The efforts of hardworking teachers: the Common Core’s best kept secret

The world of education is no stranger to controversy. The most recent kerfuffle centers on Ohio’s use of the Common Core State Standards which were adopted by the Ohio State Board of Education in 2010.

Opposition to Ohio’s latest academic standards in math and English language arts has sprung up based on half-understood ideas of what standards are, what they’re for, and how they came into being. In an instant, and several years after the fact, the undoing of the Common Core has become a zealous calling for folks urging their school boards and their state legislators to stop the implementation of Ohio’s duly adopted academic standards.

But the Common Core isn’t new for Ohio’s educators, who have been implementing these deeper and more rigorous standards over four school years. Superintendents, principals, and teachers are not only fully aware of but also have been actively engaged in implementing what is required of them and their students under the state’s new academic content standards.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s recent eye-opening series of articles depict how educators are embracing the challenge of the Common Core. These articles should serve to ameliorate the fears of those who oppose the Common Core, while heartening parents, educators, and policymakers who want more rigorous learning expectations in their schools. These articles describe in detail the on-the-ground and in-the-classroom realities of Common Core implementation in Northeast Ohio. These reporters have done a masterful job looking at how education professionals in 26 different districts – from working class Parma to inner-city Cleveland Heights to bedroom community Solon – are working to faithfully implement the new standards.

The series begins with a short history of the Common Core nationally and in Ohio. It includes the story of one Ohio legislator who is fighting to repeal the Common Core without regard for the work already done and the time invested by thousands of teachers and principals statewide.

But thankfully, the Plain Dealer doesn’t dwell on the politics of the Common Core. Its reports rightly dig into where the action is—the classroom—and they find that the Common Core is transforming teaching and learning, largely for the better.

For example, a fifth-grade English teacher in Berea (a suburban district west of Cleveland) describes the yeoman’s work that has gone into creating “Knowledge Maps,” which list the “goals, the texts students will read and key vocabulary words for the unit.” The teacher has clearly worked hard and is excited about teaching these concepts in depth and across many texts. His enthusiasm and in-depth knowledge gladdened the heart of this dad, who hopes his kids get teachers like that every year. One of his colleagues expressed concern about what would happen if the Common Core were to be repealed: “We’re doing a lot of work (on Common Core), so I hope it sticks.”

The director of curriculum and instruction in Brecksville-Broadview Heights says he likes the Common Core because “it provides kids the opportunity not only to focus on factual learning, which is important, but also for applying that knowledge and problem-solving, which involve a higher level of thinking.” The curriculum his district has put in place to align to the new standards will “teach students how to ‘marshal an argument’ and use facts to back their positions.”

The story is the same in the math class featured in a story about the inner-ring suburb of Cleveland Heights. The headline of the story says it all: “Real-world context, deeper understanding and mastery”. That is what these teachers believe and what they’re striving to implement for their kids.

The Plain Dealer series continues with field reports from North Ridgeville, Berea, Fairview Park, Hillcrest area, Chagrin valley area, Medina County schools, a set of inner-ring suburbs, the golden ramparts, Drew Carey’s beloved Parma, and a group of outer-ring suburbs. While the only “common” aspect of the new state standards is the end goal, the means of reaching that goal varies from teacher to teacher and classroom to classroom. It is clear from these articles that teachers are fully engaged in the implementation of the standards and they clearly express what the new standards will mean for their students. “We have to challenge our students to be the best they can be,” says the curriculum director from Brecksville-Broadview Heights. “They will have to be good thinkers, problem-solvers and collaborators.”

Don’t get me wrong: We are nowhere near the finish line in implementation of the Common Core in Ohio, as most of the professionals featured in these articles attest. Teachers, superintendents, and principals across Ohio must continue to fine-tune their curricula and lesson plans, obtain high-quality teaching materials, and then come spring 2015 ready their students for brand-new assessments. Greatly improving the quality of a school’s textbooks and workbooks, along with improving technological capacity, will all take time and resources. Parents and the general public need to be prepared as well as they should expect drops in their schools’ achievement scores when the more-challenging Common-Core-aligned assessments are administered.

But this is the fight that should be going on around the Common Core: the fight to implement them properly and fully; the fight to make sure that teachers have everything they need to do the job right.

Rather than a world of controversy, the world that most of us want is where we are all working together to do what is right for students, lifting expectations and challenging students to reach their potential. Grown-ups should put their own biases aside—especially the political ones that have little to do with a child’s education—and support each other in the real, hard, good work that is going on in our schools. That work is showcased clearly and in great detail in this excellent series of articles and they are well worth your time to read in full.

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