The Truth About the Common Core

*The following is completely my opinion based on my experience as a teacher and mother. I do not claim to know what the Common Core means to a teacher or parent in a different situation from my own.

ccss

When I started teaching over a decade ago, I was handed a red binder that held all our district’s English Language Arts Standards (ELA). I was told to make sure I incorporated them all somehow before the end of the year. At the time I was teaching 9th grade and 10th grade English. I didn’t have to do what the other 9th and 10th grade English teachers did to meet the standards, I just had to meet them.

There was no test at the end to see if my students met the standards, just the grades I gave them.

Back then, students in Michigan took the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test. The test changed in my first couple years for 11th graders to be the Michigan Merit Exam (MME). This was the test the state of Michigan gave to make sure students were making progress.  Our school standards were created completely independent of these tests.

Later, Michigan rolled out standards that every district had to adopt.  There were over 90 for ELA alone.

That was just Michigan; each state had a different set of standards and a different definition of what “proficient” meant for courses and standards.

Now we are being introduced to the Common Core State Standards. The concept behind these standards is to unify the nations standards and to make common what all students at each grade level will master.  The idea is that a fifth grader in Michigan will master the same set of standards as a fifth grader in Maine.

Eventually, all students will also take the same test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment, to assess how well they have mastered the Common Core State Standards.

As a teacher and a parent, I totally support this entire program.

Everywhere I look on social media, however, there are parents bemoaning the Common Core and what it will mean for their child’s education.  Many are under the false impression that the Common Core will somehow mean their students won’t learn as much or that the federal government is dictating how and what teachers teach.  From what I have experienced so far, this is untrue.

First of all, they are very accessible. If you “heard” something about them, you can simply look to see if it’s true; The English Language Arts Common Core Standards can be found online for grades K-12. Gone are the days of having to go to your child’s school to ask to see a copy of the standards; now you can view them any time you want. This is awesome for parents because it helps you to be better prepared going into parent/teacher conferences if you have any concerns about how standards are being taught, how one of your child’s assignments fits the standards, etc.

I had heard differing things about the Kindergarten standards, so since Eddie will be in Kindergarten next year, I looked them up. I started with the writing standards for K. From there it was easy to navigate through all the ELA standards and then jump over to the Math standards.

One area I made sure to check was the Language area. I had heard Kindergartners were no longer being taught to write their last name. This sounded ridiculous, but I thought I should check. The standards in Language read:

Neither of these specifically says that Kindergarteners will write their last name, but that is an activity the teacher could use to teach upper and lowercase letters as well as when to capitalize letters.

My point is, not every activity that students need to do is in the standards.  The standards are broad skills that students need to master. They are STANDARDS, not curriculum.  The curriculum itself is still up to the local districts/teachers.

Let me give you an example from my class.

Here is one of the writing standards for 11th and 12th grade:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Under it are five sub-standards:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3a Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation and its significance, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3b Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3c Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole and build toward a particular tone and outcome (e.g., a sense of mystery, suspense, growth, or resolution).

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3d Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3e Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.

As many of you know, I started the school year having my 12th grade students write personal narratives. While I used the above standards to guide my instruction of how to write a narrative, no where does the standard tell me what activities I need to do to help my students master the standards.

We read a TON of personal essays. We analysed them for the above stuff. We wrote and wrote and wrote. In fact, we wrote every day. We analyzed our own writing for the above stuff. We revised. We edited. And we did it all on Google Docs.

(If you clicked on each of those links you would see that I also hit the standards from Reading and Language in my three-week unit).

My point is this: this was my lesson regardless of the Common Core Standards. I changed nothing based on the fact that we are now implementing the Common Core.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t done some tweaking to other units, but it’s mostly about how I assess/test rather than how/what I teach.

We have always taught Beowulf, for example. But now, instead of giving a multiple choice test after reading it, my students are working in groups to compare/contrast the values that Anglo-Saxons had of what a hero should be and the values we say heroes have today. They are creating a poster that they will present to the class in an appropriate manner.  Then they will write an in-class essay comparing these ideals in writing and using support from the literature.

Whew. There are more standards I hit in there, but I quit linking.

My point is that even if not every high school senior in the country reads Beowulf, they WILL be taught all the same standards that I am covering in my Beowulf unit–it will just be in a different way.

If you feel like your student’s teachers are sacrificing content for the standards, you can always ask. If Eddie wasn’t learning to write “Sluiter” in Kindergarten, I would bring the standards to the principal and ask why.  If my high school student wasn’t writing a LOT, I would bring this standard to the teacher and ask why. If my middle schooler wasn’t reading any poetry, I would bring this standard with me to the English department head and ask why.

Currently the Common Core has ELA and Math for grades K-12, History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects for grades 6-12.

Be informed. Be proactive. Be involved.

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About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this! I trust you and this was what I needed to see.

  2. Thank you for sharing this information. I’m preparing for my first conference with my son’s first grade teachers (they team teach) and I feel a little more informed now. I’ll be checking out the Common Core before that meeting.

