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Common Core can help teachers do more to see students succeed

(Editor’s note: A week ago, Richmond resident Jill Noble wrote a letter to the editor focusing on the process that brought Common Core, a more stringent, national curriculum, to public school districts in Missouri. We asked an administrator at Richmond schools to respond.)

By Dr. Mike Aytes
Assistant Superintendent
Richmond Public Schools

What we teach matters.
According to Dr. Robert Marzano, the two most important factors contributing to how well students learn are having highly trained, effective teachers and having a guaranteed and viable curriculum.
Most of the teachers I have known, in Richmond and elsewhere, work incredibly hard.  In addition to the time they spend each day with students, they spend countless hours planning, grading, and preparing.  They do so because they want what is best for students.  They do so because they care.
Most teachers will do everything they can to help students learn what is important.  Standards help define what is important for students to learn and for teachers to teach.
Dr. Richard DuFour says it this way, “Teachers cannot make student learning their focus until they know what each student needs to learn.”
What teachers teach and what students learn matters, not just in preparing students to do well on assessments, but in preparing them for college and careers and life.
We live in an increasingly complex world.  The reading, writing, and problem solving that most of us do in our jobs is strikingly different from what we were expected to do 20 years ago.  Mechanics use computers to diagnose problems with automobiles.  Farmers track fertilizers and crop yields.  Ranchers track feed and weight gains.  Nurses monitor increasingly sophisticated equipment.
Most of us, teachers, administrators, parents, and grandparents, want the same things for our children and our students, the chance to have a good life, which includes a good job.  And, to have a good job in this increasingly complex world requires a good education, an education that prepares them to compete not just with students from Lexington and Lawson, but with students from Kansas and California and Florida and India and Singapore and Japan.
American schools have always worked well for some, but not all, students.  Far too many students leave school before graduating from high school, and many of those who do graduate are not prepared for college or careers.  According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education only 15 percent of Missouri students who begin college complete a four-year degree program.
Schools and communities must do a better job if more students are to be successful.  Part of the solution is making sure that the students here in Richmond and across the state of Missouri are learning what they need to learn in order to be prepared for college and careers.  For those of us in education, that comes back to the standards that guide our planning and preparation.

The United States has been involved with standards since 1983, when Nation at Risk was published.  In the 1990’s the first set of national voluntary standards were developed to address some of the deficiencies noted in Nation at Risk.  Standards were developed for mathematics, science, social studies, and reading with the help and support of the National Governors Association.  No Child Left Behind brought about significant revisions to these standards, state by state, and added assessments.

And, yet, after nearly twenty years, these efforts have clearly not been enough.  Some modest gains have been shown on state assessments, but international comparisons such as the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that American students are consistently outperformed by students in a dozen or more countries.

In 2009, recognizing the importance of education, the National Governors Association combined forces with the Council for Chief States School Officers to support the development of a new set of standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics.  Governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia joined in support of this effort.

Teachers, professors, business people and others joined in.  The names of all those who were involved in the working committees and reviewing committees are too numerous to include here, but they can be found in the introductory sections of the Common Core State Standards documents (see the web addresses below).

There are many myths and even more misinformation being purveyed by opponents to the Common Core State Standards.  It is not my intent here to ascribe any particular motives to those who do so.

Instead, I would encourage anyone interested in what the Common Core State Standards will mean for our schools to find out for themselves as much as they can before they buy into any of the hype.

As a first step, I would suggest reading through the Frequently Asked Questions posted on the DESE website,  http://www.missourilearningstandards.com/faq/ .  Additional information as well as the standards documents for Mathematics and for English Language Arts can be found at www.corestandards.org .   Lists of the dozens of  universities, businesses, and organizations from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the National Association of State School Boards that have come out in support of the Common Core State Standards can also be found on this site.

The Common Core State Standards are not perfect, but they are rigorous.  Expectations for what students will need to know and be able to do are high.   What it means to be “reading at grade level” will shift significantly; for some grades this will jump as much as two grade levels.  Many of the math topics that traditionally have been taught in sixth or seventh grade, such as operations with mixed numerals, will now be taught in fourth and fifth grades.  High school graduates whose schooling will be based on these standards will be better prepared than ever before for college and careers.

The Common Core State Standards are not perfect, but they are internationally benchmarked.  In the Introduction to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, the standards from Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore are specifically cited as standards that were closely examined during the drafting of the elementary mathematics standards.  On the Core Standards website mentioned above additional information about the international benchmarking process can be found.

The Common Core State Standards are not perfect, but they are the best guiding documents that we have ever had, and they are our best hope for beginning to transform our schools into the schools that our students need and deserve.

Respectfully submitted for your consideration.

Dr. Mike Aytes

Assistant Superintendent
Richmond R-XVI School District

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