A couple of weeks ago I was scheduled to do an afternoon presentation at a conference for business leaders, and someone at lunch asked me: “What’s this Common Core thing you are going to be talking about?”
In reflecting on that question, I realized that many people are both unaware of Tennessee’s efforts to raise expectations for students and view the Common Core State Standards as a “thing” rather than a way to instruct and learn.
The Common Core State Standards are more accurately described as a way of engaging students and facilitating learning, and even a cursory examination reveals they promote analyzing information and applying this information in the classroom. These new standards encourage students to answer questions like “How?” and “Why?” rather than “What?.” We are providing students with the critical thinking, problem solving, and creative skills to succeed in education beyond high school and in the workforce.
That is one of the primary differences in Common Core and any standards shift we have undertaken. These standards are thinking-based standards versus knowledge-based standards. This means that learning is measured by the application of knowledge rather than the rote transmission of knowledge.
Unfortunately, we often focus primarily on the academic side of Common Core and give minimal recognition to the benefits of high standards as a link to economic growth.
“Jobs” is the four-letter word that your preacher and mother don’t mind you saying. The academic skill set bolstered in Common Core prepares students to acquire the training and skills that are necessary for the majority of new manufacturing, industrial, and service jobs in Tennessee.
Most standards shifts in the past have been perceived as relevant only to college bound students (even if we have been putting “career ready” in catch phrases for a decade). However, the Common Core State Standards actually impacts EVERY student pathway and can prepare students attending universities, tech schools, and certification programs for the jobs of the future.
In addition, the Common Core State Standards are sometimes inaccurately portrayed as a binder of standards that will be placed on every teacher’s desk that will pigeonhole teachers into a very confining transmission of knowledge. This is simply not true. These new standards are quite simply a higher set of expectations in math and English Language Arts. They are not a curriculum, and they do not restrict academic freedom. These standards are a floor for what students are learning, not a ceiling.
Standards come and go, but what makes the Common Core State Standards different is the complexity that is found in the student-produced work and the skills students acquire versus just acquiring knowledge. It will be a challenging process to change some of our instructional techniques, to change the way we assess student learning, and to change our expectations for all student pathways. But the challenge found in the change is worth it when it is for the betterment of our children. As an educator and, more importantly, as a parent, I embrace the challenge willingly.
Dr. Jared T. Bigham is Supervising Principal of Copper Basin Schools in Polk County and a member of Tennessee’s Common Core Leadership Council.