It's working: A teacher's report on the Common Core

November 18, 2014

By Pat Sprinkle

A recent Gallup Poll reveals our nation’s teachers are divided on the Common Core State Standards. From the perspective of teachers, disgruntled from decades of changing standards, many see the recently decreased test scores and students authentically struggling on deep and meaningful tasks, and assume the worst—it must be a fault in the Common Core and the exams. These critiques have been echoed by others and represent a serious misunderstanding of what is occurring in classrooms across the United States where the Common Core standards are being implemented. The truth lies in the fact that teachers in states who have had more time and experience with the Common Core increasingly support the new standards.

From the perspective of a teacher, I see the exact opposite of what those opposed to the Common Core describe. The Common Core provides exactly what students need—high standards that are pushing educators and students to excellence every single day. I want schools that will allow all children to discover their passion, give them the tools to follow that passion and help them succeed in 21st century colleges and careers. As we have seen in Kentucky, Common Core implementation has coincided with higher performance and greater participation on the ACT. While correlation does not prove causation, it should come as no surprise that a focus on close reading and analysis of text ultimately leads to greater college and career readiness.

As a teacher at a high school with students of all ability levels, I knew the implementation of the higher standards of the Common Core would be difficult. In this difficulty I found strength:  strength in myself as an educator, strength in my supervisor in supporting me, strength in my peers in collaboration, and most important, strength in my students who worked harder than they had ever been expected to. The higher you raise the bar, the higher our children will climb with the love and support from their school community.

Let’s take a unit on President Lyndon Johnson from my high school curriculum. Before the Common Core, students would have heard a lecture, memorized the endless legislative accomplishments of LBJ, and hopefully learned about how the Vietnam War hampered the Johnson presidency. In a Common Core-aligned lesson, students synthesize LBJ’s different speeches, analyze different historical interpretations, and use critical thinking to write argumentative essays and historiographies. This new approach challenges students, all while developing perseverance, a prerequisite to ensuring that our students can overcome challenges they will inevitably encounter in the real world.

In a class survey, several students commented about how their learning changed in our history class. One student wrote that she felt “challenged, but supported”, and another celebrated her development as a writer and a public speaker due to the rigorous learning environment partially created by the Common Core.  I can attest to the fact that it is more difficult to create deeply enriching Common Core aligned lessons, but this is the education our children deserve.

Our students also deserve assessments that measure hard work and increased achievement in the classroom. While student proficiency scores have dropped throughout New York State, we are finally being honest with our students and families about their starting point and the necessary growth we will need to make together. The Regents Exam reflects the changes I’m making in my classroom. Challenging, analytical responses rather than rote memorization questions have become the norm in my classroom, and new standards reflects this.  

The Common Core empowers communities to improve learning not by mandating how to teach, but by setting ambitious goals. It is important to recognize that the Common Core alone will not achieve anything. Without effective pedagogy, deep and engaging professional development, the Common Core will not come alive for teachers and students. Rather, it is in the spirit of collaboration that schools, families, and students will reach the highest goals we have ever set and take us one step further towards providing an outstanding education for all students.

Pat Sprinkle is a sixth-year Advanced Placement United States History and Advanced Placement United States Government and Politics at the New York City Lab School for Collaborative Studies.

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