Common Core is one important tool in equitable education
Common Core State Standards were designed to establish broad performance standards for student achievement in the core academic disciplines of English Language Arts and Mathematics, with literacy standards for Science and Social Studies. These standards do not say anything about what teachers should do, but rather what students need to know. They allow educators to use their creativity and professional judgment to decide the most appropriate strategies and curricula for their students.
As the Common Core State Standards garner more attention, some of the difficulties and tensions around the flawed rollout and unfair potential consequences of this otherwise good initiative are coming into focus.
Students, families and educators are experiencing these issues firsthand.
Some see the issues associated with the rushed implementation of the standards as part-and-parcel with the disastrous school reforms we have experienced over the past two decades. Illinois rolls out its new statewide assessment in this school year that will measure student achievement on the Common Core standards and frankly, we are not ready.
We surveyed Illinois Federation of Teachers members in March of last year. Only 14 percent characterized knowledge and readiness for the new standards as “expert.” And, right now, only 25 percent of Illinois students attend schools with the infrastructure in place to actually give the test on a computer (as it is intended). And there are consequences for both students and teachers based on this test.
Our national union, the American Federation of Teachers, called on officials to “put the brakes on stakes,” and the IFT joins in this demand. We believe that any consequences for students or teachers, deriving from this new assessment, be put on hold until we can address issues of resource sufficiency and equity.
If we are not given the time to prepare our students fully for the new assessments, then the results shouldn’t count.
No teacher or parent wants their students to have to take tests for which they have not been prepared.
So what must we do? We must engage everyone involved in education to get this right, and for that we’ll need time, and plenty of it.
Teachers will need more time to collaborate and opportunities for professional development to engage in instructional strategies aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Students will need time to develop deep understanding of content, and parents will need time to understand what this means for student achievement.
We cannot let good standards be the collateral damage of a testing regime run amok.
CCSS can be one piece in a program to level the playing field for our students. Why should only some students have access to a rich, demanding curriculum? Why should a student in Lake Forest have access to one kind of algebra, while a student in East St. Louis gets another? Does algebra vary based on a student’s geography?
Of course, another important component of leveling the playing field is equitability of resources. Those students in East St. Louis need different supports than the students in Lake Forest for them all to meet the new standards. This is not a bug in the standards – but a bug in a funding system.
Many critics on the right will blame the standards themselves if students do not meet them in their first assessment. These folks need to look past their ideology and look at the facts – our schools are not funded fully or responsibly. The Common Core standards are a powerful tool, but not a panacea.
To ensure great schools, we need everyone to put their differences aside and use every tool in our toolbox to improve equity for students, including CCSS.
Daniel J. Montgomery is president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.