By Timothy Shanahan
What is the biggest educational change promoted by the Common Core?
There are so many choices: kids will be reading more challenging texts; close reading will revolutionize the reading lessons; high school English, science, and social studies teachers will teach disciplinary literacy; there will be greater attention to argument, multiple text, informational text, and writing from sources, and so on?
So which is the biggest change? Perhaps one that you haven’t even thought of…
Past standards were long lists of skills, knowledge, and strategies; lists so endless that they were less standards than curriculum guides. Until CCSS, the typical standards looked like a scope and sequence chart rather than a list of outcomes.
In fact, the lists were so long that most of the young people who have become teachers since 1991 have no idea what the difference is between standards and curricula. When you have such complete lists of outcomes, you end up with an extensive list of lessons rather than learning goals.
Standards are goals; they are the outcomes that we want our children to accomplish. Standards tell you what the point is, but they really don’t tell you what needs to be taught.
Example: the standards require that students be able to write/compose high quality narratives, expositions, and arguments. However, the standards do not expressly require schools to teach students to use manuscript hand, cursive writing, or keyboarding.
That has some critics in a tizzy, but it is as it should be. The standard tells you the outcome that must be accomplished, but not everything that a student may need to learn to reach the goal is specified. That’s where the teacher comes in… what do we need to teach to accomplish these standards? That is up to us.
Just try to teach kids to compose without making it possible for them to express their ideas in printed, written, or typed words… that wouldn’t make any sense, and I assume most schools and publishers will eventually figure out the reason for this “omission” and kids will still be taught to put their words on paper (even though CCSS doesn’t even mention it).
The same can be said about teaching students to comprehend text. The standards don’t require you to teach comprehension strategies, but research suggests that if you do you will be more likely to get the students to the standard.
The standards say teach students to summarize… but they don’t specify all of the possible subskills, pre-skills, or types of texts that students should be able to summarize. Try teaching summarization by just having students practice summarizing and you won’t be likely succeed.
So the big change? The CCSS takes us back to a time when the educational goals were separated from the curriculum, which puts teachers back in charge of the curriculum.
Now if we could just get teachers to see tests as something separate from goals and curriculum.
Reprinted with permission of the author.