Here in Michigan, and nationwide, there has been much talk about the Common Core. Naysayers have emerged from all corners of the education world to express their disdain for the standards. In the meantime, teachers like me have been working tirelessly to re-envision their instruction, making significant and labor-intensive changes to class curricula and expectations. When the standards were introduced, I read them carefully, considered their worth, and concluded that they valued what I valued: rigor and critical thinking. Although they didn’t contain everything I value, what they did contain were values I could hang my hat on. And more importantly, they left to my discretion important decisions regarding course content and methods that responsive, differentiated instruction requires.
True, the standards seemed to miss some things. For example, they contain only brief references to evaluating information, and almost no reference to using social media responsibly. There is not much emphasis on creativity. Nevertheless, I knew I had to incorporate these in my instruction, and as long as I retained the intellectual freedom and curricular space to do so, I could support the standards.
But here’s something I wasn’t expecting–something I believe may be a direct effect of the standards on my students. In a study I’m in the process of analyzing, students evaluated web sites about a controversial issue. I specifically asked them to evaluate the trustworthiness of those sites. They rated the sites and also listed reasons for their ratings. A surprising and impressive number of my students referred directly to “claims,” “evidence,” “reasoning,” “facts,” and “proof” in the rationale for their ratings–without being prompted to do so.
Now, I have been teaching adolescents for 24 years, and these are not words my previous 8th graders (or even 9th or 10th graders) have tended to use. But since the introduction of the Common Core, our kids have been inundated with instruction asking them for evidence, evidence, evidence. From science to social studies to language arts, they have been required to back up their answers over and over again. Could it be that students are applying habits of sound critical thinking even when we don’t specifically ask them to do so? Could it be that the Common Core emphasis on evidence, rationale, and logic are changing the way our students evaluate the ideas they encounter? If so, I can’t think of a better reason to quell the naysayers.
Are there serious issues with over-testing and developmental appropriateness in the application of the Common Core? Absolutely! Should teachers retain the intellectual freedom to make curricular decisions with students’ wellbeing as top priority? Without question! But if the standards really do fortify essential skills for managing our 21st century information overload, then perhaps we should refrain from throwing them out with the bathwater.