Debunking 5 Common Core Myths

Let's Chat Core Series

You’ve heard the adage: one step forward, two steps back. Sometimes I think that’s how we all feel when confronted with change, especially the kind of change that quickly gets swept up by debate, speculation, and confusion. Even though the Common Core State Standards have been met with a great deal of support and enthusiasm, there are still many myths that, unaccounted for, can skew our understanding. So, in order to keep our conversations focused and our collective purpose aligned: here are a few myths – debunked.

Myth #1: This is a national curriculum.

Actually, it’s not a national curriculum. In fact, it’s not even a set of national standards. A curriculum is comprised of the content we curate, the learning experiences we orchestrate, the sequences in which we teach them. While the Common Core may point out some content specifics, it is not designed to micromanage a teacher’s classroom. It is meant to guide and the teacher is meant to design the match between his or her students and the standards.

We also have to remember that because states have the option to adopt the Standards, they also have some latitude in how to blend them in with the natural nuances of each state. 46 states have currently adopted the Standards and in doing so, each state can add up to 15% of its own standards to individualize to that specific state’s needs. This is why you will see more research in one state, a specific kind of literature in another, or additional math in some.

Myth #2: The Common Core changes everything.

While I certainly agree that Common Core will push most of us out of our comfort zones, I don’t think it will leave us with unfamiliar classrooms or feeling more like robots than teachers. For those teachers who have been through “Common Core training” and have left feeling confused or exhausted, I often hear an exasperated “this is changing everything.” But as William Anderson from Martin Luther King Early College school in Denver recently explained it to me, there’s a lot that remains familiar.

‘It’s like the game of basketball. A while ago they moved the 3-point line further away from the basket. Everybody was speculating about how this would change the game, how it might even ruin the game. But, the truth is that it made it better. Players were settling for shots that were too easy, the game could too quickly turn into shoot-outs, and it just didn’t have the “edge” it once had. That’s like the Common Core. It’s just moving the 3-point line back for us. What we’ve asked kids to do in the past isn’t enough anymore and we need to get our “edge” back. What’s more, the rest of the game stayed the same – the hoops, the ball, the rules. So, we’re extending our reach, not reaching out into the unknown.’

Could I say it any better?

Myth #3: Teaching more non-fiction means we aren’t teaching literature anymore.

If you’ve paid attention to the national conversation about Common Core over the past several months, you’re sure to have heard concerns over the inclusion of more non-fiction into classrooms with the misunderstanding that it’s at the expense of literature. In some places, that’s true. I’ve had teachers tell me that principals have mandated 70% of their ELA classes now be non-fiction. Sadly, that’s a gross misinterpretation of the Core. The Common Core does not say to get rid of literature and only read non-fiction. It says that 50% of what elementary, 60% of what middle school and 70% of what secondary students read should be non-fiction. The key here is throughout the entire day. The larger challenge comes if we realize that the only place students are reading beyond textbooks is the ELA classroom because this responsibility for literacy lies with the entire school building.

Myth #4: The Mathematical Practices are “extra.”

My colleague, Julie Hukee, who has done extensive work with the Common Core Math Standards recently reminded me that one of the biggest myths for math teachers involves the mathematical practice standards. She said that most teachers don’t “realize the mathematical standards need to be taught and assessed too.” So, beyond the content, teachers are being challenged to use the dispositions in the mathematical practices to help students not just “do” math, but to think like mathematicians…and assess those often intangible qualities.

Myth #5: Common Core will “fix” our education system.

We’re always looking for that panacea, that silver bullet, the smoking gun. Common Core isn’t it. No one thing ever is. In fact, I would contend that our education system isn’t broken, it’s outdated and the standards are helping us to “move back that 3-point line” in an effort to update our expectations. Yet, high expectations and rigor should not be confused with creating impossible tasks for students.

Recently a teacher told me she’d come back from a Common Core professional development to learn that she wasn’t supposed to teach vocabulary or pre-reading anymore because those “make it too easy for kids” and if we’re going to be rigorous, the kids have to struggle more. I was flabbergasted. Of course, we want to raise expectations for our students and raising expectations means going beyond a comfort zone, it means reaching, it means a little productive failure. It doesn’t mean throwing out best practices or resorting to “trial by fire” teaching methods. Instead, let’s remember that our students need careful scaffolds to exceed their own expectations.

So just remember, as we are all working to understand Common Core, we have to be discerning about the interpretations given to us. We must work to develop deep, conceptual understandings of it so that we may see for ourselves the difference between a fiction and a certainty.

And, if you’re new to our Let’s Chat Core series, here are all the previous blogs and videos.

Learning to Read the Core (video)

Implementing the Core: Where to Begin?

Core Changes and Their Impact

Unpacking the Standards (video)

A Go to Toolbox for Teachers

Simplifying Text Complexity (video)

 5 Questions to Ask about Core Resources

Beyond Right Answers: Math and the Core  (video)

Let’s Chat Core is an ongoing Teaching Channel series designed to help educators understand and implement the Common Core State Standards. Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa. She is the 2010 National Teacher of the Year and is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. Connect with Sarah on Twitter - @SarahWessling.

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