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Getting to the core of Common Core

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Editor’s Note: Tipton County has not been immune to concerns that are spreading throughout Tennessee about Common Core Standards, a set of new guidelines set to take place that focus on specific student skills at certain levels across all subjects in public schools throughout the nation. Adoption of this format is optional, though 44 states, including Tennessee, have gotten on board. This is part of a series that The Leader will publish seeking to inform its readers about Common Core Standards.

What is the Common Core and why does it matter?
The mission statement according to the website, www.corestandards.org, is to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”
Kevin Huffman, Commissioner, Tennessee State Dept. of Education, when speaking to local educators last fall at a countywide in-service meeting, touted the new program.
“If we have the opportunity to give our kids the very best standards we have to do so.,” he said. “The Common Core will open up a world of creativity and opportunities. Teachers will be able to focus on going deeper with more creativity. This provides us a window into our future, which is going to be more fun, with higher critical thinking skills and ultimately provided more work opportunities for our students in the future. It’s important we focus on three aspects as educators: building trust with the students, having higher expectations for all and seeking continuous improvement.”
Dr. John Combs, Director of Instruction for Tipton County Schools, agrees.
“Embracing change has been a commonality for Tennessee in recent years,” Combs said. “As one of the first states to adopt and implement a value-added model for school and teacher effectiveness, the recent overhaul of the teacher evaluation system, and then most recently, the award of Race to the Top funding, Tennessee has seen its share of redesign.
“Throughout this paradigm shift, our goal has always been to equip our teachers with best practices and resources to benefit our children. Even though the implementation of CCSS (Common Core State Standards) doesn’t come without its challenges, we understand that the rigor and depth it will bring to classrooms across Tennessee will benefit students across the state.”
Dr. Buddy Bibb, Director of Tipton County Schools, believes the CCSS make our students more competitive globally as we adopt rigorous standards being pushed throughout the global economy.
“My understanding is that for the last several years the U.S. has been compared to the world in education,” Bibb said. “However, because there’s been a change from an agricultural to manufacturing and to a knowledge-based economy, a quality education is so much more important to be able to compete globally.
“Most countries have a national education system, whereas the US doesn’t. In the U.S., each state has its own standards, which makes it hard to compare how we measure nationally with Finland or Japan. Because of the need to compete globally, the nation’s governors came together and said ‘let’s do this.’ This isn’t from the federal government; it’s the National Governors Association who made this initiative. The Common Core State Standards are to better prepare our students for college and career.”   
According to the book, “Something in Common: The Common Core Standards and the Next Chapter in American Education” by Robert Rothman, a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education (Harvard Education Press, 2011), there are nine important differences with the Common Core State Standards.

In Mathematics:
1. Greater Focus. Common Core Standards focus on fewer topics and address them in greater depth.
2. Coherence. The Common Core Standards build on students’ understanding by introducing new topics from grade to grade. Students are expected to learn content and skills and move to more advanced topics. The Standards simultaneously build coherence within grades—that is, they suggest relationships between Standards.
3. Skills, Understanding, and Application. Students will need to know all aspects of mathematics, as all are considered equally central in the Standards. This means fluent knowledge of procedures, deep conceptual understanding, and application of knowledge to solve problems.
4. Emphasis on Practices. The Standards have eight criteria for mathematical practices. These include making sense of problems and persevering to solve them, reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, using appropriate tools strategically, and constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others. These practices are intended to be integrated with the standards for mathematical content.

In English Language Arts:
5. More Nonfiction. The Standards call for a much greater emphasis on nonfiction, proposing that about half the reading in elementary school and 75 percent in high school should be nonfiction. The Standards also expect students to write more expository prose.
6. Focus on Evidence. In reading, students will be expected to use evidence to demonstrate their comprehension of texts and to read closely in order to make evidence-based claims. In writing, students are expected to cite evidence to justify statements rather than rely on opinions or personal feelings.
7. “Staircase” of Text Complexity. Students will be expected to read and comprehend increasingly complex texts in order to reach the level of complexity required for success in college courses and the workplace.
8. Speaking and Listening. The Standards expect students to be able to demonstrate that they can speak and listen effectively—this means more small group and whole-class discussions.
9. Literacy in the Content Areas. The Standards include criteria for literacy in history/social science, science, and technical subjects. This reflects a recognition that understanding texts in each of these subject areas requires a unique set of skills and that instruction in understanding, say, a historical document is an integral part of teaching history.

There are naysayers
However, many parents, such as Teresa Cantrell, a mother of two Tipton County students, have expressed concerns regarding the CCSS. Cantrell presented her concerns to the Tipton County School Board at the December meeting. Her concerns will be explored in next week’s continuation of this series.

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