Trying to explain the philosophy of the Common Core State Standards to those who are not in the field of education is like asking a lawn care expert to explain why a new lawn treatment will or will not work on your lawn.
Think about it... For at least one point in our lives, most people have experienced walking on grass, sitting on it, touching it and some of us even maintain our own lawns. Often, we are successful in sustaining a weed-free lawn. On the other hand, there are times when we fight the dandelion and clover battle continuously. That’s when the expert is called in. He shows up while you aren’t home, sprays his magic solution on the lawn, and leaves some written material for you to read, and hopefully, the weeds go away. Then, you try to read the information and decipher what treatment was applied, but it sounds a little complicated. A few weeks later, when you notice that the “solution” didn’t work, you call the company. When he comes back again, this time, you are home. As you talk to him about your lawn and the treatment he is going to use, your eyes glaze over as he explains his process. This is getting much more complex. He then goes back to his truck, sprays on some more magic solution, and you hope for the best.
As I do my best to explain the difference between “the way we used to teach” and the Common Core State Standards, I kind of feel like the lawn care guy! After all, most people who ask have gone to school or have experienced some type of schooling. They have created a picture in their mind as to what school should “look like.”
Usually, I am commenting on a LinkedIn post, someone is asking a legitimate question, wondering if their child is going to be affected negatively when their school implements the CCSS during the upcoming school year and they don’t want to hear about the political issues. They just want to know the difference between how they learned as a child and how their child is now going to be taught. Those of us who are responding to the posts are educators. We are doing our best to give helpful information and resources to the person who wrote the post in a manner that is understandable, yet we are failing miserably!
I have reflected on this and asked myself, “Why can’t we explain the answer in a simple manner to their question... ‘What is the difference between the way we used to learn and CCSS?’” I have come to the following conclusions:
-The educators who are answering the questions took several years to learn the information that they are trying to convey in just a few short paragraphs. They acquired this information throughout their schooling, experiences with students and colleagues and through professional learning opportunities. To explain all that one knows in a few short paragraphs is just about impossible.
-The CCSS are not only a document; they carry a philosophy that shapes a systemic approach to teaching and learning. This is a shift in thinking for those who are “outside of education and are looking in” and have not observed how students acquire knowledge through the lens of an educator. This is difficult to explain in writing, and challenging to describe without insulting the reader or listener... Remember the statement I made earlier... Most everyone has had a school experience, so most think they “know about” school.
-Our jargon and the language of the standards are problematic for those who are not in the field of education. As educators, we have difficulty understanding this. We are our own worse enemy in this department. We don’t know what they don’t know. When parents and community members read the standards, they don’t know how to apply what they are reading to what school will “look like” in the classroom. To an outsider who has heard horror stories about standardized testing and political posturing in the schools, the standards merely look like a list of items created with fancy language on which our students will be tested.
I will say that I am an advocate of the CCSS. The thinking and process skills that are embedded in the standards will build capacity in our students so they can be successful for the future. I believe that all states should be implementing the standards so all teachers could speak a common language of instruction for the benefit of our students. That could possibly be our first step in establishing some semblance of equity in the education system in our nation.
Dr. Frances A. Miller,