Now that the Common Core State Standards have been adopted in 44 states and the District of Columbia, and with assessment set to begin in the 2014-15 school year, many are wondering how the Common Core will affect teachers. An estimation of its effects first begins with understanding the Common Core itself, the most sweeping educational reform ever undertaken in U.S. public schools in recent years.
Defining the Common Core
The centerpiece of the Common Core is a national set of guidelines that identify the skills and competencies all students should have when they graduate from high school. The Common Core is presented as a graduated K-12 program, often framed in terms of a series of steps or a long staircase, that envisions the learning process as linear and connected. Skills and competencies introduced in the earliest grades are reinforced and built upon throughout a child’s education, so that learning is connected and key concepts are fully integrated. At present, the Common Core is replacing current state standards for English and mathematics, though its principles and core emphases will have implications for other subjects, both academic and non-academic, in the K-12 curriculum.
Direct Effects on Teachers
For teachers, the Common Core State Standards represent both a challenge and an opportunity. New standards demand new curricula and new approaches to teaching, and the burden of developing these curricula and methods falls most heavily on teachers. However, the Common Core also promises a nationwide standard of goals and benchmarks for student achievement. Now more than ever, teachers can have consistent expectations for their students’ knowledge and skills, even for those students who transfer from other districts or states. There are a number of specific areas in which the Common Core State Standards will have an impact on teachers and teaching, including:
1. Literacy Across the Curriculum: The demand for literacy is increasing in college and the workplace, and the Common Core stresses that teachers in all disciplines must share responsibility for literacy development. The Common Core specifies ten areas of literacy skills that will be overlaid onto state standards for history, science, and other technical subjects. This means that science, math, and history teachers, and to a lesser extent teachers of supplemental subjects like art, music, and health, will increasingly be expected to include critical reading and writing components in their classes.
2. Critical Thinking: Expecting students to develop higher-level thinking and writing skills–analyzing complex texts, evaluating evidence, and making cogent arguments, for example–means that teachers will have to strengthen their own skills in these areas.
3. New Forms of Assessment: Related to the imperative for teachers to enhance their own critical thinking skills is the expectation that teachers also develop new forms of assessment consistent with these skills. Rather than rote memorization or standardized test preparation, teachers will need to create assessments that engage students in complex reading and critical thinking tasks and that demand cogent written arguments in support of students’ views.
4. Technology: Recognizing that technology has transformed the nature of research and is constantly creating new genres of reading and writing, the Common Core incorporates research and media skills in every subject. Students need to be able to evaluate and process the wealth of information that technology makes available, and teachers will need to be able to guide them through this process.
Opinions vary about the impact the Common Core will have on raising student performance, and there is a wealth of useful commentary on the subject. How will the Common Core affect teachers? Hopefully, it will help them continue to do what they do best–prepare students to meet the challenges of the future. If you are interested in implementing the Common Core by becoming a teacher, check out Top 10 Online Master’s in Education Degrees for information about getting a teaching degree.