"Where do we go from here now that all other children are growin' upAnd how do we spend our lives if there's no-one to lend us a hand."
- "Games People Play"
Alan Parsons Project
Now that the AZ Senate has once again voted down a bill that would abolish the Common Core State Standards, it's time for all stakeholders involved - the teachers, the administrators, the parents, and the legislators - to look closely at the real issues surrounding the standards. The problem with the Common Core State Standards are not with the standards themselves. While they are not "perfect", they are more rigorous in regards to the level of thinking and depth of knowledge they expect students to demonstrate and communicate - much more than previous state-based standards that asked students to remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create without any context.
The standards should be reviewed by members of the community to ensure these standards will appropriately and effectively prepare our children for the demands and expectations they will face in their postsecondary academic and vocational endeavors. The complaints about how the standards were adopted and implemented are valid. They are a true example of how poorly the change process has been implemented.
The true problem with the Common Core State Standards is the emphasis that has been placed upon them, and unfortunately this emphasis has not been academic. They have been used as a political example of federal government intrusion. They have been used as an economic reason to sell and purchase new textbooks and curriculum packages. They have also been used a threat to schools to "raise the rigor" and "raise their performance" as measured by student achievement on tests.
Another key concern about the Common Core State Standards is how students and teachers have been prepared to address these standards. While state and county education agencies have provided professional development to educators, these trainings have been costly not only fiscally but also in regards to time. It is impossible for a one-day professional development - be it full day, half-day, or two hours before or after school - to be effective without follow-up and follow-through. The strategies that are also being taught as part of this professional development are not only unfocused but also require every teacher to teach a certain way. Instead of asking teachers to think deeply about how could these standards be taught, we are directly instructing them that this is the way the standards MUST be taught without any evidence or proof that these instructional methodologies, strategies, and techniques are effective.
Parents have also not been involved in the change process. That's not just the school's fault. Some parents truly do not have time to think about how the standards are changing the expectations for teaching and learning. The impression and the message they are receiving about the standards are from the homework sheets students are bringing home that have been mistakenly labeled as "Common Core math" and "Common Core reading and writing" along with the 30 second news bites, talk show topics, or articles in newspapers and magazines that focus more on the debate over rather than the analysis of the CCSS.
If the Common Core State Standards are to serve their intent and purpose, then the education and political decision-makers not only in Arizona but every state that have adopted the Common Core State Standards need to refocus their attention on how to implement these standards effectively and efficiently. Here are some questions schools and their stakeholders should reflect upon and review: 1) How do the standards provide students educational experiences that will stimulate their thinking and deepen their understanding of the concepts and content they are learning? 2) How do the standards provide teachers the opportunity to think deeply - critically, creatively, decisively, flexibly, practically, and strategically - how to provide deeper, student-centered teaching and learning experiences that expand students' knowledge and extend their thinking across the curriculum and beyond the classroom? 3) How do the standards serve as a measure of student achievement, teacher effectiveness, and overall school performance not just based upon on formative and summative assessments but on authentic assessments that allow students to express and share their knowledge, thinking, and disposition in-depth, insightfully, and in their own unique way using oral, written, creative, or technical expression? These are the good questions that should drive the review of the standards. What makes them good questions is not their form but rather their intent and purpose, which is to have us think deeply, examine and explore thoroughly, and communicate clearly deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness - the same things we want our students to do with their learning. Forget all the rhetoric from those who support or are against the standards. Put aside the textbooks and curriculum packages sold to the local education agency that advertise they are "aligned to and address the Common Core State Standards". Let's look closely at these standards with a critical - yet unbiased view to determine whether they meet their intent and purpose, which is to challenge and engage students to demonstrate and communicate their deeper knowledge, thinking, and disposition about the concepts and content they are learning.