The Common Core standards have arrived, or are on their way, depending on which state you are in. Forty-five states have adopted them, and we can expect that the rest will probably follow. The intention behind the Common Core standards seems to be good; let’s standardize what we expect students in the U.S. to know, appreciate, and be able to do, in order to simplify instruction and provide a consistent foundation for wide ranging assessment. Although we might argue with the particulars of what’s in the standards, it’s reasonable for a society to debate what we want students to know. At present, the standards are only for English Language and Mathematics. The debate over content in social studies and science carries political implications that will complicate that branch of the effort.
The work behind creating and establishing the Common Core State Standards has spanned years, and millions of dollars. I wish that a similar effort could examine not what teachers should teach, but how they should teach. Education for the future needs to be less about content than it is about learning approaches and styles. With the availability of the internet, knowing facts has less meaning than ever. However, ways of thinking are even more important. What if, along with the implementation of the CCSS, we had similar expectations around instructional practice? What if we expected teachers to be versed not only in content, but in a variety of educational strategies? In the same way students should be exposed to American and European and World history, perhaps they should also be exposed to inquiry based and project based learning, arts integration, Montessorri and a variety of other approaches utilizing multiage settings. The opportunity to learn in different ways would have a greater impact than the opportunity to focus on any particular content.
In short, the foundation of learning is about how you learn, not what you learn. In that sense, the CCSS do not address the heart of the problems and promises of education.
However, they are here. How do educators who are interested in fostering innovation and collaboration work within the structure and demands of these standards?
Perhaps the first response is to reframe the question. It’s not a matter of how to work within the structure, but instead of how to use the standards to engage within the structures of meaningful learning, especially along the lines of 21st Century learning skills. Apart from the scope of what’s expected, there’s nothing to prevent teachers from using a variety of educational approaches and framing content within the pedagogical perspectives we are interested in applying. Schools have had standards for many years, and following national ones doesn’t change the essential questions of how we enhance creativity, collaboration, and authentic preparation for the future.
The answers haven’t changed because of the Common Core State Standards. Students will continue to need a variety of instructional methods, especially those that require the use of 21st Century skills. Arts need to remain a non-negotiable part of student learning. Teachers need to share successful practices. And educators in general need to keep their eye on what’s really important – not acquiring content, but acquiring habits of mind that will serve over the course of life long learning.
–Dr. Heather Terrill Stotts, WISN Executive Director