I’m probably about to lose a few readers by posting this . . . but here it goes.
If you’re an average adult reading this post, then you may be looking for more information about education reform. If you’re a parent or guardian, you may be seeking information about how to best prepare your student for the PARC or SBAC tests. If you are a teacher who chose to read this post, then you’re likely looking for ways to argue with me.
Before you start reaching for your torches and pitchforks, hear me out.
There are so many reasons for and against the new Common Core State Standards. Pros include improved student performance, better teacher support and accountability, and the promise of equity among school districts across the country. Cons include educational control shifting from local to central agencies, an increased focus on standardized testing, and the possibility of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to curriculum and instruction.
I agree with many of the for and against arguments I’ve heard. Both sides have good points. But I can’t help but notice too many of the arguments are short-sighted and have veiled their true intentions. Many teachers are just trying to guard their old lessons and content. Arne Duncan may have a point about parents afraid to see their “honors” students struggle. Policymakers and bureaucrats have a shiny new system to uphold. Test companies have a ridiculous amount of money to make. And politicians need to say they’re doing something about education and the economy.
Here’s my take: no one locked in this debate truly has students’ best interests in mind.
Bear with some relevant background information. I teach at one of the best schools in the country. Our population is about 60/40 white to minority. Roughly 25% of our students receive free and reduced lunch. Yet, we have one of the largest and most inclusive AP programs in the country. Nearly 75% of our seniors graduate having taken at least one AP class. Did I mention that out average AP score is around a 3.1?
Even so, I must admit that so many students succeed in life despite their education we give them, not because of it.
Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely proud to work at Conard High School, and I am very lucky to enjoy working with incredibly talented colleagues. Students and faculty work hard, and we share positive and lasting relationships. The highest contributing factor to our success, however, is our belief that all students can succeed–no matter what–if given the opportunity. We teach all kinds of kids, and we have special success with kids who do not fit the traditional model of a good student.
But I cannot say that what we teach is all that important. Not at all. Much more important is how we teach our students. By setting high standards and nurturing students, we enable them to reach their goals. By showing them trust and confidence, we inspire them to have trust and confidence in themselves.
Our greatest success stories involve us teaching students how to learn independently.
The Common Core, whether by intention or not, is the gateway to real independent learning in today’s public schools. The one thing everyone needs to understand is that the Common Core helps guide curriculum; it doesn’t set it. That means teachers, administrators, parents, and students can decide how to take on the new rigor however they want. The one thing I urge us all to do is to focus on skill building. In other words, exactly the type of learning for which the Common Core advocates.
Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckerberg. These are just three examples of blockbuster success stories from the new economy. Three examples of people who had to teach themselves the skills they needed to live up to their potential because no one was teaching them what they needed in school.
Give your students skills, and they will innovate and prosper. Force them to keep regurgitating information, and they will only be prepared for factory and cubicle jobs that no longer exist. Insist it’s educator’s jobs to preserve culture, and you will be outpaced by what kids can create on Facebook and YouTube. Maintain the status quo, and we will stunt the intellectual growth of an entire generation.