Judging by what I’ve read on social media, the Common Core is a burning hot topic these days. No one seems very happy with how things are going. Nevertheless, whether teachers like the Common Core State Standards or not, most public school teachers in the US are required to teach them.
I’ve come up with five ideas that might help teachers reframe the current situation in ways that could make teachers’ classroom lives more manageable and enjoyable. My five ideas are just a start: I’m hoping more ideas will be shared by readers.
Idea 1. Take the path of least resistance.
Many years ago I went to visit Karen, a friend of mine from college. Her partner had a cat named Roger. Roger was unlike any cat I’d every seen:
I wasn’t sure how I felt about Roger’s extra toes: were they creepy or were they cute? I was discussing this with Karen and she gave me great advice: “I think you should decide Roger’s toes are cute. Those are the only feet he has and they aren’t going to change. It’s better to accept things you can’t change.”
I needed to take the path of least resistance: rather than being squeamish and uncomfortable around my friend’s pet, I decided Roger’s extra toes were cute and made him special.
The Common Core was adopted by the vast majority of US states. They are already the mandated standards in most schools. And, as with Roger’s toes, this situation is unlikely to change in the near future. So, taking the path of least resistance—accepting the Common Core and continuing to move forward—is probably teachers’ best bet.
The Common Core comprises two sets of standards—English Language Arts and Mathematics— that are shared by 44 states. Those states have these standards in common. But that’s only one meaning of the word “common.” In addition, the Common Core is common in the same way that “the common cold” or “common knowledge” is common: it’s ordinary, easy to access, familiar to everyone, and readily available.
Yes, some of the content presented in the Common Core is different from the content present in previously-used state standards. Generally speaking, however, the knowledge and skills to be mastered at each elementary grade level are very similar to the standards used in previous years. There is nothing cryptic or exotic or esoteric in the Common Core. Just dive in.
Idea 3. The Common Core comprises lists of content standards; they are nothing like a curriculum.
The Common Core State Standards specify the academic knowledge and skills students must master at every grade level from kindergarten to Grade 12 in English Language Arts and in Mathematics. They are content standards, and that’s all they are. If you were to look at the original Common Core documents (as opposed to the versions of the Common Core State Standards that are available in app form), you would see table after table listing the specific content that must be mastered by every student in every grade in ELA and math.
Some teachers are surprised to find the Common Core documents have none of the familiar guideposts teachers expect to see (and to use) when they are making instructional plans for their students. There are no scope and sequence charts, no recommended activities, no blackline masters, no workbooks, no manipulatives, no spiral-bound Teachers’ Editions, no units, or chapters, or tests.
This is not a shortcoming of the Common Core State Standards. Any document referred to as “content standards” would be formatted exactly like the Common Core State Standards: lists of knowledge and skills to be mastered at each grade level.
The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum. A curriculum is an integrated, purposeful sequence of lessons, activities, experiences, and assessments designed to enable students to master a specific standard set of standards.
Idea 4. The curricular and instructional materials currently available for use in teaching the Common Core have serious limitations.
This is where implementation of the Common Core gets dicey. The Common Core State Standards documents were prepared with careful thought by scholars, assessment professionals, and upper-level school administrators. Unfortunately, there was almost no teacher participation in the development process, and teachers were not asked to review the standards or make recommendations. Surely teachers would have raised questions about the development of curricula with which to teach the ELA and math standards effectively in ELA and math.
The available mathematics curricula have been under intense scrutiny. The most significant concern is their lack curricular alignment with the Common Core. All the mathematics curriculum series were recently reviewed by EdReports.org to assess the alignment of each curriculum with the Common Core Mathematics standards. Of the 20 different series that purported to be aligned with the Common Core, only 3 were found to be truly aligned. (For more information about this, please see http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/03/04/most-math-curricula-found-to-be-out.html).
In addition, many parents are concerned about the ways in which mathematical operations are being taught to young children. Tens frames, composing and decomposing numbers, and other new ideas are causing parents to feel alienated and unable to support their children’s mathematical learning. In the image below, for example, you can see a parent used a hand-drawn tens frames to represent the value of a check he had written to his child’s school.
There has been less scrutiny and fewer concerns about the available English Language Arts curricula. Interestingly, I’ve heard that many teachers are writing their own curricula to teach the Common Core ELA content standards (for more on this, see http://linkis.com/edsource.org/2015/te/QJcH8).
Idea 5. Conquer the Common Core by letting teachers take matters into their own hands.
Given the lack of alignment with the CCSS and the other evidence of the poor quality of the curricula on offer for English Language Arts and Mathematics, perhaps it’s time for teachers to reclaim their right to design, develop, and teach their own “homegrown” curriculum units. This might sound like an unusual idea to young teachers, but this was the common practice throughout the 20th century. Would you be willing to engage in this practice? Do you feel prepared to do it successfully?