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Kaycee Eckhardt

Change is frightening. It is time consuming, and requires that everyone involved check their egos and be willing to flex and innovate.

Wyoming has adopted the Common Core, and what and how we teach is going to have to change considerably. As with any new movement, the implementation of Common Core will take some innovation and creativity and time, and in these early stages this time for development allows naysayers room to gripe and whine.

It also seems that some people would rather bicker about the content of the Common Core than have discussion about the needs for implementation.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is our national report card. While we have had a slight increase in Fourth-grade results, Eighth-grade results have been flat, and the results we get from the 12th-grade assessment show a slight dip in proficiency levels. This has gone on since the 1960s.

MYTH: Common Core won’t meet the needs of all learners.

The Common Core was developed with the understanding that deep understanding of concepts takes time, and therefore it is important to omit the extraneous from previous expectations and focus on what students need most.

Additionally, the Common Core is a set of standards – not the curriculum. They do not dictate how to meet the needs of students in the classroom – that is and has always been the teacher’s domain rather; they set the bar for what all students need to know each year to be on track for college and career readiness.

MYTH: Common Core demoralizes teachers, by removing their creativity.

The Common Core defines clearly what to teach – the outcomes for all students are easy to understand.

They do not define how to teach.

In fact, the standards provide more freedom than ever before for teachers to delve into appropriate content, spend a lot of time of analysis and reading, on mathematical application and fluency.

What I found even more demoralizing as a teacher was not knowing what to teach, overwhelmed by the demands of numerous standards, compounded with focusing, not on what I felt my students needed, but on what was required to pass the state tests.

Because 46 states have now adopted the Common Core, collaborative possibilities have been opening up in classrooms across the country.

MYTH: Common Core removes literature from the classroom.

In current middle schools, students spent about

15 percent of their time on nonfiction texts, while in the workplace more than

80 percent of required reading is rigorous nonfiction. The Common Core addresses this serious deficiency by asking that the percentage of on-level nonfiction reading increases across all the content area classes.

By the time students reach high school, 70 percent of what they are reading in high school, not in English class, should be rigorous nonfiction. This means, for example, that an English teacher teaching “Romeo and Juliet” will also bring in an article on the Globe Theater. She might collaborate with the science teacher to have students read an article on the plague in their biology class, or read a historical primary document from the Elizabethan period in history.

She incorporates nonfiction, rather than lecturing or giving students the answer, and seeks out opportunities to incorporate a more comprehensive learning experience for her students in other classrooms.

MYTH: Common Core will destroy the love of reading for pleasure.

The best way to destroy the joy of an experience is to provide dozens of opportunities each and every day for students to fail at it.

Currently, our average student reads several years below their grade level – in my ninth-grade classroom, my average reader was at around a fourth-grade reading level. By the time they arrived at my doorstep, they had survived years of humiliating experiences with books and reading, making the experience painful and awkward.

My biggest lever was to provide successful experience with reading to counteract these past experiences. This meant building confidence around difficult texts, scaffolding questions to slowly increase understanding, and not being impatient to “get finished,” but rather spend time exploring a meaningful text deeply. It meant being creative, which is one of the best parts of teaching.

Students learn to love reading by having positive, lasting experiences with it, not by avoiding books that are “too hard” for them. This doesn’t mean that reading quantities of books isn’t important. It means that class time should be spent building the skills and practice necessary for lifelong readers of all genres and abilities.

MYTH: The Common Core Standards are a liberal/Obama/federal initiative

Not a single federal official was on the work teams and feedback groups that developed the standards —although there were quite a few teachers. The Common Core standards have always been an initiative led by state officials and superintendents across bipartisan lines.

Education reform has been important to the Obama administration as it has been to other administrations including the Bush and Clinton — and it supported the effort for Common Core implementation.

It isn’t a curriculum itself, and how schools implement the Common Core will be the key determiner in its success — or failure.

The bar is higher, but simply making things harder will only exacerbate the problem.

All of us — teachers, parents, and administrators — have to innovate new ways to ensure all of our students are meeting these standards, because if implemented correctly, our children will have the education we want — no, need — them to have.

Let’s not be too afraid to change. Let’s not allow our egos to stand in the way of making positive changes for the students of Wyoming. They deserve it.

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Eckhardt taught in Japan for four years before being inspired by Hurricane Katrina to return to her Louisiana home. She was named Louisiana Charter School Association Teacher of the Year in 2009. Eckhardt attended the Aspen Institute in 2009, is an America Achieves Fellow, Hope Street Group Fellow, and Student Achievement Partners Fellow, and was a keynote speaker at the 2011 Big Ideas Fest. Currently she works for ISKME, SAP, the New York Regents, and other organizations on effective and equitable Common Core implementation for all students.

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