Beginning in 2008 as part of state Senate Bill 08-212, Colorado undertook a major effort to redesign state academic standards in 10 content areas from preschool through the 12th grade.
The reasons for this change were to update and uniformly raise expectations for all students in the state so that our students graduated college- and career-ready. Along the way, Colorado also weaved in the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics, which were created through a shared effort between the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
As we look across the variety of state-level reforms being implemented in Colorado, the implementation of high quality and internationally benchmarked academic standards is perhaps the only reform we have in common with high performing global education systems.
Recently, we’ve been hearing reports that there is a growing controversy regarding the Colorado’s Academic Standards inclusion of the Common Core State Standards.
Here in Eagle County, we’ve already been implementing these standards for the past several years, and we’re starting to see real changes in the quality of teaching and learning in our schools as a result.
Reasons For Concern
To hear that there is a movement afoot to abandon these standards, and effectively take our schools on yet another politically motivated wild ride, is a bit concerning. This controversy is ideologically motivated political chicanery that impedes the very educational progress it purports to advance.
Opposition to the Common Core comes from a variety of different viewpoints, usually in the political extremes.
From the right, grandstanding radio talk show jockeys have made the Common Core a “cause celebre,” arguing that it is a de facto mandate from the Obama administration that usurps state and local decision-making and turns education into indoctrination.
From the left, anti-corporate conspiracy theorists argue that the Common Core is a tool of the corporate testing industry that hamstrings teacher and student creativity and autonomy.
Neither of these extremes is accurate.
The Common Core controversy isn’t a big topic in Eagle County because our schools are engaged in the real work of teaching to these new, and higher, expectations. Our teachers understand their value and have worked literally thousands of hours in ensuring that our curriculum aligns properly with the standards.
Standards Vs. Curriculum
A key distinction to note is that standards are not the same as a curriculum. The standards are expectations of what students should know at various points of their scholastic career. Curriculum is the planned interaction of students, teachers, lessons, instructional supports and resources, with progress-oriented assessment, which constitutes a system of learning.
If we are to be a high-performing education system, then it is important that we have a clear and rigorous set of standards. It is also important that we allow our professional educators the autonomy to adapt lessons and teaching to help students meet these standards.
If we put shrill, ideological histrionics aside, schools in Eagle County are focused on having, as a basis, a clear and well-articulated set of standards that is benchmarked against the highest-performing education systems in the world.
For us, the Colorado’s Academic Standards provide a basis of high expectations for every student. From this, we have locally developed curricula that includes the “what” (content being covered) and the “when” (in what order) necessary to meet these expectations.
We intentionally don’t prescribe the “how” to teachers. Our teachers are highly educated, experienced and licensed professionals who need and deserve the flexibility and autonomy to adapt instruction to meet the needs of each student. A prescriptive method of telling teachers how to teach marginalizes their value and depresses the results we seek: higher achievement in our students.
There are legitimate questions to ask about how the Common Core standards have been hitched to requirements around federal education grants and flexibility from No Child Left Behind as part of a larger discussion about the general federal overreach into education policy.
There are also good questions to be raised about the testing and punitive accountability measures that are just on the horizon and if more “blame and shame” education policies will really lead us to better outcomes. And we should question those places that seek to put educators into a “teach by numbers” approach in which they follow a strict and step-by-step guide.
All of these areas need to be scrutinized. But let’s be clear and separate these potential problems from the standards themselves. The standards represent clear, higher order and internationally benchmarked outcomes our students need to shoot for to be competitive in this global economy.
Radically changing standards at this point, or stripping out the Common Core-aligned literacy and numeracy standards, would be devastating to important curriculum alignment work happening in our schools. Further, it would cause years of personal work from hundreds of our teachers to be tossed out for naught. It would be a disrespectful and colossal waste of our limited energy, time and resources if we were to let this effort become derailed by the politics of ideological extremism.
I urge our state leaders to carefully consider the implications of such a decision. We should guard against any ideologically motivated overreactions to the standards out of respect for the practitioners we have working on their implementation and our main goal of being a globally competitive education system.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.