Underneath The Common Core

The debate rages on about the effectiveness of the Common Core State Standards Initiative on a local, state and national level. The Common Core, developed to address a “lack of standardization” in curricula and testing across the nation, has been adopted by 45 states to “ensure students are prepared for today’s entry-level careers, freshman-level college courses, and workforce training programs.” According to CCSS website, Common Core “focuses on developing the critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills students will need to be successful.”

In Connecticut, the CCSS were adopted unanimously in July 2010. Nearly 4 years later, local districts are still striving for successful implementation. In fact, just last week CT Governor Daniel Malloy created a special taskforce to identify recommendations for improving the implementation process.

Bill Gates also weighed in as he called on educators at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington D.C. to defend the Common Core. As reported by The Huffington Post, “consistency of the Common Core across states,” Gates argued, “is a key ingredient in its potential success. Under older standards, a student from Kentucky didn't have to know the quadratic formula, but a neighbor in Tennessee did.”  As Gates himself opined, "maybe we can't answer every tweet or post, but the authoritative voice on this is teachers.”

As the controversy surrounding what is considered baseline “knowledge” continues, a group of Greenwich Education Group educators weighed in with their views on 21st century essential skills—among them critical thinking, common sense, the ability to question, self-advocacy, self-worth and self-esteem. As Meredith Hafer, Head of The Beacon School, suggests, “In this media moment, while we turn our national attention towards school standards, why not seize the opportunity to highlight the development of cognitive and co-cognitive skills as well as academic skills? Raising productive and fulfilled adults calls for more than the transmission of knowledge; it demands the holistic education of young minds.”

Common Sense:

“Students should be able to apply common sense in a classroom setting” believes Dr. John Henderson, Head of the Mathematics and Science Departments for the GEG Schools. In addition, Henderson feels that students should “demonstrate logical reasoning through complex problem solving using discussion, word problems, and hands-on activity-based learning as a metric.” A physicist by training, Henderson encounters many students who can memorize facts and formulas, but can’t step back and take a big-picture, common-sense view of the situation. Without the ability to contextualize the topic, students will struggle to progress from being expert test-takers to being true scientific innovators. 

Responsibility & Self-Advocacy:

Samantha Steele, an English/Elementary Educator for GEG, feels schools should also focus on social and behavioral skills. “At the lower grades, homework completion, using self-advocacy skills with friends and teachers, following directions and classroom responsibility” are essential.

For older students, however, Steels raises an issue which has unfortunately recently come to forefront, “students should be required to show proficiency in recognizing signs of bullying and dealing with bullying when it occurs. We might have fewer bullies if we address it as a subject in school from an early age.”

Self-Worth & Self-Esteem:

Allison Tables, Life Coach at The Spire School, had similar views regarding the importance of self-knowledge as a foundation to success: “Students must have a sense of self-worth and self-acceptance as a basis for all future endeavors.” Tables cites these as essential life and social-emotional skills for students.  As an educator, she feels, “it is important for us to provide our students with opportunities to give them a greater sense of self-acceptance. In order for students to truly care about others, focus on their work, fine tune a passion, etc., they must feel that they matter.”

The Ability To Question:

“The one standard I would like to see added across all subject is formulating questions,” proposed Katherine Henderson, Mathematics and Latin Educator at the GEG Schools. Students are often taught that school is about answering questions, but the ability to ask insightful questions is the cornerstone of disciplinary understanding.

In her math classes at the Beacon and Spire Schools, Henderson emphasizes logic, mathematical representation, and problem-solving strategies—all elements that she believes could be standardized as well. Finally, Henderson suggests that cross-curricular connections (e.g., between science and math) could be codified in the standards to promote a deeper level of comprehension.

Critical Thinking & A Sense of Skepticism:

Diane Ferber, Director of The Collaborative Center for Learning and Development at GEG, feels that students must develop critical thinking skills and a sense of skepticism. Ferber explains that there has been a “shift from memorization to critical thinking thanks to the Internet and on-demand retrieval of facts. We now send students to the Internet to find opinions and information." However, Ferber states, "we are not overtly teaching students how to use the source of the information to understand slant, bias, or agenda. For example, there is a difference when getting information from a site ending in .edu vs. .com.”

