Education Week - March 25, 2015 - (Page 22)

COMMENTARY COMMON CORE in the CLASSROOM A special Commentary section on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards Education Week Commentary and Education Week Teacher asked five leading educators to assess the state of common-standards implementation from their perspectives, as those who are closest to it. Among the concerns the practitioners voice in the essays are a reported lack of teacher input on the development and integraton of the standards; apprehension over content-knowledge expectations; inadequate assessments and policy frameworks; and a glut of interpretations of the standards. But the authors also variously argue that the standards hold "the promise of something different," offer the opportunity to witness student growth, and bolster the hope of raising children out of poverty- a process that "may take time, but it is time worth taking." This special section is supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at Education Week retained sole editorial control over the content of this package; the opinions expressed are the authors' own, however. Illustrations by Jared Boggess for Education Week Why School Policies Need to Be Fine-Tuned By John Troutman McCrann L By Peter Greene I teach high school English in Pennsylvania, a state that originally adopted the Common Core State Standards, then rescinded that adoption, and then implemented a new, replacement set of standards that looks remarkably similar to the common core. That-along with my experiences as a teacher-blogger who has closely followed the standards-has often made me wonder if we even know what exactly we're referring to when we talk about the "common core." There are so many different conceptual manifestations that it's hard to keep track. Let me offer a few examples: The common core of resource materials and textbooks. Many new teaching materials have cropped up in the past couple of years, all designed to boost sales in a newly ripped-open market. Others appear to be examples of slapping "Common-Core Ready" or "Aligned" stickers on old materials that were gathering dust in warehouses. Websites collect all sorts of materials from all manner of sources under the common-core banner. To call the full range of teaching materials representing the core uneven is like calling "The Walking Dead" a little icky. et me begin with three scenarios from my school that I think exemplify successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards: * A principal walks into a math department meeting to find the whiteboard filled with ideas for courses and performance assessments, and scribbled with words like "problem-solving," "precision," and "reasoning." Four teachers and two coaches excitedly pore over the standards, plan experiences, and discuss how individual students in the school could move from where they are now to become deeper thinkers and more effective problem-solvers. * A student in a math class asks, "Why do I need to know this?" Half a dozen students raise their hands to provide answers: "We need to learn structures for arguments so that we can defend what we believe in." "We need to be able to reason like this to solve all kinds of problems at home." "Remember our unit's essential questions." The teacher does not say a word, and no one says "because we have to know it for the test" as a justification. * Students gather in a room during the last week of the semester for a high-stakes assessment. Instead of filling in multiple-choice bubbles, they sit in small groups discussing a mathematical paper. The presenting student walks the group through her proof about a geometric phenomenon, including descriptions of the relevant vocabulary, a claim, mathematical evidence (equations, writing, and drawings), and considerations of counterclaims. The other people at the table-some are the student's peers, while others are working mathematicians or adults from mathematical fields-join together after the presentation in a conversation to critique the student's reasoning and work together toward a greater understanding of the proof. The concept of "backwards planning," in which effective planning begins with the end in mind, is familiar to most educators. For me, these scenes illustrate the kinds of "ends" that we should "backwards plan" toward in working with the common standards- moments when we experienced successful implementation by shifting our collective thinking about math toward a vision embodying the three main shifts inherent in the framework: depth over breadth; coherence; and rigor. Unfortunately, such moments are rare in many schools. The reason is simple: Most of the federal, state, and local policies that have shaped schools over the past 10 years have served as barriers to these types of experiences, rather than supports. "High standards for all" is an admirable sentiment, but the same politicians who use that phrase in their stump speeches seem to gravitate to policies that hinge on using rigid, memorization-based assessments to judge student learning. As a result, I've spent most of my teaching career feeling like a mathematical track coach: guiding my students over the hurdles placed in front of them by standardized tests and sacrificing mathematical understanding and depth in the mad dash toward the finish line. The common standards offer the promise of something different-a chance for teachers and students to dig deeply into mathematical concepts and develop reasoning and problem-solving skills. So what sort of policy framework would allow for effective implementation of the common standards in more schools? My current school- a small public high school in New York City that emphasizes teacher leadership-has been fortuWhich 'Common Core' Are We Talking About? " Sometimes it seems as if the common core is simply a big, blank projection screen for what people want to see." The common core of mandated curricula. Sometimes, new curriculum requirements come with the new textbooks; publishers will sell schools a full "program" and send a rep to tell them exactly how to use it. Curricular control is often more centralized, with districts or states giving teachers specific directives and modules. In cases where administrators tell teachers they must follow readymade curriculum packages or pacing guides, the common core can become downright restrictive, reducing teachers to "content-delivery specialists." That would seem to go far beyond what the famous not-a-curriculum standards actually prescribe. The common core of paperwork. Teachers regularly gather in meetings for "unpacking" the standards and "aligning" curriculum. Then they fill out some paperwork so the "people in charge" can have documentation that the common core is actually happening in schools. This version of the common core, of questionable veracity, is gathering dust on the shelves in many school and district offices. The common core of "readiness." With four words- "college and career ready" -the advocates of the common core have defined the standards (and schools' missions) as being mainly about vocational training. Being ready to earn a living is certainly no small thing, but neither does it present a very broad vision of what schools-or 22 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 25, 2015 | academic standards-should be. The common core of educational recycling. Many of the instructional "innovations" associated with the common core, from close reading to critical thinking to problem-solving, existed long before the standards were a gleam in David Coleman's eye. Giving the common core credit for such ideas is like giving the Obama administration credit for having three separate branches of government- and yet that has become an off-hand way of describing what's important in the standards. The common core of wishful thinking. So many grand statements are made about the common core that it's hard not to have doubts about the whole enterprise. The standards are said to be far better and more rigorous than previous state standards, though doubts persist. They are said to be more in line with the expectations set by high-achieving countries-another contention that's been questioned. Numerous pundits and standards insiders have maintained that the standards (again, not a curriculum) will result in far-reaching national curricular improvements (particularly, of course, along the lines they have long recommended or are now in the process of developing). Many teachers, meanwhile, have sat through professional-development sessions given by con

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 25, 2015

Education Week - March 25, 2015
Civics Tests for Diplomas Gain Traction
For Education Next, Views With An Edge
Employers Integral To Career Studies
Experience Seen as Boost For Teachers
Elite Private Schools Tackle Ed Tech
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Eligibility Rules Fuel Growth Of Indiana’s Voucher Program
States Should Play Role in Fostering Engagement, Report Says
Teacher-Leadership Movement Gets Boost From Ed. Dept.
Blogs of the Week
Nonprofits Link Businesses To Career-Tech Programs
At Beaver Country Day, Investing In Innovation
Special Education Task Force Urges Overhaul for California
Gov. Cuomo’s Budget Sparks Backlash in N.Y.
Fight Looms on Kansas Plan To Fund K-12 Via Block Grants
Blogs of the Week
Why School Policies Need to Be Fine-Tuned
Which ‘Common Core’ Are We Talking About?
What Will Be the Impact of the Assessments?
More Educator Voices on Common-Core Implementation
Overcoming ‘Initiative Fatigue’
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Breaking the Code of the Common Core

Education Week - March 25, 2015