July 25, 2014

Common Core State Standards: Lost Intentions

What have been the true effects of the Common Core State Standards on schools, teachers, and students?  There is no easy answer to this question.  Depending on your state and school district, everyone has been affected in a different way.  Some of the effects have been positive, others negative. I fully acknowledge that the implementation of these standards for many has not been a pleasant experience.  For these educators, however, I would argue the negative connotation associated with the CCSS has little to do with the standards themselves and the intentions of those who created the standards and everything to do with their state or school district's interpretation of these standards, thus creating a tidal wave effect on how the standards impacted their craft of teaching.

My interpretation of the standards was that they were created by a group of well-rounded educational experts to unify how math and reading CONTENT was used in schools across the United States.  For those who have read the CCSS, you know that the actual standards specify they are not telling you HOW to teach, they are helping with the WHAT in teaching.  It is my belief that the intentions of the CCSS were simply to provide a foundation in American education that previously did not exist.

What happened as a result though is quite unfortunate.  States such as New York implemented teaching modules that all teachers must teach at certain times of the year to "meet the Common Core."  This state  chose to strip their teachers of the right to choose how content in their classroom is delivered.  When a teacher is not able to choose what is best for their particular group of students and has to eliminate the art of teaching in order to become a robotic instructor, all is lost and education is doomed.  This is just one example of many in which a state or school district took drastic measures in order to make sure their teachers were instructing in order to "meet the Common Core State Standards."  In these situations, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have animosity toward this "thing" that ruined how I teach and how students learn.  If we blame the CCSS though, we are completely blaming the wrong "thing."  Instead, let's turn the tables and look at the regulations and interpretations of states and school districts that caused this negative connotation.

The middle school I teach at chose to take a different approach to the Common Core State Standards.  We chose to make sure we had a solid foundation in HOW we teach reading by implementing Reading Workshop with instructional practices such as Interactive Read Aloud, whole group reading minilessons, guided reading, literature circles, and reading conferences to ensure we were differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all readers in our classrooms.  Additionally, we provided reading interventions to students reading below grade level in addition to what they were receiving during the universal instruction.  This Balanced Literacy approach rests in the principles from Fountas and Pinnell's Literacy Collaborative model.

Where the CCSS came in is how we infused the literature and nonfiction reading standards into our whole group minilessons.  The CCSS helped us to spiral our curriculum so that students built on foundational reading strategies, skills, and types of thinking year after year.  We will be moving into our third year of full implementation in the 2014-2015 school year.  In the five years prior to the 2013-2014 school year, we had anywhere from 36-39% of our students scoring at or above benchmark level expectations.  At the end of last school year, 58% of our students scored at or above benchmark level expectations.  We are happy as a school to see a positive increase in students' reading levels to know our universal and intervention instruction is making a positive effect on our students as readers.  However, we need more time to continue to improve our teaching practices and work with the CCSS to move forward.  That's why it deeply saddens me to read articles like this about how Wisconsin's governor, Scott Walker, wants to eliminate the CCSS.

I'm not a political person and will never pretend to be, but from the perspective of a Wisconsin educator, I can say with great certainty that Scott Walker's effects on the education environment of my school has been nothing short of devastating.  I mean this for our school as a district, for our staff members, and most importantly, for our students.  It's non-comprehendible to me why this item is on his political agenda.  I deeply question his knowledge of the Common Core and why he feels this is something to take action on.  This would just be another political move by Scott Walker to slash a knife through the already bloodied corpse of the Wisconsin educational system, which used to be one of the most respected in the United States.

So let's take a closer look at this "horrible" thing that has come to be known as the Common Core.  Next year I will be teaching sixth grade language arts.  The reading literature standards for sixth grade from the Common Core are below.

Key Ideas and Details:

Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.
Describe how a particular story's or drama's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

Craft and Structure:

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone
Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot.
Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

Compare and contrast the experience of reading a story, drama, or poem to listening to or viewing an audio, video, or live version of the text, including contrasting what they "see" and "hear" when reading the text to what they perceive when they listen or watch.
Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.

Oh yes, I can now see that these standards are just horrible! I can not believe we would ever ask our students to think about the theme of a story or cite evidence to justify their thinking. The thought of that is just mind boggling! (I hope you can sense the extreme sarcasm I am using when making these statements).

The bottom line is there is nothing wrong with what the Common Core is asking students to do as readers, writers, and mathematicians. The problem with the Common Core is not what is says, it's the interpretation taken by states at a political level and by school districts who try to implement the CCSS by taking away teacher control and implementing an extreme curriculum shift that is not necessary. The Common Core can be achieved through a variety of instructional teaching practices. There is no one size fits all answer to how it is taught. That was never the intention or purpose from the creators of the Common Core.

It's time to take this misconstrued mess and allow teachers to use the CCSS to teach their students using the instructional practices and resources they know the group of students in their classroom will best respond to. For Scott Walker and other political groups and people out there trying to use their power to contort educational practices, I have one last message for you. Leave education alone and let teachers do what they do best: teach!


  1. Well said, Kasey. I think you should send this to little Scotty. Hard to believe he couldn't even complete his education, yet he thinks he knows what's best for students. Sad.

    1. Great idea, Erin. I should figure out a way to send this to him! :) It is very, very sad that he thinks he knows what's best...

  2. Common Core is just good teaching. The first few years are going to be an adjustment for any school or state. We had heard horror stories about them. In reality, the Common Core Standards are not that big of a change in California; it feels as if things just got shifted a little and tightened up. Math will be more of a challenge than Language Arts because of some prerequisite skills not being taught in the previous years, but that should work itself out in a few years.

    How frustrating to not have the support you need! How frustrating for all of us that the politicians who control the funding and pass the laws that impact education tend to listen to extremists, and have no classroom experience! I think it should be a law that elected officials should have to spend a significant amount of time shadowing a real teacher before voting on educational bills.

  3. I couldn't agree more! The CCSS is just good teaching, and you're absolutely right, it's just a minor shift in thinking and curriculum alignment for schools and teachers who were already teaching what was supposed to be taught in the first place. I love your idea of having politicians shadow teachers. It seems that would solve a lot of this! Thanks for your comments!

  4. I just moved to a CCSS school and hated it at first. Since then I've realised it wasn't the standards themselves that were the problem but the 'tick box' attitude with which they'd been approached. I also think there is something in the balance of the standards, in that not all can be taught 'explicitly' in one year and certainly not all can be given equal focus. As the year goes on, and I get to know my learners more, I can determine which are worth giving more time to.
    Another factor is being told to split my year into the 3 types of writing with a third for each. I have never taught around 1 piece of writing per third of a year (or anything like it), but - again - I now realise I have to do what I know is best based on my own experience and knowledge of theory around teaching in general. Voting with my feet is the path I've chosen but confident in the knowledge I can justify and explain my adaptations to anyone who enquires.
    I feel that as educators it's our responsibility to demonstrate what we know works rather than sheepishly following ill-advised dictates from above.
    I'm lucky to be in a school that appreciates that, and would never seek to dictate but I know that path is harder for others.

    1. You're having some awesome realizations, and I'm glad that you're going with what you know in your gut is the right thing to do. You're so right: you can't just tick boxes off of a list of standards or divide the year into three and focus in on the three types of writing outlined in the common core. It just doesn't work that way. I'm glad to hear your school supports you as well!


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