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California’s Common Core: A promise or a dream (First of two parts)
By Peter Schurmann
For New America Media



    (Editor’s  Note: In 2010, California became one of 45 states to adopt a new set of national education standards in English and math for all students. Full implementation across the state is scheduled for 2014. Described as “the most far-reaching experiment in American educational history,” the Common Core promises to revamp the way in which schools both instruct and assess their students, placing greater emphasis on critical thinking and analysis and moving away from the test-based instructional models currently in place. EdTrust West Executive Director Arun Ramanathan says the Common Core is a welcome change, particularly for special needs students across California.)

    
New America Media: Critics of the new Common Core standards warn that it could widen the achievement gap between low and high performing students. What are your thoughts on that?

    
Arun Ramanathan: It’s such an old argument, and to some degree it’s a racist argument. The notion that if you heighten standards for poor kids and kids of color, and then you also improve and enhance the teaching that they receive is somehow a negative … I actually think it’s the low expectations that hamper students and that are far worse than saying, “We’re going to have high expectations and then we’re going to teach to those high expectations.”  When people put their preconceptions about poor kids and kids of color aside and do that kind of teaching, you see kids as young as kindergarteners and first graders engaging in a whole different way, learning in a whole different way. I think that’s what the Common Core is about. When you change your expectations, you have a huge chance to transform the lives of children, particularly their educational lives.

    
NAM: How do you respond to those who say the Common Core is an example of government overreach in standardizing education?

    
Ramanathan: The Common Core is not about standardization … it is about simplification and depth. The essence of the standards is that they allow teachers to take a smaller but more in-depth set of standards and teach them in much less of a rote way, and in much more of an experiential and project-based way. That’s the essence. Yes, you may have standards that are consistent across states, but the way those standards are taught will vary from classroom to classroom and from school to school. What will be interesting, though, is to see how students are doing in one state as compared to another under a common set of standards. Finally, you can create true cross-comparisons … and be able to highlight what is successful.

    
NAM: What will some of the indicators be going ahead to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Common Core?

    
Ramanathan: The success of Common Core is going to hinge on us rethinking the way that we instruct and construct curriculum. If we take Common Core and just run it through the same standard curriculum that we’ve used … if we give teachers three or four professional development sessions and then say, “Hey, this is the Core. Go at it!” … if we just use iPads as glorified test booklets, nothing will happen.  But if we use these new standards in the right way, if teachers are able to utilize the standards in a way that allows them to differentiate instruction in the classroom to the real diversity of learners; if teachers are able to use technology to accelerate and support that; and if they’re able to cross-collaborate and take things off the net; if we see that occurring, and if we see students more engaged in their learning; if we see better outcomes in English Language Arts and Math … that’s what you should look for.

    
What you’ll need to do is take a look at what’s happening in the elementary and middle school levels, because that’s where you’ll see some great benefit. For our high school students, who will already have been exposed to the previous system, the transition may not have as great an impact. But what does Common Core mean for early learning, in particular? That is going to be fascinating to watch.
(Next: What does $1.25 billion buy?)

 
 
 
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