    • This makes me so happy, Roxanne. It would be a great, powerful thing if all parents checked the standards and held the teachers accountable too!

  3. Okay, this doesn’t apply to me, but it’s important. I’ll tweet and pin.

  4. Hey Katie,
    Is federal money now tied to/or will be tied to Common Core implementation?

    • Right now it’s unclear how that will play out. In the inception the idea was that states that complied and met certain requirements would get money from the Race to the Top initiative. It seems that is not necessarily true anymore. It is my skeptical opinion that we should never trust “promised federal money” for actually ever being a thing.

      • Indirectly, common core supports “No Child Left Behind”. Teachers, parents and community will support all children learning long division in fifth grade if it is a standard. Otherwise when it should be taught or as the case with long division, put off until calculators are in hand and children who could easily understand the concept just never learn.
        I’m a retired teacher and as understand where “No Child Left Behind” needs to be polished. In my opinion it is a monumental piece of legislation in which students are not at the mercy of being weeded out. When I was a senior in high school, a teacher told me “My kind did not go to college.”
        She wanted my compliant good behavior for vocational educational program. No one acknowledged that a secretary or administrative assistant needed to be smart at the time. This is another topic – Female dominated jobs are underpaid and underestimated.
        What “No Child Left Behind” does is acknowledge there is ability and talent in all segments of society in addition to learning disabled individuals. The intellect is there and if there is a will behind that intellect, it needs to be developed.

  5. Katie, even though my kids are not using this curriculum at their new school, I hear A LOT about it from my friends whose children are still in schools that are using it. Honestly, I have not heard very many positive things about it but I also know that people here to not care for change very much. 😉

    I know that as a teacher you are required to use the standards set before you and I commend you for doing it but still making it work for your students. Some of the examples of math stuff I have seen around here though are appalling, like calling rows, columns and vice versa. I just cannot wrap my brain around something like that. It seems like setting kids up to fail.

    Anyway, stepping off my soap box on that. I recently read this post http://dianeravitch.net/2013/01/27/13491/

    about it and I did like this quote:

    “When teachers are asked to implement standards that they feel “do not make sense” it is not that teachers are simply ignorant and require professional development, it is in my opinion, the initial reaction of a person engaged in a craft/practice that is highly dependent and responsive to local conditions.”

    I think the “local conditions” point is a good one. Anyway…

    Keep doing what you are doing. You are a great teacher.

    • I think…and this is just the opinion of a high school ELA teacher, so take it for what it’s worth…that after looking at many of the math standards, the problem doesn’t lie with the standard so much as local stuff. And I am going to say this next thing and I mean nothing mean by it: Some states had such low standards, that these new ones seem impossible and unreachable. What passed for 8th grade math in some states was embarrassing. I’ve seen the standards and what counted as “proficient” was insane. And sad. So yes, I can see how these standards are difficult, but I also think then that it is a good thing that we have these standards.

      In another way, I think some of this is growing pains. If the standards call for a math standard to be taught at the third grade level what used to be taught at fourth grade, it’s going to be an adjustment for those teachers who may have never taught it before.

      And of course, if teachers are calling rows columns and columns rows, well that is not the standard…that is the teacher and some teaching problems.

      It all boils down to parents needing to LOOK AT THE STANDARDS if they are concerned with what they see come home with their kids. If they can’t figure out why their kids have that work and can’t see how it’s based on a standard, they need to be vocal about it.

  6. I don’t have school aged children yet but I already worry how I’ll prepare them for school since I don’t know what the expectations set for them will be. This helps a great deal though and reassures me I’m headed in the right direction with my pre-schooler.

    Is there a way to search by state what districts adopted Common Core? I can’t readily find it on our district’s website.

    Excellent post and I agree with you, I don’t know why anyone would feel this is doing a disservice to our students.

    • From what I understand, it’s not an option for a district to choose whether or not to adopt them. If your state has adopted them, your district must adopt them. As far as which states have adopted them, it tells you here: http://www.corestandards.org/in-the-states

      I do think that some districts choose to adopt them even if the state does not (which our district was doing if Michigan chose to opt out, but recently the vote passed to adopt).

  7. This is a great explanation of what the Common Core is and how teachers/parents can use it. Thanks!

  8. I love your last paragraph, Katie. Being informed, involved and proactive are so important when we are helping our children navigate the school years.

    • Thanks, Kim. That is really the main thing. If you want to know why the heck your child is bring something home? Read the standards. If it’s not obvious, you need to ask the teacher.

  9. As a current teaching student, I give this post two very enthusiastic thumbs up! At no point have I EVER been taught that I need to “Teach to the test” or that the standards dictate exactly HOW I should teach. Rather I’m told “these are the standards. Make lesson plans around them.” When I do assignments in class where we have to create lesson plans around a certain standard, we all create different lessons, but they ALL teach and assess the same areas.

    Thanks for clearing up what a LOT of people misunderstand!

