The Common Core State Standards that most states have adopted have triggered plenty of political debate. But have they transformed how teachers are teaching — and what students are learning?
Not nearly enough, according to Education Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to closing achievement gaps.
Teachers are often assigning work that asks far less of students than the Common Core standards require, according to the organization. Children are rarely asked to write more than a few sentences at a time, for example, and are seldom asked to grapple with complex ideas and arguments.
Those conclusions are based upon an analysis of more than 1,500 language arts, humanities and social studies assignments that teachers gave middle-school students in two unnamed urban school districts during a two-week period last school year.
It’s a glimpse of what is going on in classrooms, not a nationally representative or scientific sample. But Education Trust staff members say that the patterns they found raise important questions about potential problems with how Common Core is being implemented nationwide.
“Like others who have been involved with the Common Core, we think these new standards have enormous potential to focus teaching and learning on what is most important,” says a new report by Education Trust released Wednesday. “But, as our analysis makes clear, that potential remains unrealized, and there is much work to do.”
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Fewer than 4 in 10 assignments were aligned to a grade-appropriate standard; in high-poverty schools, the proportion was even lower. Only 4 percent of assignments asked students to think critically at high levels, whereas 85 percent of assignments focused on basic recall and basic skills, according to the analysis.
Critics might quibble with how the organization judged assignments, but the analysis is a good reminder that the Common Core standards have been translated differently in different places. Some school districts have spent years preparing for the transition to new standards, for example, while others have offered teachers little in the way of meaningful training and professional development.
“In the absence of detailed guidance, districts, schools and teachers are replicating what they hear at workshops or conferences promising ‘Common Core-aligned’ resources,” says Education Trust’s report. “Lessons from the Internet labeled as aligned are being taught again and again, whether or not they are worthy.”
The report aims to nudge school district leaders and principals to take a closer look at whether classroom instruction reflects the lofty goals of the Common Core — to ensure that children are really prepared for the intellectual rigors of college by the time they leave high school.
“Standards alone cannot ensure that all students are college and career ready,” the report says. “For young people of color and low-income students in particular, classroom assignments must reflect the deeper thinking and sophisticated application of skills that have been missing from so much of their schooling.”