Two years ago, I started my career as an educator flooded with rumors of what the “Common Core” would do to our classrooms and our schools. What may sound like an ab workout to those outside the education world is ultimately a set of standards encompassing what students should be able to do from kindergarten through high school. Thus far, 45 states and DC have opted to transition to the Common Core State Standards, though some are getting cold feet when faced with daunting obstacles instead of Race to the Top incentives.
There’s been a lot of controversy over whether the transition to the Common Core is a good one, with valid arguments on both sides. With the Common Core in place, it will be infinitely easier for a teacher from Maryland to collaborate with a teacher from Georgia or Oregon. Suddenly we’re working towards the same goals defined in the same language. The Common Core was specifically designed to build students to be college and career ready when graduating from high school, which sounds like a talking point but is a valid concern when students are doling out thousands of dollars for remedial classes in college. Though the Common Core claims to be a state-led effort, many doubt that to be the case, especially when states likely jumped into the largely untested standards solely for a chance to receive money from the Race to the Top initiative. Assessments for the Common Core standards are still in the early stages. At this point, there is a plethora of companies creating tests, but we don’t have quality longitudinal data that allows to appropriately interpret what any of the scores mean. While I’m excited about teaching what I see as well-designed standards, I understand many of the criticisms against the transition. One particular argument, however, upsets me.
Some critics (I’m looking at you, Diane Ravitch) bemoan, among other things, how implementation of the Common Core State Standards will lead to fewer students achieving “proficiency” status. The standards require a lot from students, and the switch from another (potentially less rigorous) set of standards to the Common Core can cause headaches and lower test scores. Initial pilots indicate this is so, and I know that in my classroom, my students have struggled. The questions on the curriculum assessments we’ve been given ask questions like “which of the following statements is not accurate” while giving abstract answer choices that give me LSAT flashbacks. My sixth-graders aren’t there yet.
This, however, doesn’t need to be a bad thing. My eighth-grade students have spent almost a decade learning and testing within one framework and are going to flounder a bit as they are thrust into something new. Transitions are almost always difficult, but the answer to all of our education worries isn’t to change our standards to fit what we think our students can or can’t do in the short term. We need to set ambitious, long-term goals for what our students need to learn to do to participate in our democracy and the global workforce. Students learning within the Common Core framework as kindergarteners will grow up with a focus on critical thinking, and these LSAT-like questions will come more naturally to them. Current students will struggle, but we’ll push them, and they’ll learn.
Was the development of the Common Core perfect, and do we have enough data and money to suddenly implement new standards in most of the country? No. But let’s not pretend that the potential for failure is a good reason to step back. I’d instead suggest a Barney Stinson-like attitude: Challenge accepted.