I’ve published a number of posts critical of the Common Core State Standards (here’s one and here’s another), but but below is a piece by an award-winning teacher in support of the initiative. This was written by Sara Brown Wessling, the national 2010 National Teacher of the Year and an English teacher Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa. She is also the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel and hosts “Teaching Channel Presents” on public television stations around the country.

The standards were created n an effort to ensure that students in every state are learning and being assessed on the same standards. Forty-five states have approved the standards and new standardized assessments are being created now that are supposed to replace the assessment systems in these states.

By Sarah Brown Wessling

I recently read Marion Brady’s piece, “Eight Problems with the Common Core Standards” and while he rightfully reminds us that many of our larger systematic issues of education can’t be solved with a set of standards alone, he quickly siphons everything about them into a narrow sieve of disapproval. As a teacher-leader who has been working to make sense of the standards in a way that keeps my students’ needs at the center of instruction, I was disappointed for all the teachers who are finding ways to make the standards a relevant and meaningful part of their instruction.

This isn’t to say that I have been immune to periods of frustration, nor does it mean that the standards encompass all of the non-negotiables of my high school English classroom. But it is to say that our goal must be to collectively support teachers as they work to unpack, integrate and assess the tandards. Most importantly, we must support them with enough autonomy to meet students right where they are.

In 2010 I had the unique opportunity to put the CCSS into context. As the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, I had the opportunity to travel to and learn from over 30 states and other countries like Finland and Japan. What I found uniquely fascinating — regardless of which school, state or country I was in — was the way in which common language and common goals drove systematic change.

When I look at the standards, I don’t see a document that tells me what to teach or gives me a curriculum; rather, I see an underlying organization that gives us collective purpose. It’s not the standards themselves that are dangerous, it’s the way in which they may get misinterpreted or implemented in checkbox kinds of ways that could create unintended consequences.

In an effort to help teachers and school leaders who are in the process of understanding the standards in their own contexts, I recently wrote about my 10 greatest ah-ha moments in working with the Common Core as a white paper for the Teaching Channel. Here are a few of those findings.

*As a parent of young children in elementary school, I’ve learned about the crucial role of fractions as the impetus for so much of the advanced math they’ll need.

* As a teacher I’ve been reminded about the necessity of teaching for transfer. It’s not finding right or wrong answers, it’s teaching students the skills they transfer to other learning that’s the goal.

* As a teacher-leader I’ve learned that empowerment comes from learning what to keep and what to let go.

In the paper, I go on to elaborate about what I’ve learned, and I thought sharing one of those “ah-ha” moments in detail would be fruitful to those of us immersed in this discussion.

Common isn’t same: the Standards are not curriculum. So often, we educators hear the word “common” and assume this means the same. But having common standards does not mean that we have common curriculum, nor that we should be common teachers. Certainly there are advantages to consistency in what students are learning, but that need for steadiness does not translate to everyone turning to the same page in the same textbook at roughly the same time. In fact, the Introduction to the CCSS reminds: “Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.

The standards explain what students should achieve, leaving the materials and means to school districts and teachers.

So we have a goal to aim for and a web of resources and voices in this discussion. There is, undoubtedly, a great deal of work to be done, not the least of which must come from the state and district-level decision makers. In so many ways they are charged with, at once, structuring implementation and heading off the unintended consequences of that implementation. Yet, I am heartened by the work that is being done by so many to walk that tenuous line between being driven by standards and driving the course of student self-actualization.

To read my complete white paper, “My 10 Greatest Ah-Ha Moments in Working with the Core,” go to Teaching Channel (teachingchannel.org) and register for a free download. My book “Supporting Students in a Time of Core Standards, is available through the National Council of Teachers of English.


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