The 3 ‘Rs are Making a Comeback

By Ken Schauer, Contributing Editor at The Advocate Online
[Originally published at The Advocate Online on February 28, 2013]
There is a movement that has been quietly happening in this country for the past couple of years to actually make No Child Left Behind effective.  This movement is attempting to turn lemons into lemonade.  This movement is Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS)
This movement has already been adopted in forty five out of fifty of our states, the District of Columbia, Guam, America Samoa Islands and the US Virgin Islands.  The hold-outs?  Texas, Alaska, Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.
These standards aim to standardize the core educational standards across the country to help better prepare our nations youth.  What makes this initiative unique is that instead of the normal practice of state legislators dreaming up new standards and then implementing them in a top down approach, these standards were influenced heavily by the teachers who will be teaching them.
Many of the standards are more rigorous than are currently being implemented by states.  With these new standards comes a new way of evaluating the teachers beyond the current mish-mash of state selected tests that really don’t reflect what our children are learning.  The new tests are in development, with heavy influence from the trained professionals that teach our children.
CCSS will focus on reading, writing and arithmetic… kind-of.  That’s right, the 3 ‘Rs are back.  These standards clearly communicate to the teachers, parents and students what is required at each level, and allow for individual benchmarks to be set.  This allows for teachers to address issues as they arise.  Since the standards are actually standards, if a student transitions into a new school district in another state, the student will be able to make the transition that much easier.
At the very heart of CCSS is a focus on mathematics and English language arts standards.  By focusing only on these key areas in a child’s learning, it leaves plenty of time in the curriculum for schools to tailor a learning program that best reflects their town, their state, and their key concerns.  Also, teachers have enough lee-way in the program to tailor their lesson plans to the curriculum and focus more on depth of knowledge rather than a breadth.
Teachers are long used to adapting quickly to changes in the whims of legislators.  Their major concern with this new program isn’t the quality of it, but that it might be a passing fad in education.  The National Education Association (NEA) is working hand in hand with legislators to allow for these new standards to actually be tested and tried for a period of time to allow for teachers, parents and administrators to adjust to the new methods, and to give the program a fighting chance before chasing after the next educational rainbow.
In an interview with Jen Widrig Hodges, an English teacher in Washington state and a member of the Washington Education Association she was able to shed some light on the issues.
I am actually on a committee comprised of teachers that are working on the transition to Common Core. I wanted to know what would be expected of teachers and when. I was pleased to find out that, at least in our state, close to 83% of the standards in Language Arts and Literacy are the same as our current state standards. What is different are the approaches to teaching those standards. For example, our current Scope and Sequence emphasizes particular texts and skills and certain grade levels. Common Core does not name specific texts but instead looks at text complexity as the determining factor. Common Core doesn’t divide up skills by grade level but builds on all skills yearly. In this way we are much more likely to achieve truly literate and verbally skilled students.
At the same time, we are facing a huge change in our teacher evaluation system. Most school budgets are also shrinking. The combination of these factors means that this may be the worst time to also ask teachers to change the standards they teach to.
 Both the AFT and the NEA, the nations two largest teacher’s unions, support the CCSS.
From their websites
The AFT Innovation Fund is supporting local affiliates to ensure that teachers have a voice in the implementation of the Common Core. Too often, efforts to set higher standards for students have fallen short of reaching the classroom. We’ve created a network of enthusiastic and knowledgeable teachers who are creating model materials that can be used nationwide. Their work will be posted on, the AFT’s new online community of resources for teachers.
NEA is committed to this project – NEA believes that this work on Common Standards has the potential to provide teachers with more manageable curriculum goals. Their broadness allows teachers to exercise professional judgment in planning instruction that promotes student success. Read about NEA’s involvement in this project.
So ask your children’s teachers today about CCSS and how they plan to implement it in our schools.

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.


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