Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

We've Forgotten About the TeachersShifting Our Focus From Common Core Back to Educators

By Stephannie ChenPublished January 1, 2017

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Shifting Our Focus From Common Core Back to Educators

In today's day and age, much of the discourse surrounding education revolves around Common Core and the dangers and advantages of standardization. Common Core is often associated with teaching to tests and the creation of intelligent sheep -- students who, albeit smart, cannot think for themselves. However, in doing so, we've overlooked teachers and failed to acknowledge their ability to guide students. This simplification of education to just focus on curriculum, and particularly Common Core, negatively impacts our evaluation of the education system and takes away from teacher agency. Instead, there needs to be a refocusing on educators, furthering teacher education and supporting their classroom needs and initiatives. 
At the beginning of the 21st century, the educational quality varied greatly across states. In standardized testing, American students ranked far beyond students in Japan, Canada, and other countries. Common Core, created in 2000, involved the simple idea of creating one set of academic expectations for all students in order to improve achievement and college readiness. Thus, in 2009 at a summit in Chicago, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and work groups consisting of professors, leaders of education advocacy groups, testing company experts, and some K-12 teachers came together to design the curriculum itself. Ultimately, what they created was an outline of skills students were expected to have at each grade level in English and Math for grades K-12. Since then, Common Core has become one of the most contentious educational acts.
            Common Core provides standards and basic requirements for what skills are taught, but teachers still hold power over how to instruct so students not only meet the basic requirements, but also develop a deeper, more meaningful understanding. In this process, students also learn how to learn, how to think, and how to reason. A good education involves much more than a list of learning objectives and Common Core does not inherently diminish education from becoming reduced to such. As some teachers have found, the standards in Common Core guide instruction, but that does not mean the teaching or instruction is standardized. In their classrooms, teachers enrich students' abilities to think critically and creatively in meaningful contexts. They inspire students to pursue various interests. They support students' social and moral development. Although there are educational standards from Common Core and otherwise, how they are taught is crucial to what students take from their education.
            Instead of focusing so much on Common Core's set of standards, we should shift our focus to better supporting our teachers in developing engaging and meaningful activities for their students. We should give teachers more time and space to be responsive to students' needs and interests. We should focus on recruiting a new generation of teachers and providing them with the resources to best support students from vulnerable communities. We should be more open and responsive to the concerns of teachers to recognize the constraints of our educational system today. Common Core should be reconceptualized as a guideline for skills that should be conveyed through classroom activities rather than a list of tasks to be presented and checked off. How we teach is as important as, if not more important than, the specific material which is taught.