I appreciate that the upcoming legislative session will provide another opportunity for public discourse around issues that really matter. As with many issues, I suspect a lack of understanding of a truly complex issue may be at the root of the Common Core debate. I'll seize this opportunity to highlight a few of the most important areas of misunderstanding.
Standards and curriculum are not the same thing: Standards simply serve to identify concepts and skills we want all students to learn and organizes them in a way that increases the likelihood that students who come through our system graduate with a base set of knowledge and skills that empower them to be successful in college, careers, and citizenship. Of course we can't nail down a finite list of what every student needs to know and be able to do; that’s incredibly presumptuous of us given the ever-changing world in which we live. However, from a system point of view there is value in having a common framework from which to build.
I use the word build there because that’s the role of curriculum in this conversation. Curriculum is content, instruction, and assessment. We can either spend our time arguing over what students need to know and be able to do, or we can spend our time creating the conditions through which students can learn and grow as individuals with some common skill sets. Our teachers have spent the past three years putting the pieces of content, instruction, and assessment together to enable WSR students to not only gain a core set of knowledge and skills, but also to use them to solve problems, communicate, create, and collaborate.
Standards must not be a destination, they must be a checkpoint: Standards do not have to be enacted through standardization. There are infinite ways into and out of a standard. The tech-rich world in which our students learn today enables multiple pathways into and out of common checkpoints. We have the tools to individualize practice. We have the tools to personalize content. We have the tools to bring real-world experts to our students at just the right time, and we have the tools to connect our students’ passions and interests to core learning.
Just like in the non-school aspects of their lives, children only pass through a school system on their way to becoming adults. Our desire is that each of our students graduates with passion and a clear sense of self. We hope that each WSR graduate understands how to make both a life and a living and makes the world a better place along the way. When standards serve as the floor on which students stand, rather a ceiling that limits them, this is possible.
Local choice in standards only matters to the extent that it is matched with choice in accountability: I’m not sure many people really understand the problem of an accountability system that relies on a test that is not aligned to standards. The current accountability system built on public shaming through a misaligned system is pure insanity. It’s easy to say we can choose locally to adopt Common Core State Standards, but unless that choice is accompanied by an assessment that aligns, we have no real choices but to scrap all the quality curriculum development work we’ve done in recent years and just teach to the test we have or invest time and energy defending the inevitable labels of accountability shaming. I understand state legislators have no control over federal accountability rules, but they do have authority to impact the measures we use for federal accountability.
My tired analogy is this: We were told to teach the kids to walk, and so we did. We were told to test the kids on their ability to walk, and that test would reveal the quality of our district. Then we were told, “You need to teach these kids to swim to be successful. The world has changed.” We began teaching kids to swim, but our kids are still tested on their ability to walk, and that test is used to assess the quality of our district. I’m happy our kids are learning to swim — I just want our district to be judged accordingly.
If we really want a system that nurtures and grows the unique potential of each child, the "Common Core or not Common Core" debate is the wrong conversation anyway. We have real work to do. Let’s not get distracted from it.