Common Core Pushes Students and Teachers to Dig Deeper

Maine Superintendent of Instruction Don Siviski says he apologizes to every large group he talks to because education was getting it wrong when they were in school.

“We had this fixed mindset where your IQ didn’t change,” Siviski said at Saturday’s “Education Reform: Fact or Fiction?” session. “We put you into ability groups because we were nice to you. We tracked you. … (We) limited your aspirations. … We just destroyed kids’ dreams.

“Every parent is a consumer of the old system that’s full of control factors. Textbooks were a control factor. The number of days is a control factor. … Ask your community what they want. They’ll say, ‘a personal experience for my child where they’re not insulted and embarrassed every day.’”

Maine has been overhauling the way it teaches children as it implements common core state standards. Common core, an initiative of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, sets standards for skills students should master at every grade level in English language arts and math.

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said state education standards have not been strong enough. That’s why his state has joined the common core movement.

“If 90 percent of  (Idaho’s) students are meeting reading standards and almost 80 percent of students are meeting math standards but almost half go on after high school to have to take remediation once they get there (to college), that means our standards aren’t high enough,” he said.

Siviski said although society has changed tremendously, education hasn’t changed much in more than a century.

“The current system of education was invented in 1892 to prepare foremen for the assembly line,” Siviski said. “One hundred and twenty years later, it hasn’t significantly changed.  Here is our position. In 2013, time is a variable; learning is a constant. It’s not just 175 days and five days in-service. … Everything about what we do in school just changed.”

Dyane Smokorowski, Kansas’ 2013 Teacher of the Year, said common core’s focus on deeper learning has made radical changes to the business of education.

For instance, a teacher in a kindergarten class may take a toy car and ask her students what they wonder about when they push it. One boy says he thinks it will go across the room. The teacher, she said, talks about what an experiment is, what forces cause it to go across the room and what acceleration is.

“Everything you do in the classroom has to have a real-world connection to it,” she said. “How many asked that question in school … when am I ever going to use this? … Our babies have questions and those questions deserve answers and it’s our job to guide them to the people who have the answers.”

A lesson in Smokorowski’s class about the Holocaust led to a new project—Global Teen Solutions to Stop Bullying—in which middle school students from 15 classrooms on four continents are getting together using Skype and a website to discuss what bullying looks like in their community and what they believe are some of its causes. Smokorowski’s students will be building an action plan and visiting Kansas legislators to discuss their findings.

Kristal Doolin, Kentucky’s 2013 Teacher of the Year, also has her children participating in the project. One of the advantages common core gives you is the chance to tailor lessons to the needs and interests of students, not just cover what is included in a textbook, she said.

“I take what they (students) love and I try to pull from that,” Doolin said. “Even our forefathers knew our constitution had to be a living document. Why would we not do the same thing for curriculum?”