Despite the on-going debate, what is evident is that the U.S. Department of Education is investing millions of dollars in moving in the direction of common core standards and the majority of states governors have already agreed on implementation. I think we should as a nation take advantage of this opportunity as, “Common curriculum guidance does not represent a straightjacket or a narrowing of learning possibilities. States’ use of the kinds of curriculum guidelines that we advocate in the core academic subjects would be purely voluntary, comprising only about 50 to 60% of what is to be taught” leaving room for “cultural connections…adaptations and resources that enable students to connect to the curriculum” (Shanker, 2011, p. 117-118). In my opinion, with the fact that we have had a huge issue in our country with educational equity, moving to standards that leave room for local context can be a good thing.
I have walked alongside students who have experienced this inequity first hand. In 2012, the company I work for, Generation Schools Network™ started an innovation school in Denver, CO as a turnaround replacement option. We started with grades 6, 8 and 9 and will add grades every year until we have grades 6-12 in 2016.
Our team was shocked and saddened when we saw the results of our first fall benchmark testing. We had planned for our students to be 2-3 grade levels behind based on national and state data, but 80% of our students were 5 or more grade levels behind causing us to need to make immediate adjustments to meet their needs. We had hired secondary teachers, not elementary teachers and had skillware that started at a third grade level. It was unbelievable to us that our 6th graders were reading at a 1st grade level, our 8th graders at a 3rd grade level and our 9th graders at a 4th grade level. I am thankful to report that in 2 years we have reduced the percentage of students 5 or more grade levels behind from 80% to 20%. (largely our new students).
When I think about how this could have been prevented and how we can build a system that is more equitable where student success isn’t dependent upon parents having the financial resources to live in the right neighborhood, I think having at least part of the day consumed with what are known to be rigorous, internationally vetted standards for learning can be beneficial to closing the achievement gap.