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Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 04/03/2012

Common Core: Nobody said it was going to be easy

I recently ran a post by a teacher, Jeremiah Chaffee, about one maddening experience he had working with a lesson connected to the Common Core State Standards. You can read his report here. Stephanie Day, director of teaching and learning at the Friendship Public Charter School in Washington D.C., writes here in response to that post and in support of the Common Core. Day was named the 2010 Washington D.C. Teacher of the Year.

By Stephanie Day

As debate rings out on nearly every policy question, we are consistently seeing gridlock win out over progress. In this political climate, it is no small feat that 44 states have chosen to hold their students to the same set of high quality academic standards embodied in the Common Core State Standards.

However, as with any meaningful change, nobody said it was going to be easy. Now that states are beginning to transition to the standards, the real work is kicking in. As a teacher, I certainly understand the frustration among my colleagues and everyone else participating in the implementation process. Yet with so much at stake, we can’t let these growing pains get the best of us.

I was reminded of this as I read last week’s blog post by Jeremiah Chaffee, a high school English teacher from upstate New York. In the piece, Mr. Chaffee describes his experience working with an exemplar aligned to the Common Core as “intellectually limiting, shallow in scope, and uninteresting.” He explains being “struck at how out of sync the Common Core is with what I consider to be good teaching.” Reading more about his experience, I could identify with his discouragement. However, Mr. Chaffee ultimately attacks the wrong culprit. The problem was with the exemplar, a prepackaged lesson, not the actual standards.

I was fortunate to be a part of the Washington, D.C. team that reviewed the crosswalk between our existing D.C. standards and the Common Core. Again and again the teachers on the committee stated that moving to the Common Core created a more rigorous framework with a clear spiraling of skills between the grades that would lead to better results for our students. As a former special education teacher, I appreciated being able to look and see how I could create a clear plan for them to attain grade-level skills.

Further, despite the fact that some initial exemplars may be far from perfect, having nearly all states working with the same standards will increase our access to lesson materials and ideas from a broader group of teachers. It is through this collaboration that we can generate better outcomes for students.

I have always believed that standards provide us with the baseline, but the delivery is where teachers can be creative. Transitioning to something new, there will always be friction and missteps along the way. But committing to more rigorous expectations for our children is essential. I am eager to see what happens when rich instruction developed around building critical thinking skills is matched with the innovative practices of my education colleagues in states across the country.

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