I have read a few articles in the last week that have bashed the switch to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The typical criticisms include that the CCSS are too much of a one-size-fits-all approach, that the CCSS put too much emphasis on high-stakes testing and that student readiness levels are inadequate. Here in Illinois, teachers are feeling the push towards a higher standard and the consequence of how student achievement is going to be measured against our own evaluations.
I am feeling the pressure as much as anyone. Special education students don’t make typical amounts of yearly progress as a rule. I am not a tenured faculty member anywhere. The stress of what all of this means has not been lost on me.
Knowing all of this, I am writing in defense of the Common Core.
I think that there are a host of reasons why the majority of students in my state are said to be below standards on the state achievement tests. I am concerned that when schools unabashedly adopted evidence and research-based curricula some years ago, they became factory-like.
Students were expected to learn because these curricula said that students were successful using them. From a special education point of view, the below-level components that are included as a fixed series with these types of boxed curricula are inadequate and do lend to an inclusion environment.
What all students really need is a creative teacher who is willing to try various methods to help them learn. They need to take time to learn things at their own pace. They need multi-modal and sensory-based education. My special education students need this, but as I work in an inclusion classroom, I can tell you: ALL kids need this.
This is what the CCCSS is bringing us. We have time to try new and different things because we are not on an express train through a curriculum manual. Instead, we can delve deeper into fewer topics. We can make sure that all students have achieved some competence or mastery in a topic before we have to move on. We can compose thematic units and supplement with interesting projects and current events. We can work in a cross-curricular space.
Nothing I have said here is news to a good teacher. In so many ways, the Common Core is nothing new. It supports good teaching. It gives good teachers the chance to do what they do best. It is my hope that more good teachers realize that the Common Core may just be a gift to all of us.
Embracing the Common Core has made me feel like an empowered teacher who is not afraid to be unconventional and to try something new. Right now, that something new is technology.
As promised in an earlier blog, I would like to share a project that my co-teacher, my class and I completed today. We have started reading a new story from our basal textbook. It provides highlighted vocabulary words, but instead of doing a worksheet, we tried something a little more interactive. The kids created interactive vocabulary posters-turned-cinema!
They were excited, engaged and working collaboratively to create polished work that they are looking forward to sharing with their peers in the other fourth-grade classrooms. This is what the Common Core is teaching us in Room 15 — that we can work as a team on our journey to being active and effective learners.