Sunday, April 21, 2013

What is Common Core

Common Core 

What is CCSS? That is the biggest controversy surrounding common core.  Common core is the elephant in the room.  It has been described as being so many things by so many different people.  Some argue that CCSS are simply standards, nothing more nothing less.  Others, especially some of the more vocal education reformers, claim  CCSS, with its depth and rigor, is the answer to failing public schools. (I don't believe public schools are failing).  Common Core has been described as standards, as curriculum, a pedagogy, a resource for teachers, and as an assessment tool.

So what is Common Core?  First, common core is educational standards.  Educational standards are simply the specific criteria for what students are expected to learn.  Standards usually come in 2 forms: content standards and performance standards.  Content Standards dictate what students should know and be able to do in various subjects. Performance standards dictate to which degree those content standards have been met.

The answer - Common Core is the educational equivalent to a merry-go-round; it doesn't matter where you start or which direction you go you end up in a circle.  Common Core is a little bit of all those claims and yet none at the same time.  Let me explain - Will common core be the gateway to increased relevance and rigor? Its true the standards are written to be very narrow in scope but to provide for a more robust depth of knowledge.  If you subscribe to the "if you build it they will come" theory, then simply writing more rigorous standards for students to meet will lead to higher achievement.  But will narrowing and deepening the specific content we want our students to learn be enough to cause students to start achieving at a higher level? No, that will requiring a change in the way teachers teach; and that leads into pedagogy.  Yes, some teachers will have to change the way they teach, yet others will not. So Common Core is not technically a pedagogy, but will cause pedagogical changes.  Technology will have to be integrated, and students will need to demonstrate their understanding instead of identifying their understanding. But that means there has to be a change in the way we assess student learning. We will have to rethink how we determine what students know and can do.  The assessments will change because the performance standards have changed and the content has changed.  If the content standards have changed, then the specific things we will assess our students on dictate which things will be taught and when. And that is curriculum. Curriculum is the organized program of learning. At lower levels, it will dictate to us when to start teaching fractions or when to engage in figurative language. At higher levels, it dictates when students should learn Alg. I and when to learn Geometry. And if CCSS dictates to us when and how, then CCSS also dictates what resources we have to choose from in teaching those things.  Don't kid yourselves - if 47 states plus D.C. and territories are all adopting CCSS, how many different versions of textbooks do you think will be out there?

So what is common core? It is the educational initiative that will have substantial and far reaching consequences into everything associated with education.  If we are going to continue to compare Oklahoma students to Massachusetts, Florida, Indiana, Finland, Japan, Singapore, etc then having a national standard is probably not a bad start.  Simply adopting a set of standards and saying it will solve all our problems is ludicrous.   It will require educators to evaluate what, how, and why we do things.  I can live with that.  What I don't think I can live with is the PARCC assessments that come with it.  Can we divorce common core from PARCC? I sure hope so.  I'll discuss PARCC in the next blog.