Early reports from the heartland show support for the Common Core

When I read reports like that of my colleague Kathleen Porter-Magee’s “Is there anything ‘common’ left in Common Core” I’m reminded why I like spending time with real educators and teachers in Ohio. Kathleen’s post provides a brutally concise and accurate summary of the political fights now swirling around the Common Core academic standards. She offers a glimpse into what rabid critics on both the far Right and Left are saying about the effort. The various ravings are epitomized by Susan Ohanian (whoever that is) claim that “the reality is that if people who care about public education don't find a way to fight [the Common Core standards], public schools are dead—and so is democracy.”)

But, in the heartland the conversations are very different and far more practical. Out here the issues aren’t political. Rather the talk focuses on how can educators most effectively implement the Common Core standards to improve instruction for students. Fordham hired the former editorial page editor of the Dayton Daily News, Ellen Belcher, to interview 15 educators from across Ohio to learn about their hopes and concerns per early efforts to implement the Common Core in their districts and schools.

The report, Future Shock: Early Common Core Lessons from Ohio Implementers, will be released on May 18th but some of Belcher’s findings are worth reporting early because the concerns and thoughts of the educators are so starkly different to the toxicity swirling around the effort in places like Washington, DC. Here is a quick sample of some of what Belcher discovered in speaking with real educators working in real schools to implement the Common Core in the Buckeye State:

  • Educators see the “big picture,” the “global” problems that the Common Core aims to address, i.e. U.S. students’ lackluster performance among their international competitors and the large number of high-school  graduates who are not prepared for college or a career.
  • A common language around the Common Core is being widely used. To a person, the educators spoke of ‘rigor and relevance,” “formative assessments,” “short cycle assessments,” “formative instructional practices,” “professional learning communities,” “curriculum-based assessments,” “curriculum alignment,” “curriculum maps,” “project-based learning,” “portfolio-based assessments,” “higher level thinking,” “performance-based testing” and “critical thinking skills.”
  • Teachers want and appreciate tools they can “see.” What does “rigor and relevance” look like? (Good curriculum models are “very calming…in a sea of turbulence” shared one Cincinnati educator.)
  • Everyone understands that data is king. Interviewees believe data is the secret to identifying and eliminating achievement gaps at the district level, the classroom level, and the student level.
  • Emotions are high and run the gamut. Teachers are excited that they are being asked to ‘go deep’ and that standards are being raises. At the same time, there is fear about whether the new summative assessments will get it right, whether the tests really will be good measures of what students have learned.
  • Collaboration has become standard operating procedure among schools, among districts, and with other entities such as the Council of Great City Schools, Battelle for Kids, the Gates Foundation, the General Electric Foundation, the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative, the American Federation of Teachers and local educational service centers. No one feels like they’re working in a vacuum – or thinks that would be smart.

The educators in Ohio interviewed by Belcher, the people on the frontlines of our schools who work daily with our kids, see the move towards the Common Core as a positive. But, they worry seriously about the implementation challenges, and they fear that somehow our political leadership class will screw all of this up and turn a good into something bad. Or, as one Cleveland educator remarked, “the Common Core is the right work we should be doing as a country.” “But let’s not make this the metric system of our time…and all of sudden stop.” This is thoughtful guidance from someone actually doing the work.

Common sense, increasingly scarce in the public debate around the Common Core among talking heads and the chattering class, still prevails in the heartland. I take some solace in this fact and I hope others do as well.

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