For three days in September, 100 principals, teachers and learning coaches met at the Lindy Boggs Center on the New Orleans lakefront to refine their skills in implementing Common Core, the set of school standards adopted by the National Governors Association that are being phased in over the next couple of years.
The room was packed and buzzing for three days.
Groups of teachers like those who gathered at the Lindy Boggs Center are digging in, setting to work on a major educational upgrade alongside peers all across America. They do so against an unhelpful backdrop of politicians, media pundits and special interest groups trying to make hay about Common Core, and in the process frequently — often deliberately — misinforming the public about what it is and does. That noise is nicely countered by voices that are more reasonable and better informed, including that of Neerav Kingsland, head of New Schools for New Orleans.
Common Core was adopted years ago by all but five states. Louisiana embraced the program early on with Gov. Bobby Jindal leading the charge. The recent uproar in national and state news is just that: a rhetorical mosh pit with a lot of energy but little to offer that addresses deep, long-term problems with our schools. Instead, we’re seeing a lot of cheap shots and easy points tallied on a red or blue scoreboard. .
Critics have lunged wildly and generally come up wide of the mark. An effort has been made to confuse Common Core with Obamacare (ObamaCore?). Another strategy has been to insist, against all evidence, that Common Core is a secret plot to enforce Soviet-style groupthink. One faction calls the standards too rigorous; another says they’re too lax: a “dumbing down” of our public schools. Yet another wing of the opposition draws on rhetoric used in the 1950s and 1960s to oppose school integration. It argues that the governors’ plan is somehow a federal violation of “states’ rights,” as in this screed by former Texas education commissioner-turned-lobbyist Robert Scott.
When tongues start moving more rapidly than the human mind, it’s usually a good idea to step back and consider some basic facts:
- Common Core is not a curriculum.
- Common Core is not a pathway for the federal government generally, or President Barack Obama specifically, to take over our classrooms.
- Common Core does not include or make any references to sex education.
In fact, just about anything you think you know about Common Core may well be wrong because there are fake Common Core information sheets on the web and tons of myths being circulated by talk radio.
Common Core is a set of standards for English and math that provides guidance to teachers on what knowledge and abilities students should have at each grade level. Standards provide an academic guideline; teachers then decide how best to implement that guideline in their classrooms. A curriculum aligned with Common Core can and will look different from state to state — indeed, from school to school.
Common Core addresses the challenges our students face in a global economy in which they must compete not only with our neighbors in Texas and Tennessee, but with other countries, including Singapore, Finland, China and Brazil.
In 2010, Louisiana voluntarily adopted Common Core because it set more rigorous math and English standards and provided a common assessment tool created collaboratively by educators from across the nation. They understood the need to raise expectations and the value in creating national benchmarks by which K-12 students can measure their performance years before college entrance exams set their record in stone.
Our school districts, teachers and students have been preparing for this transition for over three years, with many teachers already implementing the standards in their classrooms. Thus those 100 educators from public and private schools at the Lindy Boggs Center: They’ve already turned the corner in transforming public education in our state. They’re making instructional decisions, and empowering their students to succeed on more rigorous tests.
Academic standards are not new to Louisiana, but Common Core entails some shifts:
- Shifts in English: balancing fiction against a greater amount of nonfiction reading; learning to pull together text-based evidence when writing student compositions; writing across the curriculum (math, social studies, and science), and building vocabulary drawn from all these study areas.
- Shifts in math: focusing deeply on fewer standards; linking standards across grades; and increasing rigor not only by sharpening technical fluency, but also by developing the deeper understanding of math that comes through verbal problem solving.
Louisiana ranks high on education reforms in recent years, and our adoption of Common Core is a key reason why. But while performance is improving, our students still rank poorly against their peers in many other states. We cannot be lax. A Louisiana student is one full school year behind a student her age in Massachusetts. When compared with national peers, only one-fourth of our fourth-graders read proficiently.
Where to from here?
It’s critically important that all of us — parents, education and community leaders, businessmen and women — oppose legislation or any other effort to derail Common Core State Standards. Turning back the clock always holds some appeal as we confront the challenge of significant change.
But let’s be frank about what we’d be returning to: proven failure and continuing academic mediocrity? Good public education is the key to success for our children and we must help them get there by all means available. A quality education is one of childhood’s most basic civil rights.
Let’s let educators do what’s best for our children at the school level. Our battle is not one of words but of results: Our goal must be to get our children into the top tiers nationally. That means pushing aside anything or anyone standing in the way of their success.
We have worked too hard to let our children be used as props in a partisan propaganda fight. Most educators are on board with Common Core. They are in the process now of breaking the Core values down into teachable moments that will keep our children excited about learning.
We’re helping them become thinking, enlightened citizens, and that is nothing to fear.
Caroline Roemer Shirley is the founder and director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, a statewide non-profit that supports, promotes, and advocates for increased student access to high quality public schools throughout Louisiana. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.