In the August 17th edition of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's “Your Views,” a well-intentioned reader, Mr. Dick Marx, opposed Wisconsin’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards as a measurement tool for student and teacher achievement. His article, titled “School Standards Initiative Could Be Another Mistake,” is a response to an earlier OpEd titled “All Kids Need a Great Education.”
As a teacher and proponent of Common Core, I’d like to fill in some gaps for Mr. Marx because he voices common concerns from caring individuals who do not have an insider's vantage point on education. His concerns include the possibility that Common Core will handcuff local school districts to teach prescribed curriculum rather than mold a community; that they were not authored by “stakeholders” such as teachers, school boards, and parents; and that student and teacher performance alike would be assessed through a No Child Left Behind model of standardized testing. These are all valid concerns for a supporter of schools and the individuals affected by the state’s decision.
However, many of Mr. Marx’s concerns can be alleviated with a bit of research, which will help calm instead of add to the “current anti-public education political environment” as he puts it.
Mr. Marx is concerned by the idea of Common Core dictating what and when local school districts teach material, labeling this a state take over of education. This is fallacy. Common Core, like other sets of standards in the past, is designed to create equality in education across districts. By providing teachers with a common vernacular and curriculum targets, students who migrate from school to school, community to community, can be sure they will receive an equal education and have a softened transition if they do move. Common Core, adopted by more and more states, expands this benefit across state lines.
Another significant misnomer many attach to Common Core- because its been true of past sets of standards- is that it was written by legislators, not educators. Wrong. The Common Core website specifically states it is a collaboration of teachers, administrators, and education organizations such as the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers among others. Further, they welcome feedback on the standards from anybody willing to review them via their website.
Finally, teachers should shout from the streets something many of us have come to realize: students taught through engaging, 21st century skill based teaching strategies score just as well, if not better, on standardized tests. Good teachers never teach to the test. Good teachers teach the child, adapting standards to fit the needs of their students, parents, and communities for the betterment of everyone involved. High test scores are an indirect result of these practices and standards because students are taught how to critically think, not test cram. Critical thinkers are well equipped to succeed on any assessment. Common Core provides the best set of standard based goals yet, and teachers are more often than not provided the autonomy to direct their students toward these goals as they see fit.