(Clinton, KY – August 1, 2012) - A new educational movement is sweeping the US. The Common Core State Standards Initiative has been adopted by forty five states and three territories. Nebraska, Virginia, Alaska, Texas and Minnesota are the only remaining uncommitted states. Kentucky adopted the standards in February 2010.
What’s the purpose? According to the website, www.corestandards.org :
“The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”
The standards, at this writing, apply to English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. While other subjects, like science and social studies, are mentioned, the emphasis in those content areas is on reading and communicating comprehensively.
In mathematics, the expectations are much more of a check list. While common core standards don’t write lesson plans for teachers, it certainly tells them where their students should be when they finish their class. For example, in mathematics, third grade students should be able to divide by 100, “develop an understanding of fractions as numbers” and measure and estimate volumes of liquid among other skill sets.
In English language arts, the third grader should be able to “determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language” in literature, along with satisfying other literature requirements during the third grade including explaining how illustrations contribute to the story, among other skills.
How the teacher presents fractions, measurement, volume, the multiplication tables, literal and nonliteral language, decryption of illustrations is not specified. When and how to teach a core concept is left up to the teacher. Whether to teach a core concept is not.
Each of the forty five states that have adopted the common core standards have to meld the standards with their curriculum and existing standards. Each state that has adopted the standard takes the sixty or so pages of concepts and matches them to state standards. For Kentucky, the matching process goes on for over 550 pages.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is not a federal project, according to coreconcepts.org. It’s the creation of educators, administrators, parents and the National Governors’ Association looking for a way for Johnny to be taught the same concepts whether he goes to school in Clinton Mississippi, Clinton Connecticut, Clinton Missouri, or Clinton Kentucky.
Common Core State Standards are not so wonky, not so unwieldy that the average parent cannot understand what they mean to little Johnny or Susie. If the parent wants to know what their child is expected to achieve in the third grade, the information is public. What generally is expected of students is listed at the end of this article. Few parents may feel comfortable teaching themes in English literature or advanced mathematical concepts. What most parents can do is to be aware of the common core standards.
Dressed up in fancy clothes, the goal of schools is still to teach readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic. Learning to read, learning to read well, learning to stretch reading well into other subject areas is a progression parents can understand. Core concepts of mathematics are not written in a foreign language. There are few new concepts in elementary and high school mathematics. What is new is knowing when a child should learn those concepts.
Parents, teachers and schools can benefit from having common expectations.
Mobility, the right to move and reside anywhere in this country that a person desires, is prized in American culture. It’s a value sometimes at war with what is best for children who move from school to school receiving different instruction and encountering different expectations with every move.
For children who never move until they seek higher education or enter the job market, common core standards is an assurance that the competition is not in what is taught, but how it is being taught.
Like any other tools, common core standards can be used to build or to tear down. It’s important to the future that the tools are used and used wisely.
• Here’s the key points in English and Mathematics according to www.corestandards.org
Key Points In English Language Arts
• The standards establish a “staircase” of increasing complexity in what students must be able to read so that all students are ready for the demands of college- and career-level reading no later than the end of high school. The standards also require the progressive development of reading comprehension so that students advancing through the grades are able to gain more from whatever they read.
• Through reading a diverse array of classic and contemporary literature as well as challenging informational texts in a range of subjects, students are expected to build knowledge, gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspective. Because the standards are building blocks for successful classrooms, but recognize that teachers, school districts and states need to decide on appropriate curriculum, they intentionally do not offer a reading list. Instead, they offer numerous sample texts to help teachers prepare for the school year and allow parents and students to know what to expect at the beginning of the year.
• The standards mandate certain critical types of content for all students, including classic myths and stories from around the world, foundational U.S. documents, seminal works of American literature, and the writings of Shakespeare. The standards appropriately defer the many remaining decisions about what and how to teach to states, districts, and schools.
The ability to write logical arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence is a cornerstone of the writing standards, with opinion writing—a basic form of argument—extending down into the earliest grades.
• Research—both short, focused projects (such as those commonly required in the workplace) and longer term in depth research —is emphasized throughout the standards but most prominently in the writing strand since a written analysis and presentation of findings is so often critical.
• Annotated samples of student writing accompany the standards and help establish adequate performance levels in writing arguments, informational/explanatory texts, and narratives in the various grades.
Speaking and Listening
• The standards require that students gain, evaluate, and present increasingly complex information, ideas, and evidence through listening and speaking as well as through media.
• An important focus of the speaking and listening standards is academic discussion in one-on-one, small-group, and whole-class settings. Formal presentations are one important way such talk occurs, but so is the more informal discussion that takes place as students collaborate to answer questions, build understanding, and solve problems.
• The standards expect that students will grow their vocabularies through a mix of conversations, direct instruction, and reading. The standards will help students determine word meanings, appreciate the nuances of words, and steadily expand their repertoire of words and phrases.
• The standards help prepare students for real life experience at college and in 21st century careers. The standards recognize that students must be able to use formal English in their writing and speaking but that they must also be able to make informed, skillful choices among the many ways to express themselves through language.
• Vocabulary and conventions are treated in their own strand not because skills in these areas should be handled in isolation but because their use extends across reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Media and Technology
• Just as media and technology are integrated in school and life in the twenty-first century, skills related to media use (both critical analysis and production of media) are integrated throughout the standards.
Key Points In Mathematics
• The K-5 standards provide students with a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and decimals—which help young students build the foundation to successfully apply more demanding math concepts and procedures, and move into applications.
• In kindergarten, the standards follow successful international models and recommendations from the National Research Council’s Early Math Panel report, by focusing kindergarten work on the number core: learning how numbers correspond to quantities, and learning how to put numbers together and take them apart (the beginnings of addition and subtraction).
• The K-5 standards build on the best state standards to provide detailed guidance to teachers on how to navigate their way through knotty topics such as fractions, negative numbers, and geometry, and do so by maintaining a continuous progression from grade to grade.
• The standards stress not only procedural skill but also conceptual understanding, to make sure students are learning and absorbing the critical information they need to succeed at higher levels - rather than the current practices by which many students learn enough to get by on the next test, but forget it shortly thereafter, only to review again the following year.
• Having built a strong foundation K-5, students can do hands on learning in geometry, algebra and probability and statistics. Students who have completed 7th grade and mastered the content and skills through the 7th grade will be well-prepared for algebra in grade 8.
• The middle school standards are robust and provide a coherent and rich preparation for high school mathematics.
• The high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues and challenges; they prepare students to think and reason mathematically.
• The high school standards set a rigorous definition of college and career readiness, by helping students develop a depth of understanding and ability to apply mathematics to novel situations, as college students and employees regularly do.
• The high school standards emphasize mathematical modeling, the use of mathematics and statistics to analyze empirical situations, understand them better, and improve decisions. For example, the draft standards state: “Modeling links classroom mathematics and statistics to everyday life, work, and decision-making. It is the process of choosing and using appropriate mathematics and statistics to analyze empirical situations, to understand them better, and to improve decisions. Quantities and their relationships in physical, economic, public policy, social and everyday situations can be modeled using mathematical and statistical methods. When making mathematical models, technology is valuable for varying assumptions, exploring consequences, and comparing predictions with data.”