President Obama, Glenn Beck, and My Common Core Classroom

We have all heard the Core bashing.  Statements like the Common Core will “undermine student individuality, teacher autonomy, and mark a dangerous takeover of local control.”  Unlike a majority of the core-bashing voices, I am a classroom teacher with actual experience teaching with Common Core, and I beg to differ.

Celebrating Student Individuality

I have been pleasantly surprised over the high level of sophistication and creativity students have shown in their writing and logical reasoning under the Common Core Standards.  One of the English Language Arts standards for fifth grade expects students to be able to, “Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.”  After much modeling and practice, my students are feeling empowered to take a stance on a topic and defend it with evidence from multiple texts.  

For example, I recently tasked my fifth grade students with answering the question, “How does imagination lead to discoveries in the real world?”  Each student chose a classic toy, researched several sources with a self-selected research team, and then presented their individual answers to the question to the class in any creative way they chose.  At first, students were frustrated because they thought that the answer to our research question should be stated explicitly in the text.  It took deeper reading and a discussion of the definitions of “imagination” and “discovery” before the students were able to begin to form their answers.  What they found most exciting was the fact that their individual student answers could be different and unique yet equally valid as long as they backed up their claims with evidence from the texts.  Throughout the learning process, we had sophisticated conversations about the validity of sources, the structure of nonfiction text, and the importance of imagination not only in the creation of toys, but in many scientific and historical discoveries today. The class conversation even continued over a couple of snow days on our class Edmodo page.   I was especially impressed by the group researching play-dough.  They discovered that play-dough was originally invented as a wall-paper cleaner, which led them to passionate debate as to whether unintended results still counted.   They concluded that imagination can often lead you to surprise discoveries! 

Iron Teacher

One of the biggest advantages that I have found with the Common Core is the fact that teachers across the nation now have these standards in common.  Have you ever seen one of those celebrity cooking competition shows where chefs are given an ingredient and they get to come up with an amazing dish for that ingredient?  To me, the Common Core standards are like instructional protein and vegetables.  We want to insure that all students across our nation get that basic nutrition, but teachers get to decide how to creatively cook it up, what side dishes and dessert to add, and how to plate and serve that meal for students.  

Love Local, Teach Global

Education is one of the most local endeavors in our country.  The students and their families are local, most teachers are local, and many educational decisions are made by local school boards and district administrators. That works well for the most part, and it would all be fine if all our students had to do was compete for local jobs or college positions with just their local peers.  However, those of us who are parents of high school seniors know that our children are competing for college positions on a national level and jobs on an international level.  Our children already experience national measures of the SAT and the ACT, so we need to make sure the curriculum has the rigor to prepare them well no matter what community they are from. 

Standards Vs Standardized Tests

I do not blame my bathroom scale for the fact that I am not always completely happy with the number it shows me.  I certainly do not blame my scale on day one of a new diet plan and abandon my plan before it has a chance to work.  The scale is just a tool, just as a standardized test is just a tool to measure student learning.  The standardized tests are not the standards themselves.  I have read too many recent articles touting the problems of Common Core when the real focus of the author’s frustration was not with the standards themselves, but with the testing process which will be used next year to measure students’ learning of the standards.  Many of my fellow teachers support the rigor of the common core standards.  We just have issue with students being tested over their understanding of standards which are still so new to their teachers.  We need a brief break from the high-stakes aspect of standardized testing in order to receive training and implement the standards properly.  System change is challenging, and all of us in education need time to make the transition to the new standards.  Abandoning the standards at this point is like giving up on a diet on day one.  We need time and support to give the new system a chance to work.   

Student-Centered Policy

In his recent State of the Union Address, President Obama again called for investment in our youngest school children through a federal-state partnership that would fund preschool for all four-year-olds whose families make below 200 percent of the poverty line.  In June, Obama announced another innovative proposal called “ConnectEd.”  The goal was to have 99 percent of schools online with high-speed internet over the next five years.  In addition to rigorous standards, both of these initiatives are exactly what our students need to truly be successful in a global marketplace.  If we expect them to be ready, we need all students to have equal access to the strong learning foundation that a high-quality preschool provides, broad access to information that a high-speed connection can provide, and rigorous standards that the Common Core provides. 

Not His Business

I have heard people mention comments Glenn Beck has made about the Common Core.  What makes Glenn Beck an education expert?  He does not have the knowledge, training, or the experience with teaching the Common Core standards and therefore no authority to make such negative, sweeping, ludicrous statements about the impact of Common Core on America’s freedom.  I am baffled why anyone would include him at all in the conversation about education.  In fact, many of the loudest voices opposing Common Core standards are neither educators, parents of current public school children, nor current classroom teachers.  I recently read several articles opposing the new standards.  I discovered that the first nine out ten articles I viewed were from two authors.  Upon further research, those two authors were not current teachers.  Although one was a former teacher, he never taught Language Arts or Math- the two areas of CC standards- and he never taught with the Common Core.  The other person was not an educator at all.  If any of the non-educators could spend extended time in a real classroom, they would see the positive impact the Common Core is having.

In my district, we are already seeing a positive impact from teaching with Common Core standards.  There have been increases in measures of reading, writing, and math abilities of those upcoming students who are being taught with the new standards.  After an expected “implementation dip” in scores when the new tests are first introduced, I think we will see a large increase in our students’ abilities.   Now is a very exciting time to be in the classroom.  I am so full of hope for our children!

By Teachers, For Teachers

Due to the fact that most of us now have a shared curriculum, more and more free, quality resources are being developed for teachers and by teachers.  I am able to share creative ideas through national networks of dedicated professionals such as the NNSTOY: National Network of State Teachers of the Year, NEA, and America Achieves.  It was through networks such as these that I found many of the great resources listed below:

1. Learnzillion http://learnzillion.com/  Videos and lesson plans built by educators

2.Teaching Channel  https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos?landing_page=General+Teacher+Videos+Landing+Page&gclid=CLLZ_aeImbsCFaxr7AodMW8AKg   Videos of lessons for teachers

3.http://www.corestandards.org/ (the standards from the source)

4.http://www.achievethecore.org/ (PD modules, the shifts in detail, classroom resources, and more

5.http://achieve.org/ (released test items)

6.http://www.americaachieves.org/  videos of common core lessons in action

7.Edmodo   https://www.edmodo.com/ Free, interactive class webpage for teachers

Questions, Comments?  Please email Kathy.powers2011@gmail.com

About the Author:      Kathy Powers is a National Board Certified reading and language arts teacher at Carl Stuart Middle School in Conway, Arkansas. She has over 20 years of classroom teaching experience from elementary to college students, and in almost every subject. Powers has authored articles in education journals, presented at several conferences including the International Reading Association conference, and has been awarded multiple educational grants. In 2011, she was named the Arkansas Teacher of the Year.  In August of 2012, Powers was named a National America Achieves fellow, and will be traveling to talk with national education policy makers over the course of the next few years.