Information Age Education
   Issue Number 106
January, 2013   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by Dave Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education project. See http://iae-pedia.org/ and the end of this newsletter. All back issues of this newsletter are available free online at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.

Common Core State Standards
Part 7: Getting to the Core Issues—
Will We Get It Right?


David Ghoogasian
Educational Consultant/Trainer; School Improvement Facilitator
The Lyceum


The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have enthusiastic proponents and harsh critics. This article provides some considerations about how the CCSS can best serve their intended purpose: To help ensure K-12 student mastery of the central curricular components they will need to succeed in college, careers, and other aspects of their adult lives.

Hitting the Target, But Missing the Mark

Suppose you want to quickly lose or gain 10 pounds. Certain drugs, exercise, and a controlled low calorie diet can help you lose weight, while certain other drugs, a controlled high calorie diet, and weight gain supplements can help you gain weight. The problem with either plan is that it could possibly leave your health worse off than it was, and the weight changes are not apt to be long lasting. You also could be at risk for immune, cardiac, and other disorders.

Professionals in this field know of better ways to reach and maintain weight loss/gain goals. They would probably begin by asking two questions: "Why do you need a weight change goal?" and "What's the best way to accomplish it?"

The CCSS movement confronts an analogous issue. How best can we (quickly) improve K-12 education in a manner that will be sustained and will have few undesirable side effects? Over the years, individual state standards and Federal pressures have shifted the concepts of curriculum and instruction to a new emphasis on curriculum and assessment. States' testing programs focused on what students were supposed to learn, but didn't address the underlying issues of why and how they were supposed to learn it. The CCSS developers are trying to address these weighty why and how questions. This article will suggest elements of the CCSS program that provide promise and elements that perhaps should cause concern.

A Few Perspectives from Within and Without the Field

Support for and opposition to the CCSS come at macro and micro levels. Macro level detractors object to the basic premise of needing a single set of standards in our diverse and changing world. They tend to prefer “local” over national control. They also argue that our current educational system is not as badly flawed as many claim. Conversely, supporters of the CCSS believe that a national set of internationally benchmarked expectations offers a potential solution to the educational and career woes that plague our educational system.

Some Potential Positives of the CCSS

Many CCSS supporters state that an important strength is the fact that carefully selected standards can build upon one another and emphasize critical thinking, depth and complexity, 21st Century Skills, College and Career Readiness, and international benchmarking. In our highly mobile society, students moving from one state to another would make a more seamless transition. The CCSS also place considerable emphasis on better and more uniform assessment.

The CCSS already are having a major impact on school textbook publishers. In a practical sense, the CCSS may likely allow opportunities for publishers of educational materials to focus their resources on higher quality products instead of continuing to modify content to meet the needs of individual state curricula.

Greater uniformity in content and assessment will make it easier for people who provide free materials via the Web to develop materials with potential nationwide usefulness. This kind of educational collaboration can help to improve the quality of classroom instruction.

Individual states will still have some degree of flexibility in adapting the CCSS to meet state needs and/or demands. Many educators already embrace the CCSS focus on higher-order thinking skills, depth of knowledge, critical thinking, and performance. They see this as a very positive move away from the currently prevalent drill and kill practices.

The English Language Arts College and Career Anchor Standards, if correctly put into authentic play, can help the new generation of K-12 learners to be better prepared for college, career, and life. See http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/CCRA/L. The English Language Arts CCSS place a greater emphasis on non-fiction text, and they stress the importance of reading across the curriculum. Many people feel the increased emphasis on such reading, along with using reading as a vehicle for learning the various disciplines, will contribute to student success in college, careers, and life.

Some Potential Negatives of the CCSS

Claims that certain individual state’s standards may be superior, suspicions about a “national” curriculum (perhaps blurring “federal” with “national”), and preferences for local control are among some of the overarching criticisms. They point to very large differences in the culture and life in different parts of the country, and argue that schools need to accommodate and support such diversity.

Many critics are displeased with the strong emphasis on algebra and claim there is a lack of emphasis on math facts, basic arithmetic, and algorithms during the elementary school years.
 
Timing may be another issue. Teachers are expected to begin using the CCSS while the corresponding assessments are still being developed. This leaves a potential gap between what is being taught and what is being assessed. This could lead to considerable confusion and frustration.

