Crib Notes: Common Core one step in right direction

By From page A5 | February 12, 2014

My sixth-grader’s middle school spent at least a month communicating the message that the leap to middle school means the children put forth more effort … without the meddling of well-intentioned parents. If they forget their lunch, for instance, let them figure it out and they most likely won’t forget it again. We were told at orientation, during back-to-school night and in newsletters if our child’s homework is left at home, don’t bring it in. Let them struggle; let them learn.

In recent news stories, countless parents across the United States admit the online grading portals many districts now use have made them neurotic, addicted to checking their kids’ grades, scores on assignments and homework postings multiple times a day instead of the old-school way of letting kids know the details first.

If many American children are coddled emotionally, why should we be surprised, then, that many aren’t held to the highest academic standards at school either?

As we lag behind other developed nations in all subjects, fingers point in every direction. Yet if one looks at what kids were expected to know in eighth grade 100 years ago, the answer is obvious. A test dated 1912 has gone viral recently because of its rigor. Eighth-graders in Kentucky were asked questions like “Describe the Battle of Quebec” and “How does the liver compare in size with other glands in the human body?” No multiple choice questions, but effort and deep thinking, which are the only jobs our children will know once computers continue to take over rote tasks.

The shift toward Common Core Standards is a step closer to offering American students rigor once more. Common Core is essentially a paradigm shift in the way teachers teach and in the way students learn. Kids will be asked to dig mentally deeper as they cover subjects in greater detail. My son’s fourth-grade teacher said it best: Common Core will make kids think.

Common Core Standards will do away with low-level thinking questions like Recall the main character’s name. Under the new standards that same question might state: Why do you think the author gave the character that name? The latter begs a more complex answer, which requires critical thinking.

With 45 states adopting Common Core so far and many, like California, gearing up to implement it fully, there are bound to be trouble spots and aspects that don’t seem pure to its goal, like a planned phase out of fiction for all non-fiction (the value of literature is another topic in itself).

Already strapped states like California are spending billions of dollars preparing to implement Common Core and the money is going toward new curriculum, technology and teacher training. All the money in the world doesn’t equal hiring smart teachers though. Look at what’s happened in Finland, a country that ranks among the best academically even after lagging behind the rest of the world just a generation ago.

Studied in the book “The Smartest Kids in the World,” author Amanda Ripley found one thing Finland has done right is hire smart teachers. They’ve attracted the best and brightest to their competitive teaching colleges and have created a culture “where all teachers are admired,” not to mention compensated well.

In one section of the book, Ripley described a school in Finland as “dingy, with desks in rows and an old-fashioned chalkboard — not an iPad or interactive whiteboard in sight. What (the school) in the small town of Pietarsaari does have are bright, talented teachers who are well-trained and love their jobs.”

Shouldn’t that be what we aim for as well? Common Core is a great start, but we need not throw massive amounts of money at expensive curriculum or to train teachers to engage students or to know how to ask the right questions. Hire smart teachers from the start. Then allow them to keep standards high for our children without our meddling and we too might boast the smartest kids in the world.

Julie Samrick


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