Common Core and Differentiation

I was pleased ASCD asked me recently to write a brief blog post on the status of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) here in New Hampshire. In my role with NHASCD, I’ve been able to view what other districts are accomplishing in addition to ours in Hopkinton. Not a day goes by that I don’t have a conversation surrounding the Common Core with a teacher or other colleague. It is perhaps the most substantial curricular change in my career – although when I began teaching there were few standards to be found anywhere.

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While there appears to be unanimity regarding these new standards (45 adoptive states, NEA, AFT, Republican and Democratic support) among some educators there remains disagreement. Let’s face it – any time standardization is thrust upon a field like education that has existed largely separate from accountability, there is bound to be tension. This weekend I heard Emory University Professor Mark Bauerlein on NPR’s All Things Considered criticize the CCSS, in spite of being part of the standards’ development at the beginning. The English Language Arts component of The Core is emphasizing non-fiction reading at a rate of about 70% over fiction toward the end of a student’s high school career. Bauerlein is concerned that English teachers will not have the flexibility to teach analytically and give students the time to truly parse the classics and delve into the larger issues that great literature presents.

Last Friday, NHASCD sponsored differentiated instruction guru Carol Tomlison as part of our series this year entitled Inspiring Excellence in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. Carol has a balanced and optimistic view of Common Core. She stated that:

  • Common Core is only an ingredient in quality curriculum.
  • Differentiated instruction proposes that all classroom elements work in concert, including the use of standards. (See below)
  • Effective differentiation greatly increases the likelihood that CCSS can work as it should for virtually all learners.
  • Emotional support is the number one factor for academic growth.
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Carol Tomlison at the NHASCD conference posing with some of our Student Chapter students

Carol’s requisite classroom elements to ensure compatibility with the CCSS:

  • The classroom environment supports students.
  • There is absolute clarity about the learning destination.
  • Teachers know persistently where students are in relation to the destination.
  • Teachers adjust their teaching to ensure that each student arrives at their destination.
  • There is effective leadership and management of flexible classroom routines.

There are many miles to go before districts fully implement CCSS. Our first assessment using these new standards will be in the spring of 2015 when the Smarter Balanced version will be thrust upon our students and teachers. In the end, districts will have to unpack the Common Core and use them to guide new curriculums. Good classroom practice will still be crucial no matter what standards we adhere to.

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