    • I will say that the classes you take to become a teacher will NEVER tell you to teach to the test. However, once you get a job you will do it. You just will. Right now our AYP is based partially on ACT scores. ACT prep is now part of our curriculum. It’s best for students (because the ACT is also a college entrance exam) and it’s best for our school (for meeting AYP) if students do well.

      That said, the new assessment, the Smarter Balanced Assessment, is a better test (or so it looks from here). By teaching the standards, we should automatically be “teaching to the test” AND hopefully using best practice strategies for our students to gain college and career readiness.

  10. Melissa Reed says:

    Great post! Thank you for debunking many myths about the CCSS. I too see the value in holding our students across the nation to the same standards, and allowing the creativity and alignment freedom to the schools and teachers.

    Also, THANK YOU for the part about being an informed parent who advocates and questions on behalf of their kids. All parents can, and should, do this!

    Great post!

    • Thank you for the compliment! I strongly believe in parents who are educated about what is going on in school and then act as watch dogs to make sure teachers and administrators are accomplishing what they say they will.

      And I say this as a teacher. Parent-involvement is SO IMPORTANT.

  11. Malaysia has a national standard for education. Students in our equivalent of 6th grade, 9th grade and 12th grade take a national assessment exam for all their subjects, and they take the exact same tests – same questions etc. I’ve never wondered how other countries do it, so this is interesting.

    Of course, Malaysia is smaller than Texas, so there’s that. 🙂

    • many, MANY countries that out-perform us have national standards.

      they also have national healthcare and live longer.

      Huh. 🙂

  12. It was great reading this post. You did a great job of really explaining what these standards are all about. Sometimes, it’s so hard to hear above all the noise!!!

  13. I appreciate this post. I am a supporter of a common core curriculum. I like the emphasis on expectations of specific standards at specific grade levels. I also like placement of standards at specific grade levels that coincide with brain development.

  14. I think that this is a great idea and I am so glad that you wrote about it. From what I know of our school district and the schools in it they seem to follow the common core curriculum. That said I don’t if it’s fully implemented yet either.
    How does it differ from an IBO certified school?

  15. Love this post and read it twice. There is so much information here that I was not aware of and I was really taken aback at how much teachers have to be aware of and do and be just to make the process of education happen. I do think studying the classics, myth and awareness of ourselves in the context of history is something all students should be exposed to repeatedly! Thanks for all you do.

  16. This is so good, Katie. I wasn’t aware of any of this, and only because I trust my children’s teachers to teach them the appropriate content for their grade level. I like that there is now an easily-attainable standards list that every parent can research if they feel their children aren’t getting the education they need.

  17. I will admit that I haven’t looked too much into common core because of my little bubble of GSRP but I do keep informed of what my district wants of incoming Kindergarteners so I adjust accordingly to those. However, I have not seen ONE positive thing about Common Core via social media. And honestly, none of the complaints have made sense to me and I hate to be that person, but they also appear to all be in the ‘government is out to get us camp’ or like you mentioned in a previous comment in a state where the standards WERE SO low that now their children are hurting. And like you said, it’s not the common core’s fault, it’s local crap/stuff/individual teacher. I have not in my limited knowledge of it found anything negative. Holding ourselves (country) to higher standards overall will always be applauded by me.

  18. As a homeschooling mom, I loved this post. I haven’t really understood what the Common Core was exactly (and not for lack of trying) but this made a lot of sense. One of the main reasons we decided to homeschool Bella was because as military we move a lot. And since each state has different methods and curriculums, she could learn the same thing two years in a row in two states, be far behind other children, or be ahead of everyone. I moved so often as a child that my education suffered greatly because I was always at a different spot than children who had been in the school a number of years.
    I just finished reading “The Smartest Kids in the World” and it was eye opening to read your post after. I know it’s a struggle for teachers to be heard, but know that you’ve opened my eyes to it. It may have a lot of kinks to work out, but so does any new system. I’m hoping it works and gives all our kids a solid place to jump into after a move or change.

  19. I am so very confused by all that I’m hearing about Common Core. Our district is supposed to have it fully implemented by next school year. I think some parts of it are being implement this year.

    What you’ve written here makes total sense to me.

    And then I have my FIL in my ear ranting that Common Core will involve data mining of our children. That schools will be pushing our kids into certain career paths based on this mining. Both he and my husband are all up in arms about this.

    I still don’t know what to believe.

    I just want my kids to get a decent education that will be the stepping off point they need for the rest of their lives.

Trackbacks

  1. […] at Sluiter Nation, did an awesome job of taking the mystery out of the Common Core curriculum being implemented by school districts nation wide. I’ve heard and read many […]

  2. […] week I wrote about why the Common Core Standards are not evil. Of course, after that, I ended up seeing about fifty posts about why they are basically the […]

  3. […] Her words have also appeared in Baby Talk magazine and the Today Show website. And besides being an amazing, inspiring teacher – the kind that makes me believe that teachers can change the world, the kind that I would want my own children to have – she’s also a passionate advocate for Common Core, and you can read about that here. […]