The big news in the education world last week came from South Carolina and Oklahoma, where governors in both states signed legislation to drop the Common Core State Standards and replace them with locally-developed standards. They join Indiana as the second and third states to pull out of the Common Core, leaving 42 states and the District of Columbia (Minnesota adopted the English language arts standards only) remaining as Common Core states. Other states are also teetering.
To advocates of deeper learning, the moves in South Carolina and Oklahoma are potentially troubling. While the Common Core State Standards do not call for all aspects of deeper learning, they do ask students to demonstrate critical thinking (for example, by placing a heavy emphasis on using evidence to support arguments in reading and writing and justifying solutions in mathematics), problem solving (particularly in mathematics), and communication (a heavy emphasis on writing, as well as speaking and listening). A 2012 report from the National Research Council found a substantial overlap between the Common Core and deeper learning competencies.
Indiana’s experience might be heartening, however. To the dismay of Common Core critics, when Indiana developed their own standards to replace the Common Core, the state came up with something very close to the rejected standards. That’s because the goal was the same: to set standards that will prepare students for success in college and careers. The drafters of the Common Core did a pretty good job of defining the knowledge and skills necessary for postsecondary learning, and those who would try something else would come to similar conclusions.
What happens in South Carolina and Oklahoma, of course, remains to be seen. But even if those states adopt standards that are similar to the Common Core, whether they move toward deeper learning in classrooms depends on how they implement the new standards. By pulling out of the Common Core, their teachers can no longer take advantage of national online communities that are developing and sharing lesson plans and materials to help teachers teach Common Core-related curricula. And their states might not be able to use new materials that are being developed specifically for the Common Core State Standards.
Perhaps the biggest question in these states is around assessment. Considerable research has shown that teachers, quite understandably, place a greater emphasis on tests than on standards, especially when there are high stakes attached to test results. What tests will South Carolina and Oklahoma use? If the tests do not measure deeper learning competencies, teachers are unlikely to stress them in classrooms. And as Joan Herman has shown on this blog, the record is not promising.
Advocates of deeper learning, then, need to be vigilant to ensure that Oklahoma and South Carolina continue to call for all students to demonstrate the ability to use knowledge to solve problems, think critically, and communicate effectively. And they need to advocate for resources to ensure that teachers are capable of teaching students to develop those abilities. The Common Core is not the only road to deeper learning, and these two states can demonstrate that.
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