One of the hottest topics right now in the field of politics and education is the Common Core — that set of college- and career-ready standards for students from kindergarten through 12th grade that were developed by education leaders and governors from 48 states.
In one state — Louisiana — the topic is so hot that its governor recently went to court asserting he’s protected from questioning under oath in a legal dispute over his administration’s actions that are said to undermine the Common Core standards in that state.
With a focus on English language arts, literacy and math, most states (43) have adopted the standards, with a goal of ensuring high school grads are ready for college courses or can successfully enter the workforce.
They are distinct from previous state standards in that a non-state organization created them for all states to use rather than each state deciding to use their own. The advantage was to eliminate a variety of standards and improve the quality across many states.
I once attended a National Network for Educational Renewal (NNER) event where Vicki Phillips, director of education for the Gates Foundation, suggested that teachers need a common set of tools to reference if we are going to take advantage of teacher effectiveness research. For Vicki Phillips, Common Core answers the question: Effective toward what end?
Proponents of the Common Core believe that teaching toward these standards will better prepare students for college level work and entry into career pathways and civic engagement. In their view, the added value of establishing some national continuity serves all students across the United States to the degree that states voluntarily adopt the standards. For the supporters, the quality of the standards and the consistency of adoption from state to state make the Common Core the greatest lever for educational reform.
The arguments against the Common Core are widely varied and sometimes contradictory. For example:
- Some argue that the Common Core standards appeal to the lowest common denominator among current state standards and are too weak.
- Others argue that the standards are too high and will only contribute to creating school failure.
- Detractors are concerned about overreach of federal government in local education and an overly narrowing effect on curriculum and instruction. Some critics actually support some of the content found in the standards but criticize the implementation of the Common Core.
- Some feel that it will be used in schools and teacher evaluations in ways not justified by the research.
- Some argue that the assessments connected to the standards are too narrow or not appropriately aligned with the standards themselves.
A quick Internet search of pros and cons of the Common Core will turn up more detailed support for all the above arguments. Here at Eagle Rock, we find finds ourselves working with educators and organizations on both sides of this argument.
Given our vision of a country where all high school youth are fully engaged in their own education, and taking into consideration our mission to implement effective and engaging practices to support schools to achieve that vision, we do, of course, regularly work with schools that are making sense of the Common Core standards.
In sharing our take on common core standards, it might be helpful to know that we here at Eagle Rock are an organization for practitioners. We eat, live and breathe our goal of operating a successful school, all the while providing professional development around the country for folks who also work day to day in schools.
We base our existence on supporting the leaders and teachers at these schools. And to be the very best at that work, we have explicitly chosen not to focus on policy issues. We are not out to change policy. We are out to help practitioners make sense of the policies and expectations of their school, district and state while still meeting the intent of meaningful engagement for all students.
Eagle Rock believes the ends of education can be transformative. We graduate students prepared to make a difference in the world, and we hold standards such as making healthy life choices or exercising leadership for justice for graduation.
Simultaneously we use credible evidence-based practices that are familiar to public schools around the country to achieve our transformative ends. We use Understanding by Design (UbD) frameworks, learning targets, proficient readers strategies and six-traits writing practices across the curriculum.
Consistent with that, we have begun to reference the Common Core standards in our course plans. We work with schools that must integrate these standards and we have the tools and experiences to help them with that.
But as a practitioner-centered organization, we take a pragmatic approach to the Common Core. Yes, we accept it as part of the current reality for our colleagues. And our task is to help folks use it effectively for the greater good of meaningful engagement. But we firmly believe that — no matter what the policy landscape — we can stay true to educating toward transformative ends.
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About the Author: Michael Soguero is the director of professional development at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colo. There, he is primarily responsible for developing strategy that positively affects public education throughout the United States.