A high fidelity of implementation will require far more staff development than is currently available. With the current state of the economy, and with human and financial resources stretched, many see the implementation of the CCSS as a monumental and expensive task, one that poses a significant challenge. School systems have limited budgets to provide needed training to familiarize teachers and other stakeholders with the CCSS content and the effective delivery of that content.

In recent years, assessment and accountability have become a central practical feature of the implementation of the state standards, resulting in what amounts to checklists of items that had to be covered rather than emphasizing the quality of learning and teaching. Educators perhaps need to proceed with the spirit and not merely the content of the CCSS in order to avoid the potential pitfalls of “business as usual.” When overly stressed, we tend to take the path of least resistance.

The Bored of Education: The Brain that Wouldn’t Go Away

Learning does not occur in a vacuum. Among the many forces at play are physiological, psychological, social, cognitive, behavioral, verbal/non-verbal, explicit and implicit communication, and others. Ignoring or overlooking these forces reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of real learning—that it somehow can or will occur or exist independent of these and other factors.

Revisions to curriculum content and assessment may have little impact on student in-school attention, learning, and comprehension. The planned revisions may even increase the growing mismatch between our Information Age children who routinely and fluently make use of many aspects of Information and Communication Technology, and their schooling experiences.

The good news is that we now know enough to start to make major improvements in our educational system. Professionally driven 21st century teachers must master educationally significant cognitive neuroscience discoveries, and work to apply them appropriately in their teaching. Our profession must reach beyond the confines of the field itself to learn the valuable and essential lessons that will make the difference in our schools. When we do, student interest and achievement will increase and misbehavior will decrease.

Final Remarks

Suppose I were to ask two different people if they had been to Yosemite National Park, and one had driven through with the car windows shut and never stopped, while the other had parked, gotten out, hiked, touched, smelled, and experienced the park. Both could technically say they had been there. Their experiences, however, would have been dramatically different. To truly appreciate the majesty and grandeur of Yosemite, one must be interested enough to explore and truly experience it in a variety of ways.

Real learning is similar. Plowing through curriculum is a very different experience from meaningfully exploring, analyzing, using, synthesizing, and extending information and understanding in the quest for true learning. In both cases, however, the curriculum has been “covered.” Large philosophical questions notwithstanding, the CCSS and their associated assessment systems in and of themselves likely are neither inherently good nor bad.

Like all standards and curricula, the CCSS have their definite strengths and weaknesses. As states move toward full implementation, educators need to know and use not only the CCSS themselves, but also the “Why” and the “How” of education. These are the very factors that would help influence a brain to attend and a student to really learn to be a creative and innovative problem-solver in a rapidly changing world.

Educators can and do make a difference. Those who understand the brain and learning, and the implications and applications of this knowledge, will be in a better position to teach and facilitate learning that can inspire generations of students to come.


References

Some salient points that might interest you are modified within a blog that I wrote for the American Planning Association. See http://blogs.planning.org/kids/2012/01/06/
space-matters-engaging-the-brain/
.

ASCD. Common Core: 7 Recommendations for effective implementation. See http://thejournal.com/articles/2012/11/01/common-core-7-recommendations-
for-effective-implementation.aspx?admgarea=News1
.

ASCD Smartbrief. Common Core guide: Students should read more of everything. See  http://www.smartbrief.com/servlet/encodeServlet?issueid=B483129B-F8DA
-4AE4-AAD4-92FCFC38A8B2&sid=f0bb33a3-9171-4453-bc8d-d942386e1ee8
.

The Atlantic. A new kind of problem: The Common Core Math Standards. See http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/11/a-new-kind-of-problem
-the-common-core-math-standards/265444/
.

CCSS. Statements of support. See http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/statements-of-support.

Education Next. The war against the Common Core. See http://educationnext.org/the-war-against-the-common-core/.

David Ghoogasian

David Ghoogasian, educational consultant/trainer and school improvement facilitator, has a rich background in education, which includes teaching, counseling, administration, and professional development. A former school principal, Mr. Ghoogasian trains and teaches parents, students, and educators with backgrounds ranging from early childhood education through college and university instruction. His philosophical approach and work weave together important findings in education, psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, behavioral science, communication, other relevant disciplines, and experience. He teaches and trains through his own company, The Lyceum, as well as through the University of California, Riverside, Irvine, and San Diego education extension programs.

Mr. Ghoogasian is a member of the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) and Professional Teaching certificate program advisory boards at UCI Extension. He has served on visiting committees for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Schools and has been a member of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) and the California Association for the Gifted (CAG).

Email: Ghoogasian@1Lyceum.com


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