Following the New Common Core Standards

Common Core Curriculum

January 2014

Since September of 2013, 46 states, including New Jersey, have adopted the nationwide Common Core Standards (CCS) to replace the Core Curriculum Content Standards (CCCS) previously used in New Jersey Public Schools. The national Common Core Standards are intended to define the knowledge and skills in English Language Arts (ELA) and math that high school graduates will need for success in college and 21st century jobs. The new standards are supposed to unify the patchwork of efforts not only across the states, but also across the country. The goal of the new standards is to encourage more in-depth, coherent, and demanding content. If implemented effectively, the standards will create more effective teachers and help the U.S. improve its international educational standing after a decade of stagnation.

The creation and adoption of these standards has provoked much controversy and lively discussion, especially in the area of reading. For example, it asks younger students to respond to books and articles by making inferences based on evidence, rather than personal feelings. Nancie Atwell, a revered educator and reading literacy guru and author of numerous texts on teaching reading, expressed concern when the standards decreased the amount of fiction reading in favor of “literary non-fiction” an ambiguous term not available in any library. According to the CCS, 3rd through 5th graders should read 50% fiction and 50% non-fiction, while 12th graders should read 30% fiction and 70% non-fiction.

In an attempt to clarify the controversy and rely on the most recent CCS information, the following list of what is true and what is untrue, provided by Patte Barth, helps parents to understand expectations of these nationwide standards. (Barth is the director of the Center for Public Education, an initiative of the National School Boards Association. Launched in 2006, NSBA’s Center provides practical information and analysis about the successes and challenges facing public schools in the U.S.)

True: The CCS are internationally benchmarked.

The rigor of the math standards is comparable to the highest-achieving nations. Some believe most states will have a long way to go to equal them.

True: Cursive writing will still be required of students.

Because cursive writing is not specifically addressed in the standards, it has not been eliminated from programs in the English classroom.

Not true with a caveat: Classic literature will be crowded out.

Reading at the high school level should be 30 % literary (fiction) and 70% informational text. On the surface that looks like a dramatic shift, but only if one assumes that all of the reading would happen in the English classroom. In fact, a distinguishing characteristic of the common core is that the English Language Arts standards define specific benchmarks for reading and writing in Social Studies, Science, and technical subjects. This means that teachers of those other subjects should be responsible for those particular standards. And that’s the caveat: English teachers have every right to complain if they have to shoulder the full reading burden. At the same time, their colleagues in other subjects are not trained to teach reading and writing in their subject area and therefore will require some professional development and support.

Not True: The CCS are dumbed down.

Comparing all state standards to the common core, the Fordham Institute determined that the core are “clearly superior” to 39 states’ math standards and to 37 states’ standards in English Language Arts.

Not True: 8th graders will no longer be able to take Algebra I.

Nothing precludes districts from offering Algebra I to 8th graders. The core authors even provide a way to organize a "compacted" middle school math program for students who are ready for higher level math.

The jury is still out: The common core standards will make every graduate college and career ready.

Twenty years of research shows that all young people need a high school experience that prepares them for both post-secondary education and good jobs. The common core standards seem to provide a good map for getting there. Whether or not we succeed, however, depends on whether schools can retool effectively, especially given the short deadline and tight budgets. It will require new curriculum and instructional materials; more robust assessments and technology to support them; professional development for teachers and administrators. It will not just involve school districts, but state departments of education, higher education and early education, too. It demands considerable resources to carry out.

Lastly, success will require good communication with parents, teachers, and the wider community. Schools will need their support to make change happen, something they’re not likely to get if the information the public receives is wrong.

The new CCS will continue to require even more standardized testing which detracts from quality teaching time in the classroom. Based on student testimony, we have noticed curriculum changes which emphasize test taking strategies and minimize language arts skills such as analysis of quality literature including the classics. This makes the goals at TWLC of Warren even more significant in providing students with the academic challenges essential for success in higher education. Our program empowers students to meet these challenges with enthusiasm and confidence. While the CCS have refocused public school in-class teaching, the foundation of solid language arts skills has not changed. As a result, our program reflects the necessary balance between the academic needs of our students in the present and the future.