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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Common-Core Standards NOT Common-Core Curriculum

By Tony Sinanis — March 05, 2013 6 min read
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Today’s guest blog is written by Tony Sinanis, the Principal of Cantiague Elementary on Long Island, N.Y. Cantiague Elementary is a National Blue Ribbon School.

On June 2, 2010 the landscape of public education was changed dramatically when the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics for grades kindergarten through 12 were officially released to the nation in their completed form.

These proposed national standards, which came as a result of the 2004 report Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma that Counts, were developed because both employers and colleges were demanding more of high school graduates than in the past and because these same graduates were lacking in the skills and knowledge they needed to succeed.

The Common Core State Standards initiative was commissioned by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers with additional funding received from the Gates and Mott Foundations. The Mission Statement of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which is listed on the home page of their website, states that they were developed as an opportunity to create a clear and consistent vision and understanding, potentially across the whole country if adopted by every state, of what students are expected to learn in school so that educators and families know what they need to do to support their students.

Furthermore, the CCSS are intended to be rigorous and robust in an effort to reflect the knowledge and skills our children need to be college and career ready. Finally, the CCSS are intended to address the “educational crisis” that exists in our country and is reflected in our inability to compete in the current landscape of the global economy.

Our children are reportedly lacking the literacy, mathematical and critical thinking skills necessary to compete with learners from other countries and secure jobs that are relevant in today’s world.

CCSS: Implementation Issues
The CCSS implementation has permeated every learning community, school and classroom in 45 states. The conversations have revolved around the necessary intensified instructional rigor, the increased depth of fewer concepts that will be studied, the curriculum that needs to be covered and the challenging state assessments that will be given each year in the areas of Mathematics and English Language Arts to all students in grades three through eight.

The New York State Education Department has even developed EngageNY which is devoted to the successful implementation of the CCSS complete with video tutorials, resources for families and curriculum resources for schools. Even with this in place, in conjunction with an abundance of other resources, there are still many concerns about the CCSS and how they will affect our children, especially in the area of literacy.

Misinformation and a lack of understanding have plagued the adoption of English Language Arts CCSS. For example, the CCSS stress the importance of an instructional balance between literature and informational texts in every classroom. With that being said, nowhere in the CCSS is there a statement that all literature should no longer be taught and that children should only have access to informational texts, which has been proposed by some misinformed individuals; no, instead, the emphasis is on a BALANCE, which clearly implies that children should be exposed to both genres of texts and be able to navigate both comfortably.

CCSS: NOT a Common Core Curriculum
Unfortunately, the misconceptions surrounding the CCSS do not end with this one example. Although the CCSS set general goals for what students should be learning in no way did they ever specify what or how to teach children (Beach, et. al. 2012).

It is important that all educators understand that the CCSS provide us with a “skeleton” for possible instructional focal points but in no way do they represent the actual curriculum, which has been suggested. Yes, the CCSS provide us with Common Standards across the country but they are NOT a common curriculum.

The CCSS should be viewed as a guide for the skills our children need to develop in order to be college and career ready, as designated by the CCSS, but we must respect our instructional leaders and educators to successfully select and implement the instructional techniques, resources and materials they think will best support their students in an effort to address the standards while also meeting the needs of each individual child.

In considering the push by some to implement the “Common Core Curriculum” we must pause and reflect on the fact that there is no such curriculum. Furthermore, we must consider that there is no broad and generalizable research study to support that a “one size fits all” approach to literacy instruction, or any instruction for that matter, is effective when trying to meet the diverse needs of our students whose sociocultural experiences are varied.

There is no “Common Core Curriculum” that can erase the discrepancies that exist in our schools related to race, class and socioeconomic status. Our students come to our schools with diverse literacy experiences, readiness levels and attitudes; and thus, it is our responsibility to instruct our students from these many starting points and help them learn and acquire the skills they need to be literate.

CCSS: What They Could Mean For Our Kids
Once we embrace the fact that the CCSS do not constrain us in our ability to implement diverse instructional strategies and techniques not only will our teachers be liberated but our students could also participate in a personalized educational experience that will tap into their literacy life.

In considering the work being done at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School, an Independent School in Massachusetts, one can begin to understand the power of differentiated instruction to meet the needs of each child. At this school, as described by Lance Conrad, Head of School, the individual needs of the students are what drive the literacy practices and their overall instructional approaches are rooted in the Multiple Intelligences theory developed by Dr. Howard Gardner.

The teachers employ differentiated instruction as a framework for effective teaching because it provides students with various avenues for acquiring content by placing the students at the center of the teaching and learning. There is so much potential in the work being done at this school because it directly flies in the face of a “Common Core Curriculum” and speaks to the importance of getting to know each child and tailoring instruction to best meet their needs.

CCSS: Final Thoughts
Now that 45 of the 50 United States have adopted the CCSS, we must recognize that for the foreseeable future these national standards will be affecting the teaching and learning in most of our schools. Thus, we should devote time to helping our teachers and instructional leaders become fluent in the CCSS by unpacking the standards and analyzing how they relate to the work we are currently doing with our students.

Yes, the CCSS will affect our practice and our students but we cannot allow them to define us and dictate what we teach and how we teach our children. So, let’s accept that the CCSS represent the “floor” and that our goal for optimum teaching and student learning should be the “ceiling,” which must look different for each child.

None of our children are common and for that reason, we, as passionate and dedicated educators, should never settle for a “Common Core Curriculum” that would ultimately fail our schools in their efforts to support our children on their journey towards being college and career ready.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.