One of the biggest changes to education in the
United States in recent years is the introduction of Common Core State Standards. This new set of standards affects K–12 students and creates uniform learning guidelines for schools across the country. However, this large-scale overhaul is not without its detractors and controversies. Starting with the 2014–2015 school year, Common Core implementation will mean big changes for teachers, administrators and other kinds of education professionals.
The goal of the Common Core is to better prepare students for college and employment. It sets specific standards for both reading and math, and will replace the state-by-state education benchmarks that have existed until now. The new standards detail the skills that students should have as they move through elementary school, middle school and high school. It does not dictate curriculum, but identifies specific abilities that students should have in each year of school.
Overall, students and teachers face tougher standards.
Who Developed These New Standards and Why
Though many believe that the Common Core is a federal education program, it was actually developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Starting in 2009, this state-led initiative was developed with the help of parents, teachers and education experts to form the grade-by-grade standards. The goal of creating the Common Core is to ensure that high school graduates from any state will have similar skill sets and be ready for college or the workforce.
The need for specific educational benchmarks has been identified over time, as academic progress in the U.S. has continued to lag behind other countries. Especially in the case of subjects like math, students require high rates of mediation to succeed at the college level. According to government experts, one of the main causes of these issues is the variation in learning standards across states. According to the Common Core Standards Initiative’s official website, “Academic standards vary from state to state and do not agree on what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.”
How the Common Core Is Different
This new set of standards requires students to develop their critical thinking and reasoning skills. The English core features more primary and information sources, such as the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Though literature will still be a main focus, there is a more equal balance between fiction and nonfiction. When it comes to math, problem solving skills are more emphasized than before. Students will learn to explain the process they complete to find the answers to math problems.
The math standards in particular result in a more complex standardized testing model, with fewer multiple-choice questions and more short-answer responses. This change also means that results will take longer to be reported and test graders can command higher pay.
So far, only five states have chosen not to adopt the Common Core: Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia. Some educators question their effectiveness; for example, Kentucky was the first to fully adopt the Common Core, and math and English proficiency dropped by a third in the first round of state assessments following the implementation, a recent Associated Press article reports. Supporters of the new standards suggest that the results “were more a reflection of higher standards than declining student achievement,” but similar decreased numbers were reported in New York as well. This assessment data is part of why opponents of the Common Core want to leave standardization decisions at the local level. Some states are attempting to repeal or slow down implementation as well, the same AP article states.
What It Means for You
Because standardized testing continues to have increased bearing on school funding and success, the implementation of the Common Core affects administrators and teachers alike. For superintendents, principals and other administrators, it is important to have a complete understanding of the new benchmarks and provide ample professional development programs for teachers. Administrators will also need to get the community involved, educating parents about the Common Core and enlisting their support. The responsibility of school success or failure under the new standards is firmly placed on leadership, so administrators should do everything they can to ensure that students perform well.
For teachers, the pressure is higher. It is likely that math and English teachers will have to change their curriculum and approach in the classroom so that their students can succeed in the Common Core Standards assessments. They will need to develop lessons that teach critical thinking and reasoning skills, as well as creating more writing components for math classes. Because administrators will be relying on teachers for student success, it is vital that teachers adapt to these changing standards quickly and effectively. This can be achieved by implementing the Common Core as quickly as possible and taking advantage of professional development opportunities related to the new standards. Teachers can also keep parents informed of the changes and make sure that they are involved in their children’s education.
Though the transition to Common Core Standards may be difficult at times, it will be beneficial if students gain the skills they need to succeed. So while you may have reservations about the Common Core and what it means for education, understanding the new standards and adapting to them is the best way to meet the challenge.
Education at NDC
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