As an example, she points to the political arena and the need to research the true author of articles. “Opinion, agenda, objectivity all vary by site,” she explains, “but many students are taught to use the Internet as we would have used an encyclopedia with the expectation of correctness, fact, balance.”

Ferber further explains, “a core skill is understanding the point of view and sources of information on the Internet, and its implication for the objectivity and reliability of the material, and so the implications for our own interpretation and application of what we read.” The teaching of knowledge doesn’t stop at content, but now must include the questioning of the source of such knowledge.

The rollout of the CCSS has raised the question of what knowledge students must be taught, but the debate that has ensued has also highlighted that there is no unanimity of view about what are the truly necessary skills.  Is it a knowledge of facts? Skills in questioning and a sense of skepticism? Or is it important to have social skills grounded in a sense of self-worth?  The debate is that much more difficult because all of these are attributes any parent would want to see their child possess.  The truth is that finding common standards for children who are all unique in their own rights is probably something that will forever elicit debate among educators, politicians and parents.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

CowDung March 26, 2014 at 05:52 PM
Kaos8: Common Core is not a "new curriculum". It is a set of standards which lets everyone know what students should know as they complete each grade level. Common Core also has nothing to do with Phys Ed or Art/music classes--the CC standards are for maths and language Arts.
Kaos8 March 26, 2014 at 10:02 PM
@CowDung: Thanks for kind of giving me a better understanding of this. However, from the many many articles I have now read on this Common Core - and actual seeing how it is supposed to "help" these kids, I still don't think it is a good idea. Many of the comments I am reading and articles on same, involve kids doing simple math in a 108 step 30min process for a 2-3min normal process. And it appears to be lumping all kids in the same learning format- hearing parents talk about it who are actually doing this in their schools. So, right brained/left brained kids are all being taught the same exact way, when anyone who teaches anything- knows there is a big difference on how each of these types of kids learn something. So, while i understand this standard is for Math and Language arts- it is not focusing on kids that are more art/music oriented (Left Brained kids) who are going to struggle to learn this way. No matter how one looks at this Standard- some kid is going to be left behind.
Kaos8 March 26, 2014 at 10:09 PM
I just know I am hearing a lot of crazy explanations of this Common Core and how it is working or not working in the schools that are implementing it. The majority of people I have talked to about this, or posted comments on this subject - really are not happy with this Common Core. I personally do not see how this is going to help kids test better- if half the kids are still going to struggle to figure out how to do math a different way than the rest of the world has been doing it for eons. Not to mention, good luck getting a parent who actually cares about their kid's homework- be able to help in anyway- if we aren't taught this common core ourselves. I know 5x5 =25, and can come to that conclusion rather quickly. I can't figure out why they are teaching a child to do it in a bunch of steps and a longer time frame, and tell me my way is the wrong answer; even if I have the right answer and in 1/10th the time. Just doesn't make sense.
CowDung March 27, 2014 at 09:46 AM
There are a lot of misleading articles on the internet. The 108 step division problem (which is really only 4 steps) is part of the Singapore Math curriculum. That curriculum has used by many schools long before Common Core. While one can certainly debate the value of the Singapore Math curriculum and compare it to the Everyday Math curriculum or the traditional math curriculum, it isn't fair to blame Common Core for the implementations of those curricula. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Common Core does not apply to art/music because art and music aren't considered to be required courses for higher education. The idea of CC is to make sure that kids all meet the prerequisites for higher education institutions. Common Core doesn't eliminate art and music courses. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Take a look at the actual Common Core standards. They don't specify any of the specific methodology, formulas or formats that people are complaining about. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: http://www.corestandards.org/Math/
Kaos8 March 27, 2014 at 09:53 AM
@CowDung: Thanks for the website. It is the first piece of information I have seen that has factual information in it, and not just someone's opinion- which unfortunately, ALL articles I have read, only gave other people's "Interpretation " of this Common Core. I think I have come to realize that maybe not many people actually know what it is- even the people with kids in school using it. Thanks Again for the Facts.!


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