The Common Core in the Heart of Dixie

I’ve just gotten home from the Alabama Education Association’s Divisional Professional Development Conference in Birmingham, and I spent virtually all of my time in sessions devoted to clarifying issues related to Alabama’s College- and Career-Ready Standards (ACCRS), otherwise known as the Common Core. This new batch of nationally aligned courses of study began by first implementing the Math portion, with English Language Arts follow close behind; Social Studies and Science are apparently not ready to roll out yet, which is what we were told this weekend. English 12, which I teach, will go into implementation during the 2014-2015 school year – not this coming school year, but the next one – and I want to be ready so I’m not flying blind when it happens.

I was glad to hear two things from the Alabama State Department of Education presenters about the implementation of the new set of standards. First, they plan on educating not only teachers but also parents about what CCRS is, why we are using it, and what it means for children. Too often, the public is ill-informed about what we do in schools and why, and this lack of communication can cause lots of rumors and speculation to swirl around among parents and within the community. Second, CCRS will mean a greater focus on critical thinking skills than on simply repeating back content knowledge. Many educators and parents felt like the kinds of tests incited by the policies in No Child Left Behind did not inspire real learning, but instead a rote test-taking mentality. I like this aspect of CCRS very much!

The two ALSDE presenters also explained to us where the Common Core and the CCRS come from and who created it. Contrary to some myths, just because the Common Core is a set of standards intended for national use, it was not created by the federal government and is not being required by or taken over by the federal government. Common Core was commissioned by the National Association of Governors, was created by education professionals, was built and revised with input from states throughout the process, and is intended to decrease variance from state-to-state, especially for students who transfer mid-year. Furthermore, its implementation is each states’ choice. And the Common Core is also not an all-or-nothing system, but a set of standards that can be tweaked, revised and amended to meet each states’ specific needs for creating viable curriculum on the local level. Common Core does not dictate what to teach, how and when. I would suggest to all Alabama teachers and parents to read their Myths vs. Facts page.

Currently, 45 states have adopted Common Core standards. (Exceptions are Alaska, Texas, Nebraska, Minnesota and Virginia.) Alabama adopted them in 2010. Although I only have the benefit of four of five hours of training so far, I already believe that the Common Core standards are going to result in positive change. Although, the transition will be difficult, for students, teachers and parents, yet the work has to be done to get us to a better place. I am not a person who resists change; I would rather find out the facts about what’s going on, plan for making smooth transitions, and get done what needs to be done.

Just to reiterate, I suggest that every person in Alabama who has a stake in this transition should go to the Common Core Myths vs. Facts page and read what is there. Don’t listen to Suzie Q. Knowitall down the street who loves to scare everyone with her doomsday gossip. Don’t base your reactions on statements made by anyone who starts their sentence with “I heard that . . .” Don’t limit your understanding to what you hear on ten-second sound bites on the evening news. Go find out for yourself what the truth is. And once you’ve found out the truth, be a supportive and encouraging partner in the process.

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