To the Editor:
While I still have a lot to learn about the common-core standards, I am concerned about classroom teachers and how they are supposed to adhere to the standards while keeping in mind the needs of all students.
I understand some top students in public schools may not be challenged appropriately, but with my 14 years of experience in special education, I am more concerned with the students who are performing in the lowest tier (“Special Educators Look to Align IEPs to Common-Core Standards,” Jan. 12, 2011).
The standards put forth by the Common Core State Standards Initiative state that teachers are to provide scaffolding for this lowest tier, but do they have time to do this? Do they have the right training? Do they truly understand the frustrations of students who read, write, and understand language below grade level?
I dare say now is the time to eradicate the special education/regular education schism, to borrow a term from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. We should adopt curriculum-development strategies as put forth by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in “Understanding by Design.” Understanding by Design, despite its labor-intensive nature, is the ideal way to guide teachers in designing units. When designing a unit via this program, it forces one to think of the big ideas, not details. It challenges students to problem-solve, not memorize. It might even force some educators to look at the multiple-choice test and realize its shortcomings.
Do I want my children to remember the details of a lesson, such as the name of the ship Darwin sailed on to the Galapagos Islands? Or do I want them to understand the importance of careful observation, detailed note-taking, and the skills of comparing and contrasting when doing experiments?
Most of the states have adopted the common core. However, if we don’t have a plan on how to scaffold, then let’s head back to the HMS Beagle for more planning and training.
A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2011 edition of Education Week as Planning, Scaffolding Put Focus on Big Ideas