overreaching imposition of federal authority into the classroom. (Nope. They are a set of complex skills that are used to supplement and inform local curriculum. And they were adopted by states.)
Controversial topics and texts are mandated. No texts are mandated. They are sometimes suggested as examples, but teachers are free to use whatever texts and topics they see fit.
Student privacy will be undermined. I'll be honest, I don't know a lot about this one. But I'm not sure those who raise it do, either.
The standards themselves are weak. They are as rigorous as a teacher needs them to be to challenge his or her students.
Again, all of this is easy enough for me to see. I work with the standards every day in the classroom with real, live, energetic 9th graders.
But why are common so misunderstood by parents and other stakeholders? They all have the best interests of students at heart. Is it that they're too busy to delve into our complex classroom world? Too intimidated by our educational bureaucracy? So concerned about testing that they miss what is being taught?
As teachers, we need to be able to communicate the true value of the common standards: They speak to skills that students should have, things they should be able to do, as thoughtful individuals operating in an increasingly complex world.
An idea comes to mind:
Let's increase the transparency of our classrooms. Give parents a clear window into what goes on in our common core world every day, our vision of a 21st-century classroom. The tools to help do this are there: Remind 101, Twitter, Facebook, class blogs (student and teacher), Google Docs. Why not a quick text sent to parents using Remind 101 giving a brief parent friendly description of a common-core-related activity that students took part in that day? How about a quick tweet to Twitter-hip parents with an essential question addressed with children? Couldn't students rotate blogging about class activities on the teacher's webpage?
And I like this question that we might pose to hostile parents (and there are a few): How would you teach your child if you were their teacher?
Would you go with the traditional "good-enough-for-me, good-enough-for-them" approach? In other words, would you use decades-old worksheets; push your child to memorize lists of dates, people, and formulas; test all this learning via multiple-choice tests; and throw in some jump-through-the-hoop projects that don't actually teach anything?
Would you energize your child by presenting authentic scenarios to explore; finding and creating personalized and relevant learning materials and texts; developing activities that would challenge them as writers and oral communicators; all the while measuring their progress with thorough assessments?
Seems to me that would be a pretty good starting point for explaining the common core.
Rod Powell, a National Board-certified teacher (social studies), has been teaching for 26 years. A CTQ Collaboratory member, Rod loves the challenges of teaching in a 1:1 digital classroom environment at Mooresville High School in Mooresville, N.C.