What Are Students Supposed to Learn?: Thoughts on the Common Core State Standards

June 08, 2012 | Applesauce
By Jeannie Sung

What Are Students Supposed to Learn?: Thoughts on the Common Core State Standards

Jeannie Sung holds a BS in Elementary Education with middle school math and language arts and a MS in Educational Leadership. She has served 20 years in both U.S. public and international schools as a teacher, principal, and deputy head of academics. She currently serves as a middle school principal in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, IL. Jeannie enjoys her free time spent with family and friends, and is busy in preparations to send her first child off to college this fall.

For teachers who are currently overseas, the term “Common Core State Standards” may not have the same level of impact as for those teachers who are currently stateside. The Common Core State Standards Initiative is the talk of the town! I believe that the implications of the initiative provide opportunities for professional reflection globally.

So, what are these Common Core State Standards?

This is a very unique time in educational history in America! Here are some key points to be considered:

  • It is the first time that U.S. Common Core State Standards have been written. These standards have been adopted by most states in the United States (presently 46 states and the District of Columbia).
  • This is the first time in history that almost all children in the United States will be assessed with the same tools and held to the same rigorous standards. This will create more equity in public education; a need that has existed since the inception of public education.
  • This is the first time, since U.S. public education was conceptualized, that there is a common goal for educating K-12 students. The goal for all students is college and career readiness in the 21st century.
  • U.S. school districts within each state are in the process of attempting to deconstruct the standards and put them back together again in order to determine the implications for teaching and learning, professional development, and resources.
  • This is a journey with a destination, with the 2014-2015 school year being the year of implementation of the Common Core Assessments. 
  • Between now and 2014-2015, teachers will have the opportunity to continue to learn about the Common Core State Standards at both the building and at the district level.
  • Teachers will have to pursue extensive professional development opportunities in order to examine materials, explore shifts in pedagogical practices, and help to align content standards.
  • Although the standards are designed to tell us what to teach, not how to teach, the standards do implicitly guide us toward certain pedagogical techniques.

Did all that information make sense? Well, here is an analogy that may help generate a better understanding:

The Split Rail Fence Analogy
Understanding the Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards – Imagine that the posts of a fence represent the anchor standards.  Posts on a split-rail fence are anchored deep in the ground and do not move, which represents how the anchor standards are the same K-12 and are designed to broadly describe what students should know and be able to do.

Learning Standards – The rails (or the horizontal boards) are the grade levels, which each have a list of standards their students should meet in order to attain mastery. They connect the anchor standards together to make the fence, or the Common Core Standards in their entirety.
So what does this mean for educators in international schools throughout the world? Maybe we can begin by asking some questions together:

  • How does it align with the Common Core Standards?
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards?
  • What are some strategies and plans to help us continuously improve and move forward?

As U.S. school districts and states move toward providing common core standards, it will be interesting to see which direction the American based international schools go. These schools primarily function independently of any integrated school system with the exception of participating in and being accredited by U.S. based accrediting agencies. In the coming years, these globally minded academic institutions must choose whether or not to accept and participate in the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

In addition, within the environment of American international schools, Christian international schools and MK schools must address the move toward a common set of standards within the U.S. Will a mindset of caution from being too tightly tethered to a common set of secular national based standards be a primary concern? Or, will these schools move toward acceptance? I believe that the Common Core State Standards Initiative will provide something that for the most part has alluded these global institutions for over a century—a cohesive, unified set of learning expectations. These expectations can tie these schools to a unified body of work accepted and well known among accrediting institutions as well as U.S. based universities where many of their students will attend.

Author's Note: Components of this article were inspired by a collaborative research and efforts of administrators from the Arlington Heights School District.


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