On first downs, playbooks, and Common Core State Standards

By on September 17, 2013
common core

Someone I love dearly told me it is not that he’s against higher standards, but rather that he really, really hates violations of 10th Amendment.

Well, he can rest more easily tonight knowing that the 10th Amendment isn’t under attack by Common Core State Standards, no matter the folks who cry fire in the political theater.

During a Tuesday morning media roundtable, the Foundation for Florida’s Future charted the logic behind the state’s adoption of these streamlined, elevated standards.

Common Core wasn’t developed by the feds.  Rather, it came to life through a consortia of state governors and state school chiefs who wanted to align their standards. As House Education Appropriations Chair Erik Fresen shared, this has been in the works for a while.

“Common Core only became a politically sexy issue recently,” he said, noting that the standards have been in the education community bloodstream for years without controversy.  

“I’m a huge fan of each state being a laboratory for education reform,” Fresen continued, “But if we have no comparative context, those laboratories are for naught.”

To Fresen, Common Core standards follow in the spirit of competition, giving states a legitimate platform for comparison.

But the real winners, no matter, are students.  In fact, bright and motivated students who test poorly may benefit the most.  In our current system, college admissions officers place significant weight on SAT and ACT scores, knowing that an A grade in one school may be comparable to a C in another, or knowing that the curriculum taught in some schools are grade levels behind others. 

Through the adoption of Common Core standards, colleges will have greater confidence in schools’ grade level learning, and may not rely as heavily on the snapshot provided by standardized tests. 

Even better, according to Foundation executive director Patricia Levesque, the SAT and ACT are aligning their test material to Common Core.

Unlike previous standards, Common Core started with the end in mind: what will high school graduates need to grasp for success in the workplace or higher education?

In Florida’s current K-20 system, there is a wide seam between requirements for graduating from high school and being successful in college, shared Joe Pickens, President of the St. Johns River State College and chair of the Florida College System.    

Rather than playing catch-up in 12th grade college prep, or worse, spending financial aid dollars on remedial college courses that don’t provide credit toward graduation, Common Core maps learning from kindergarten forward to arrive at a place where students can hit the ground running.

Here’s something that could very well be found within a high school vocabulary test: what is the difference between “standards” and “curriculum”?

During the roundtable, teacher and policy advisor Cari Miller clarified. In the context of Common Core, standards are measurable end of year expectations, while curriculum is how we get there. 

But it was her analogy to football that really brought the distinction to life: the expectation for a team’s offense is to make it ten yards for a first down, while the playbook guides how the team gets there.

Classroom playbooks are, and will continue to be, left to the states under Common Core. Teachers and schools choose which books to read, which examples to use, which projects to assign. This is not a nationalized curriculum, and nor are states required to adopt Common Core as a condition for Race to the Top dollars. In fact, states have successfully earned these funds without such standards in place.

Common Core reduces the number of benchmarks but expects more of essentials that remain. This permits teachers more time to dig into material, and facilitates deeper learning by students at intervals that are steady and achievable.

By doing so, Pickens explained, Common Core will eliminate the “cycle of blame” in which colleges point fingers at high schools for unprepared students, high schools blame middle schools who blame elementary schools who blame parents, and so on until… our fingers point at babies.

And if babies could respond, I imagine they’d say, alright, well isn’t it your job to teach us?

Karen Cyphers, PhD, is a public policy researcher, political consultant, and mother to three daughters. She can be reached at karen@cyphersgroup.com. 

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