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Apodaca: Figuring out Common Core Standards

February 16, 2013|By Patrice Apodaca

Newport-Mesa school officials have begun trying to explain how the Common Core State Standards will be implemented beginning in the next school year.

It's no easy job, given that they probably aren't entirely sure themselves what the new standards will look like in practice.

Even so, district administrators are practically giddy with enthusiasm over the changes, which they believe will usher in more rigor and relevance to the classroom. In a meeting I attended recently, staff members were visibly excited as they attempted to introduce Common Core concepts to a group of parents.

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Common Core is an effort to create national standards for K-12 education. Sponsored by the National Governors Assn. and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Common Core has been adopted by 45 states since 2010. California plans to use the assessment system being developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, but has left it up to each district to figure out how to implement the standards.

At its heart, Common Core is meant to achieve a few important goals: to tie what students learn to what they'll need to succeed in college and the workplace; to improve analysis and critical thinking skills; and to create a national framework that allows for states to evaluate progress and share information.

But all the excitement whipped up by the coming of Common Core must be tempered by some realistic expectations. Sorry to be a bit of a party-pooper, it's just that a little perspective and caution is in order. We've seen so-called revolutions in education before that have resulted in mixed or controversial results — remember the whole-language movement anyone? — prompting a backlash toward more traditional teaching styles.

Indeed, a chorus of Common Core critics has emerged to take issue with many of the initiative's features, including its focus on standardized testing. Most controversial is the greater emphasis on nonfiction reading, which many believe can be achieved only at the expense of exposing kids to important works of literature.

Common Core enthusiasts consider these concerns overblown, and they may be right. But for all the promise of Common Core, the devil will be in the details, and in the implementation. The district is in the process of designing units of study to be piloted next year, and future staff training will focus on teaching the teachers how to employ the new methods.

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