Guest: Why students need the new Common Core education standards

Opinion, The Seattle Times, March 21, 2014 -

WHERE you grow up, what language you speak, how much money you have or what state you live in should not determine your opportunity to learn. All children deserve to have high expectations. All children deserve to be prepared for college, work and life. This is exactly why we are implementing the Common Core State Standards in our state and in more than 40 others. With Common Core, the bar is set for our students. The standards are excellent. We are ready. But the standards alone won’t help our students achieve. It’s what we do with the standards in our classrooms, at home and in our communities each and every day that will make a difference for kids. The term “Common Core” has become a bit of a lightning rod. But I would encourage those with concerns to read the standards. Simply put, the Common Core standards are a set of common expectations for literacy and math. These standards provide a consistent and clear transition from grade to grade, like a baton in a relay. What the standards don’t do is tell me as a classroom teacher how to teach. I determine that in my classroom as my 80,000 teaching colleagues in Washington state do in theirs. The standards have finally caught up with what many of us have been trying to do for a long time: moving away from rote memorization and isolated skills and returning to creativity and in-depth learning. The standards ask students to think more critically. Instead of students just knowing the answer, we teachers ask them how they know it and why. This is the type of deeper thinking and learning students will need to succeed after high school. It’s important to note that we have always had standards. This isn’t something new to our state. The problem is that every state, until now, had its own set of standards and set different levels for how students needed to learn them. The result? Expectations and student achievement were vastly different from state to state. This inconsistency is not fair for students, especially for a child whose family moves from state to state or from district to district throughout childhood. I’ve also found that Common Core allows plenty of room for innovation and creativity in our schools. Teachers and districts can choose what materials to use based on the needs and interests of their students. That’s very important to me as I primarily work with students whose first language is not English. I’ve seen such students read grade-level text, pulling out key information and showing understanding about that text. In working with a diverse group of students, I know they all deserve to have the same expectations. They can and will reach whatever bar we set for them. So we need to keep the public conversation moving forward from simply debating the standards to implementing them properly and providing enough supports for our teachers and schools. Our kids can’t wait. Our students need us to make this work. We must continue to push our conversations forward so we can strive for and achieve equality in education. Common Core is one tool to help us with that. What language you speak, how much money you have or where you live should not determine your opportunity to learn. It should not be a matter of luck. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Katie Brown is a teacher in the Bellingham School District, serving as an English Language Learner specialist. She was recently named the 2014 Washington State Teacher of the Year.