In a blog post on Getting Smart – 7 Teacher Questions About Common Core State Standards – Courtney Hanes describes the beginning steps of transition to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in her California high school in an optimistic tone. She discusses her school’s work in terms of collaboration between departments and vertical articulation. Both processes are ways to create meaningful, engaging learning experiences for kids. However, she ends her blog with seven questions—here are five of them—that show caution and doubt.
1. Will we transition to CCSS without increasing standardization?
2. Will we explore all that the CCSS have to offer while remaining flexible, allowing teachers to meet students where they are, and without making coursework prescribed and constraining for our students and teachers?
3. Can we continue to create purposeful and engaging learning experiences for our students?
4. Can we create opportunities for students to enjoy the learning process rather than simply see what they are doing at school as a series of hoops to jump through and credits to obtain?
5. Can we ensure that the standards guide our work, rather than determine our work, keeping in mind that planning is more valuable than plans?
Part of the answer to these questions is that as long as thoughtful teachers with high expectations for the kinds of learning experience kids need ask these sorts of questions, there is hope.
What is interesting to me is where these questions come from. Why have these worries? Do the Common Core State Standards create an environment of “standardization” that is “prescribed and constraining”? I would suggest they do not—though many say they do. In fact, with the literacy standards for core subjects other than ELA, I think the CCSS create new opportunities for collaboration. With the emphasis on text complexity and the challenge to ramp up text complexity, I believe the CCSS create opportunities for the vertical articulation of ELA curricula in ways we have seen too infrequently. In math, the purposeful embedding of learning progressions across grades can foster a vertically articulated experience for kids. The linking of conceptual understandings across domains within grades highlights opportunities for lessons and projects where the domains of math are integrated to create engaging experiences for kids.
The impetus to have an environment of “standardization” that is “prescribed and constraining” is the educational assessments that are used to measure achievement of the standards. In fact, it is not the educational assessments themselves but the negative impetus that comes from using the assessments for the purpose of identifying low performing schools. Isn’t this the lesson of NCLB? Aren’t the CCSS supposed to be the cure for the problems created by NCLB? Hanes is right to worry, if we follow the same sort of educational assessment strategy that NCLB created.