Saturday, July 30, 2011
Let's commit--in common--to the Common Core
Washington has joined over 40 other states in adopting the so-called common core. This common core can be a good and useful thing, if done right. But we need to be realistic about its benefits and wary of its pitfalls. Let me explain.
Reasoning and evidence argue for the common core’s enhancement of student achievement. If nothing else, it would help mitigate the difficulties of a student uprooted mid-term from one school and transplanted in another where the lessons may not even be minimally related to what the student had been doing. Such students, of course, often experience corollary causes and consequences of struggling in school, so minimizing the educational impact on them would be useful.
The common core curriculum would also strengthen equality of education opportunity for students. We already do some of this in Tacoma, of course. The Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs have a common core type of element in them, and we have made these higher level programs the cornerstone of our emphasis on college readiness in our high schools.
On the negative side, common core does look and sound like another top-down mandate that interferes with the local control of schools. Thoughtful implementation of the core will minimize this, but it will take commitment and energy for administrative leaders to make sure that implementation allows for specific situations at different schools, and in different class rooms.
Again, this requires a degree of trust of the professional staff in each of the schools. The common core does NOT have to interfere with instructional freedom and independence, but it could do so, if we’re not careful.
Another potential concern to guard against is the politicization of the content of the core. At this point, the core addresses Language Arts and Mathematics, and focuses primarily on skill targets. (In Language Arts for instance, a student in a particular grade level should be able to do this or that task to a certain degree of depth. The specific topics and the directions they go are not part of the expectation.)
We need to stay attentive, however, to keep mandates about content from creeping in, especially if social studies gets added to the program.
Finally, we need to be sure that this common core is a good one, that we can commit to it for the long haul. If it simply becomes another in a long line of shifting and changing guidelines, it will be ignored--out of necessity, for lack of time and resources--and discounted.
We have a chance to actually make education services more effective and efficient by streamlining and reducing the bureaucratic bloat (after the initial start up time) by committing to the common core. Let’s get to work on making sure that happens.
Posted by Andrew Milton at 10:10 AM