Monday, July 20, 2015

To Common Core or Not To Common Core?

A bit of commentary...

The puzzle of teaching in the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) era is one that leaves me, a public school teacher in California, often scratching my head for answers. I am conflicted about the new standards, in part because of how they are politicized. However, I  personally prefer the CCSS approach to the previous NCLB and California State Standards: Diving deep into topics (a CCSS approach in my mind) is far preferred to wading in a mile-wide, inch deep puddle of memorized knowledge.

I have just finished a four-year stint of teaching high school English. My CCSS experience is hence focused on the English/Language Arts standards. The students I taught over these years have all been educated in the NCLB era (effective on 1/8/2002). I see the biggest challenge, however, is for current high school students making the shift to Common Core, without the benefit of a ramp of educational experiences leading them to this point. This is the challenge for today’s teachers in students: How do we make this shift?

I leave aside the politics of Federal versus State educational control and policies. I even let go of the politics of testing. These are all out of my control. What is and will be under my control is the students in my classroom and how I collaborate with other teachers to improve student learning. I embrace this time of change. I honestly think it is change for the better. As teachers, we are being asked to prepare students for the future, and consider what students need to succeed in the real world.

Rather than constructing an “either/or” argument, (either academic knowledge or world-of-work skills), I’d rather create a “yes/and” learning environment, where solutions to multiple demands can be found. So I seek out methods that engage students, such as Project Based Learning, and bit by bit, students will learn to dive deeper into understandings, even if we have to wade out together gradually, until they are eventually ready to swim off independently.

For embracing this yes/and attitude, I owe a debt of gratitude to Mike Lawrence, CEO of, for his recent Ted Talk about the teacher's lounge.

Have more questions about Common Core? I just found this updated link from Edutopia on the topic that might help!


  1. I can imagine it is very tricky. I taught first graders and they were introduced to it in kindergarten since when I started teaching that was when it was first introduced. My students did not know any better. It was different for me from student teaching without common core to going directly into common core. All of our staff PD and grade level time definitely helped us plan accordingly to CCSS.

    1. I agree that staff PD and grade level planning time have made implementation of CCSS feasible. I was in a school that was very collaborative. There are many schools, however, where the silo approach to teaching continues. I'm hoping that there will be fewer of these isolated teachers, bunkered down in their silos in the future! Thanks for your comments.

  2. I'm also a public school teacher in CA and have similar views on CCSS. I strongly agree with them in theory - depth is crucial - and while they may not have perfectly nailed the path to this, I think they're a step in the right direction. Something had to change - the old way clearly wasn't working. People fear change, especially when it's so drastic and affects their children - but I think in time we'll see some of the storm calm down as we all adjust.

    1. Because of my personal experience, I know that the English/Language Arts Standards work. I am not as certain that the approach on Mathematics is as successful. I do not know whether either are developmentally appropriate at younger ages. Those are questions that remain outstanding for me. I agree that it takes a while to adjust to new standards. Thanks for your reply!