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Common Core Standards -- What exactly are they?

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            I was on the treadmill at the YMCA and the gentleman next to me was on his phone. Apparently, he uses his time on the treadmill staying in touch with family and friends. Of course, I could hear his half of the conversation (another topic for another time).

            In one call he was speaking to someone clearly involved in education. He explained that “since the introduction of the Common Core Curriculum, 70% of the students in his school were at or above where they should be,” while 8 miles down the road only 7.9% were.”

            The implication for me was that the incredible achievement was a result of the Common Core “Curriculum,” but a subsequent conversation with another of his friends or relatives revealed other differences – demographics, money, ethnicity, parent involvement – all the things we hear about all the time.

            But it did make me think it might be time to use this article to talk about Common Core. Please realize that, like so many controversial things, this is a complicated topic that I will attempt to simplify in order to be useful to those of you with kids and grandkids still in school. I am not here to dispute or support Common Core; I am here to explain it as simply as I can.

            First of all, Common Core is not a curriculum – it is a collection of standards, expectations, for our students. Every state has had its own standards for years, but the Common Core consists of the same standards for every state. This should mean that expectations (and therefore education) are the same for all students regardless of economics, politics, geography, culture, ethnicity, religion, etc. It also means easier national collaboration and assessment. “Learning standards describe the skills and knowledge all students need to know so they can be successful in college, work, and life.” (OSPI website) They do no tell teachers how or what to teach.

            An example of a standard in Reading Language Arts is: “Making more connections about how complex ideas interact and develop within a book, essay, or article.” Notice, it doesn’t tell me what book, essay, or article to use in my classroom. In math: “Construct an equilateral triangle, a square, and a regular hexagon inscribed in a circle.” Obviously, math concepts are more specific and always have been, but the teacher’s methods and materials are not dictated here.

            It is my opinion that good English teachers have always taught their students to make connections and good math teachers have always taught students geometric shapes and the use of a compass. They also teach the “why.”

            Common Core Standards currently are only for English Language Arts and Mathematics. However, the state of Washington has standards – Essential Learning Requirements – for other content area such as Social Studies, Science, and Vocational Ed.

            As of today, 45 states have adopted the Common Core Standards. The controversy surrounding the standards include the following: they minimize expectations, they do not teach critical thinking skills, that they tell the teachers what to teach, they are not based on research, and they are about skills not content. There is plenty of information available for you to make your own decision: OSPI website, Common Core website, National PTA website. But in the meantime, they are, for now anyway, here to stay.