In the past, local school districts and state school departments wrote their own standards and curriculum. As a result, both varied widely in quality, rigor, and content.
In this post, I am going to provide a quick overview of the main pros and cons of having common standards across states in general. Then in future posts, I will address the more specific concerns related to the implementation of the Common Core State Standards currently in use, the larger issues of even greater concern than the Common Core itself, and the closer-to-home issues that we as parents and educators can have a real impact on.
PROS OF COMMON STANDARDS:
EQUAL IS AS EQUAL DOES
In order to ensure equal educational opportunities for all students, it makes sense that having clear, rigorous college and career readiness standards for all students regardless of background is important. In the past, some districts had much more rigorous standards than others, resulting in some students being more prepared for college and the workplace than others. On the other hand, merely establishing more rigorous expectations does not automatically result in equal educational outcomes when there is disparity in resources and instructional quality.
COMMON STANDARDS & THEN SOME
Although having a clear, rigorous set of common standards is ideal in theory, it is much more complex in practice. But the question is this: should we abandon the idea of a Common Core simply because it is more difficult to implement than expected? I cannot answer this for everyone, but I can say that as a teacher who taught in four school districts in three states, standards are only one of many resources that I draw on in my teaching. I use standards as a guide for the MINIMUM skills my students need to obtain. Beyond that, I also use curriculum guides, my understanding of pedagogy and recent educational research, my personal educational philosophy, my knowledge of my students’ needs and interests, and my relationship with the school community.
“By emphasizing required achievements, the Standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached and what additional topics should be addressed. Thus, the Standards do not mandate such things as a particular writing process or the full range of metacognitive strategies that students may need to monitor and direct their thinking and learning. Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.” (p. 4)
As a teacher, I cling to this statement believing that I have the professional freedom to do what is best for my students, and as a parent, I hope that my children’s teachers will do the same. We do need high-quality standards for all students. The Common Core State Standards are not perfect, but I don’t know that any standards or curriculum will ever be perfect. Perhaps instead of fighting against the Common Core, we need to fight for a process to continually improve it. But more importantly, we need to fight for the teachers who will use their professional expertise to implement it, or any other set of standards, effectively.
We need to provide teachers with the best possible standards to work with and teachers need to be trusted as professionals to use those documents along with their professional judgment and expertise to ensure student success.