Sunday, March 24, 2013

Common Core: A First Step? Thinking Ahead

When the Common Core State Standards were announced, a joint venture of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), much ado was made about the process and the impact.

On the Common Core State Standards web site is the announcement which reminds us of the following:
  • "[t]he year-long process was led by governors and chief state school officers in 48 states, 2 territories and the District of Columbia;" and
  • "The final standards were informed by nearly 10,000 public comments and by standards in other top performing countries so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy."“American competitiveness relies on an education system that can adequately prepare our youth for college and the workforce,” commented Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. “When American students have the skills and knowledge needed in today’s jobs, our communities will be positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”
None of this work was done in a vacuum. It was hard work and the hard work continues.

The intent of Common Core is to "provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents have a roadmap for what they need to do to help them." We are also told [t]hese standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school fully prepared for college and careers.

We talk about Bloom's and Webb's Depth of Knowledge; we talk about student being problem solvers and critical thinkers. We encourage inquiry-based learning and collaboration. We emphasize strong reading skills and writing with evidence. Those of us who get to work with educators and build understanding of the Common Core State Standards point to and emphasize the Anchor Standards for Reading as being applicable for any content area in any grade level because that work of developing good readers begins early.

The change won't happen overnight, of course. Though the Standards emphasize the skills and knowledge students need, the Standards also portend the greatest changes in instructional practice. Many teachers embrace the Standards while a great many reject them, out of fear or ignorance or misunderstanding. I am frequently stunned by the number of teachers, and administrators, who have not yet looked at the Standards yet grouse about them.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education caught my attention as I was contemplating the chasm that exists between the hard work being done in the K-12 space and the stark absence of work being done in higher education. The lack of conversation between K-12 teachers and far too many teacher education programs is troubling, but so is the lack of conversation between higher education and the "work place."

We need to manage expectations. We need K-12 classroom teachers to have a better understanding of what is happening in higher education. We need university professors from universities of all sizes and academic levels to have a better understanding of what is happening in the work place, a very big place any more. We need localized conversations between K-12 teachers, university professors, and employers to have a better understanding of the environments and expectations in each of those places.

Far too often there is rhetoric that some other organization should be doing something. That "should" is often uninformed and reactionary, which makes it more difficult for true collaborative conversation.

I am left to wonder the possible role of professional organizations in this. Perhaps some of the national education organizations could sponsor some symposiums that bring K-12 educators, university faculty (teacher education and otherwise), and local business leaders together. The conversations could give rise to addressing concerns realistically, working together to identify solutions that would be applied locally, and on which could be build for future success.

The Common Core State Standards are a marvelous first step. Perhaps the National Governors Association could coordinate with one of these educational professional organizations to coordinate, too, with a local Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce (or both) to make sure a range of voices are heard.

The work won't be easy. But the better informed we are, the more collaboratively we work, the more likely we are to find solutions that help ensure a better future for us all.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Common Core: "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down"

I've been at ASCD this weekend. It's a fairly big conference for educators. As is reasonable, there has been considerable conversation about assessment and, of course, Common Core.

Books and assorted banners are emblazoned with the words "Common Core Aligned," which would be all very well and good if you could trust that. But don't trust that. Test it. When someone says the content is aligned with Common Core, you want to be sure that it reflects the kind of assessments OR the kind of thinking students will need to do for Common Core assessments.

Don't know what that means? Go to the Dana Center CCSS Toolbox website, click on RESOURCES FOR IMPLEMENTATION, then the PARCC Prototypic Project. Start with elementary school tasks. If any of the assessments look like those assessments or start to work towards the kind of thinking students will have to do to complete those assessments, the product is on the right track.

Just for kicks, though, textbook content can't be aligned with Common Core. If you look at the Anchor Standards for Reading, which are to the right, you'll see that these are skills students need to have. These are skills that are useful in any content area, in any grade. These are skills that might prove to be pretty useful for any college kid, and probably come in pretty handy for most folks in the work place.

And if you look at the actual standards themselves, you'll see this very same structure: key ideas and details, craft and structure, integration of knowledge and ideas, and range of reading and level of text complexity. If you look closely at the Anchor Standards for Reading, you'll also see how each of the items in each section (identified by a recognizable text feature of a subheading or subtitle, stuff kids are encouraged to learn) reinforces the idea or intent of that subheading.

The more attention Common Core gets, the more hits it is starting to take. The closer we get to Fall 2014, the more administrators and teachers who feel uninformed and unprepared are starting to panic. Lots of blogs, lots of inflammatory rhetoric, lots of knee-jerk reactions, lots of failure to, um, think critically or speak or write with evidence. Something that Common Core supports and which the standards are geared to help students and teachers accomplish.

Deep breaths, people. It's not that hard. Not really. Go ahead and smack at the weebles a few time to release some of that tension, anxiety, and/or frustration, but just like the weebles, stay up and keep on going. To all educators who are feeling uninformed and unprepared, you can do this. Plenty of folks out there who can help you manage and figure out what you need to do. But don't let them frighten you or talk you into unpacking or unwrapping or deconstructing all of the standards as that will be a waste of your time. It won't be a walk in the park, but it's not the Tower of Terror either.