February 6, 2013

A thought about Common Core and why I'm not worried

Common Core is the new all powerful being in the education world. One in which many feel unprepared for, but I don't feel that way. While I remain cynical as ever (not my fault, it's how I was raised) I am also not worried.

From what I can tell and the ridiculous amounts of reading that I've done on the subject, there are two things that the Common Core State Standards have educators worried.

1. The push from a focus on factual knowledge to a focus on skills and creative and critical thinking.
2. The levels of creative and critical thinking that are going to be demanded, even at lower grades.

The first one is a no brainer for me and has been said by many teachers in the blogosphere and Twitter world. If you are an excellent teacher and pushing your students to do their best, you are already teaching and encouraging creative and critical thinking. These skills should already be built into your teaching every day in the class.

There has already been a decently sized movement of teachers who are moving away from differentiation to customization. Instead of the teacher doling out information in realistically sized chunks for each individual student, they have allowed and then guided those individuals to do so for themselves. Students should have the power to work at their own level, at their own pace, and in their own fashion. There will always be common things that students must do together, but being able to hack the system and make those commonalities work to the individuals' strengths has never been more apparent.

The other issue - creative and critical thinking that goes above and beyond reasonable expectations - is almost a non-issue. If we are going to treat the standards as they have been described, then we need to treat them as goals as opposed to expectations. Every single conversation that I have had about the CCSS focuses on how they are going demand more and more from students. But, that is the goal, to want and then expect more. We never want to find ourselves in a place where students have met some sort of "proficiency" and find themselves at the end of the road. I don't know necessarily about the rest of the world, but when my students are "done" we are always looking for extension, new directions, new approaches.

The Common Core State Standards may be described as a standard for learning, but their language, in many cases, lends them toward being standards for teaching. We need to have high expectations of students in that we need them to realize that they can do more (quality, not quantity, though both sometimes apply) and that if they really want to "get ahead" in life, that it's what will be expected. How else will they prepare themselves for their world of the future that technically does not yet exist?

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