9.05.2011

Common Core and You

In a past life I was an adjunct faculty member in the department of English at our local community college. I went into teaching with a background in Shakespeare, new notebooks, and a dozen fine point sharpies. I researched and read all about good classroom management, created a syllabus, filled out my grade book with my students names (alphabetical order, last name then first name) got a brand new to-go coffee mug and walked into my class-and was completely as unprepared as my students were to navigate the semester set before us. Why? Because so many of my students weren't academically or emotionally prepared for college (let alone a career). Certainly they were quick to inform me that they had been straight A students (if not all through high school, at least at some point in their academic career) and couldn't understand why I was failing them.

I didn't fail anyone (well sadly, I had several students fail, but that was more of their own doing than mine). In fact, in my syllabus (which I dare say few actually read), I clearly stated that passing my class simply meant: being there on time and prepared, turning in all required assignments on time, and participating in class discussion. Sadly, failure for some students was an option they chose to exercise. See, spell check doesn't catch the misuse of a word. "Their" may be spelled correctly, but doesn't go "there" in a sentence about how "they're" doing. What was basic had been clearly left behind in their academic experience.

So as a former "professor" and as a current parent of three children enrolled in public school, I feel it is important for parents to understand what is taking place in Kentucky in the year ahead and why a better  understanding of the Common Core State Standards (known in Kentucky as the KCAS) will create a stronger partnership with our schools and lead to greater student success. But you don't have to take my word on how there will be a positive impact on students by implementing the CCSS, you can read the recent study produced by EPIC Reaching the Goal: The Applicability and Importance of the Common Core State Standards to College and Career Readiness. In summary: standards will make a difference in all subjects, not just in the Language Arts and Math.

I have spent a great deal of time these past few months reading about Core Standards and learning how the school district where my children are enrolled have crafted a curriculum which will work with the guidelines that the Kentucky Department of Education has established (in partnership with others). I know that staff members from Gheens have been working in close collaboration with the KDE since October of 2010 on curriculum mapping, professional development, and Principal training/support so that when the standards are implemented (which by the way happened this past August in all schools, all grades, in the district) our schools are ready to go.

Certainly as a parent I often find myself engaged in a dialogue with others about the merits/benefits of the CCSS and am thankful for the partnership with JCPS and Gheens, and the confidence of PTA  through a grant to help parents in our district better understand the changes ahead in academics for all our students. But beyond my role in the 15th District PTA as the project lead, there are three very personal reasons as to why I am involved in this initiative: Finn (who started kindergarten this year), Jonah (5th grade), and Seth (8th grade).

While others may talk about the CCSS as "theory and practice" or "data," (and whether they will fail or succeed) my family is educationally experiencing these new standards, each and every academic day. Tomorrow they will return to school, and be immersed in new approaches to math and language arts. The expectations are higher for all grade levels and it may be bumpy for a while as teachers and student acclimate themselves to new expectations. Ultimately, the goal is that all children will graduate prepared to walk into a freshman English class and not be asked to fill out worksheets reviewing what they should have learned since kindergarten. Right now the majority of students are not prepared. They are not ready for the rigors of life beyond high school. We need our children to engage in lively discussion about what they are reading, whether they are 5, 10, or 13. We need to set higher expectations and be there to support their work towards new goals. We can ask crucial questions at Parent-Teacher conferences by using the PTA Parents' Guide to Student Success and supporting our teachers by reading with our children and incorporating math into everyday activities.

It is my goal in the next year to write more about the day to day of our experiences with the Common Core State Standards, what our district PTA is doing to support this initiative, and how we can all work together so that when I return to teaching Freshman composition,  I won't have to spend an entire semester reviewing "their," "there," and "they're." Our children, and our future, are worth more than that.

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