Common (Core Educational Standards) for a Reason

I’m really not sure how much the non-teacher public know about the Common Core State Standards Initiative that has been brewing over the past few years and has gone into effect this school year.

common-core-6The idea behind the Common Core is that instead of every state making up their own public school standards and benchmarks for grades K-12 and then giving their own state test to check on the progress of those standards, all the states will have the same…ahem…COMMON…set of standards for each grade level. There will also be a COMMON test that ALL students in the country take to test those standards.

The biggest reason behind the development of the Common Core was teacher accountability.

Previously, comparing state test scores and determining who had the “best” and “worst” scores was like comparing apples to space ships. Some of the highest performing states had ridiculously low standards while “under-performing” states had rigorously high standards. It just wasn’t an accurate comparison. Moreover, it didn’t hold teachers across the country accountable for the same student learning.

Teaching in a state (Michigan) that gave me over 90 standards for my content area (Language Arts grades 9-12), many of which were not even evaluated on our state test (Michigan Merit Exam + ACT), I was more than happy to see this movement take hold.

The Common Core Standards are designed to be more relevant and rigorous and applicable to real world learning. The goal is to prepare students better for the global community they are already living in.

Awesome, right? Well, it depends on how you implement them, but the work my district has been doing is nothing short of amazing.  This year has been the first that we really focused on them (the idea is to do reading, writing, speaking, and listening across the curriculum. Additionally, my district has a strong literacy focus), and the presentations and ongoing projects and work my students are doing are really flexing their upper-level thinking skills.

Here is the thing: states are able to “opt out” of being part of the Common Core. Currently Alaska, Nebraska, and Virginia will not be adopting the standards. Alabama and Indiana had adopted them, but repealed that adoption last month. Now Michigan is considering repealing our adoption.

When this news hit, you could hear the collective jaw drop of teachers around Michigan.

We have put in an enormous amount of work recreating our curriculum and lessons to put the Common Core at the center. In my classroom, I am phasing out old (and in my opinion, out-dated) standards and methods (teaching to the test ::cough cough::) in favor of the more organic best practice method of having my students inquire and lead discovery and evaluate and synthesis new products based on their learning.

They are leading discussions and carrying on year-long projects that connect everything we have done all year to what they are doing in other classes and what they have going on in their lives.

A week ago I was able to have a chance to preview the SMART Balance Test that will be given in lieu of a state test. I took the LA portion and it asked questions of theme, and support, and details. It was exactly the kinds of things I talk about when we have class discussions.

Because of this, I’m able to get away from drilling my students to leading them…and not feeling guilty about it.

If Michigan decides to repeal our adoption of the Common Core and keep our standards and testing the way it is, I will have to go back to trying my best to get my students to pass a test.

Now that Right to Work (along with other laws) have been passed, I no longer have the right to just cause in being fired from my job. If my students are doing poorly on a stupid test, I can be let go — no questions asked.

Michigan opting out of the Common Core is a mistake.  If we want to compete with the rest of the country, we need to adhere to the same challenging standards.  If Michigan wants to have successful students, they need successful teachers — teachers who can develop and teach according to best practices without worrying about changing standards and testing every other year.