Common Core Standards From a Delaware Teacher’s Perspective
I share Paul’s enthusiasm for the potential of a Common Core-based curriculum. I believe the Common Core Standards will better prepare students for the rigors of college and the 21st century economy. The Common Core are an improvement over the existing state standards and will be especially beneficial to students in low-income communities, who are more likely to move between or during school years and are therefore more likely to miss or repeat material.
As a teacher, I know the Common Core will require my students to exhibit more higher-order thinking skills, such as evaluating and analyzing rather than simply remembering and applying. Students will be expected to not only have the right answer but to arrive at that answer through a reliable, repeatable and explainable process. I also know that the Common Core will have a dramatic effect on professional practice, requiring my colleagues and I to devolve more responsibility to students for their learning and expanding our definition of concept mastery. However, in the implementation stage, I have also noticed potential challenges that need to be addressed with the right mindset and proactive solutions, to wit:
- Lack of Focus Due to RttT: Changing curricular standards is a tremendous undertaking that will substantially affect most of Delaware’s 8,000+ teachers and every single Delaware student. While a lot of emphasis was placed last year on Common Core implementation, it seems the focus at the professional development level has shifted to some of the other aspects of RttT, such as DPAS II and DCAS. However, none of these individual reform pieces will be successful without the success of the others – DCAS will only yield meaningful results if teachers are implementing Common Core standards, and DPAS II will only be an effective gauge of teacher efficacy if DCAS is an accurate benchmark of student achievement.
- Resequencing of Classes & Curriculum: The Common Core not only introduces new standards with a higher cognitive demand but also restructures the order within which concepts are introduced in the classroom. For example, according to DOE, a single Common Core 7th Grade Math standard (CC.7.RP.2: “Recognize and represent proportional relationships between quantities”) comprises what is currently two 6th grade standards, six 7th grade standards, and two 8th grade standards. In the long-run, this will require districts to switch to Common Core-based curricula – which will likely be more plentiful and cheaper due to the efficiencies of the Common Core. In the meantime, it will require school-level departments to be more creative about how they use curricular resources, and for teachers to supplement lessons with previously off-grade-level material.
The difficulty of resequencing leads to a broader issue that makes curricular reform difficult and I think contributes to the scholarship questioning the value-added of curricular reform. Standards alone cannot improve instructional quality, since standards do not teach children. The Common Core will only be effective if teachers faithfully implement the standards at the level of rigor demanded. Doing the same thing but with different words is a waste of time and effort. Changing practices is the most difficult aspect of education reform, but it is the intention at the heart of now just Common Core but the state’s entire RttT agenda.
Districts should begin working now to ensure a seamless transition to Common Core. Teachers should be encouraged to work across grade levels to address potential gaps in the transition, share resources and activities, and prepare for the new content and levels of rigor that will be demanded of their students in the coming school years.