Professional Development

Focus on the Standards Without the Words ‘Common Core’

By Liana Loewus — July 21, 2015 3 min read
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At Education Week these days, it’s hard to turn in a story—really any story—without the words “common core.”

With 43 states and the District of Columbia now implementing the standards, as well as three states having repealed them and many others still debating their use, the Common Core State Standards are a pervasive presence in the K-12 education realm.

But interestingly, here at the International Literacy Association conference where the majority of sessions are focused on practical application in the classroom, the term “common core” is sometimes circumvented, and many times explicitly avoided.

Sure, the standards are mentioned in some descriptions of the sessions, and are certainly on many educators’ minds. But throughout those sessions, I found that leaders were careful to talk mainly about what’s in the standards—specific skills such as close reading, using textual evidence, and teaching more informational texts—rather than about the common core directly.

“I’m a big champion of the standards,” said literacy consultant Pam Allyn in a session on “cultivating fearless readers.” “All the standards—they’ve lifted us to feel differently about our reading and writing lives.”

She then went on to speak more specifically about what’s in the common-core standards—without ever using the words common core. “I also feel that what the standards did initially is they started us talking about close reading and grappling with texts,” she said. “But why is everyone equating negative struggle and learning? That is not anything of what the standards meant.”

Twitter Talk

The common-core hashtag on Twitter, one used often by news sites, advocates (for and against), and education groups, did not show up much in the #ILA15 Twitter feed. (See the word cloud above created from some Tweets from the conference.)

However, buzzwords like critical thinking, nonfiction, and text-dependent questioning served as cues for attendees that the sessions would be applicable in common-core states.

Donalyn Miller, a Texas teacher and author, did a session on engaging students who avoid reading nonfiction. She never once talked about the common-core standards—in part likely because she works in a state that never adopted them. But the session was undoubtedly useful to educators implementing the common core, which has upped the amount of nonfiction reading students are doing.

The term common core may be falling out of favor, even while the skills required within it are a focus, at a conference like this for a few reasons. First, since three states have repealed the standards within about the last year, there are more teachers in states that are not technically using the standards. However, as we’ve noted, at least two of those states (Indiana and South Carolina) adopted new standards that look a lot like the common core, so those teachers still want professional development on the same kinds of skills.

Also, the standards have become such a political lightning rod that it’s understandable that session leaders, who are trying to appeal to a wide swath of educators, would not want to get involved in the controversy.

In addition, it’s possible that more educators are just past debating the standards. Their students have already taken a first round of common-core aligned tests, and for them, the focus now is solely on the content.

What do you think, readers? Is this a trend you’re noticing as well? If not, what am I missing? And if it is a trend, what do you think the reasons are behind it?

Image: Word cloud created by Liana Heitin on out of a series of consecutive Tweets from #ILA15.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.