Common Core Implementation: Standards Matter

There’s a big change afoot at City Schools. No, I don’t mean the search for a new CEO, though that is an important topic for another day. I’m talking about the move to the Common Core Standards, a statewide shift that will significantly impact students, parents, and teachers across our district and state, as well as many other states across the country. The Common Core standards will set the stage for how we deliver and assess teaching and learning in Baltimore City for years to come.

FFEE-Blog01It’s important to clarify what the Common Core is and is not. The Common Core is a set of standards outlining the skills and knowledge students should master grade by grade. It was developed by the bi-partisan National Governors Association with the goal of better preparing U.S. students to compete in the global economy.

The Common Core is not a national curriculum. Individual states and local districts are charged with developing the “how to manual” to get students to meet its new national standards. Flexibility is a fundamental strength of the Common Core which recognizes that different groups of students in various types of districts have unique learning needs that need to be met. For example, one of the reading standards for 1st graders is the ability to “Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key details.” Which stories a child should read, and how they gain an understanding of characters and settings is up to the local district, the school, and ultimately the teacher. Even within a classroom, the stories children read will – and should – be different, but the skills they need to master will be the same.

The move to these new standards will be difficult, and we can predict with almost certainty that our test scores will fall. While Maryland, like much of the nation, will not fully implement the new Common Core assessments until next year, we are already seeing the impact in the early adopter states. In New York, scores dropped from 65% proficient in Math and 55% in English Language on their old state assessments to just 31% proficient on both measures for students in grades 3 through 8. The public and political outcry was huge and unpleasant.

Even before it’s fully implemented here in Maryland, we are already seeing push back from those who perceive it to be a one size fits all standardized test, those who fear a shift away from “schooling the whole child”, and those who believe the new standards will leave little room for exposure to the arts or other non-traditional education tools. A recent story on WYPR powerfully disputes these claims. As Pat Cruz, Young Audiences of Maryland’s education director sees it, Common Core’s flexibility better lends itself to using arts in the classroom than many other standards since it includes “examples of how to teach many of the standards through integrated arts methods, like teaching fractions through dance.” There is nothing in the Common Core that dictates a single teaching approach, and much room is granted for educational creativity towards achieving its standards.

This is not an easy transition, and no one – parents, teachers, political leaders – want their students to look less smart or their teachers to look less competent. But, at the end of the day, continuing to measure students against standards that fail to predict future success makes little sense. We need to stay the course, and use the Common Core implementation as a rallying charge to build a clear roadmap for making our students’ hopes and aspirations a reality. We look forward to being part of that work.