My Turn: Teachers really do understand (and like) the Common Core

Last modified: 12/22/2013 1:25:01 AM
The Monitor published an article on Dec. 17 about Joseph Mendola of Warner forming a political action committee to oppose the Common Core. That’s fine. It can take its place beside the PACs to oppose Obamacare and global warming. But what surprised me was that Mendola said, “teachers have just a glimpse of what they think (the Common Core is) about.”

In my work with Advancing New Hampshire Public Education, an advocacy organization, I have visited schools across the state and talked to teachers and administrators about the Common Core. I can tell you that there is strong appreciation for the new higher standards from any teacher who has actually used them in her classroom. Here are some examples:

When I visited Angela Manning’s vibrant and engaged fifth grade at Portsmouth’s New Franklin Elementary School, she said, “It’s overwhelming, of course, because it’s a big shift. It’s been interesting, though, to watch the kids step up to the level of deeper thinking that we’re asking them to do.”

Sue Hannan has been teaching for 25 years, now the sixth and seventh grades at Manchester’s Hillside Middle School. She says, “In the past . . . (we were) fearful of raising expectations. But . . . we need to set that higher standard. The Common Core does that.”

The new standards seem to be less of a departure for the teachers in our high schools. Deb Springhorn, an American studies teacher at Lebanon High School speaks for many when she says, “I think we’ve been doing Common Core for at least the 20 years. . . . To me it’s just good curriculum and good classroom instruction. . . . (In our American studies course), it’s American literature and American history combined together. We bring in philosophy. We bring in economics. We bring in art. We bring in music. . . . These are the higher-order thinking skills I think the Common Core really addresses. . . . So I’m a believer.”

Kathy Kirby, a social studies teacher at Hollis/Brookline Cooperative High School, said at a teacher training day this fall, “The objective in our district has always been to graduate successful writers and critical thinkers, and people who have developed high reading skills . . . very much in line with the Common Core.”

Diane Johnson, a combined first- and second-grade teacher in Bennington, told me, “The first- and second-graders are astonishing me with their problem-solving ability. It took awhile. It’s harder. They have to explain what they’re doing. But to have 6- or 7-year-olds talk about a multi-step problem and all the different ways that they got there – and then to see that kid in the back go, ‘Ohhhh, yeah, now I get it.’ It’s very satisfying.”

Debbie Villiard, a fourth-grade teacher passionately dedicated to the kids at Manchester’s Northwest Elementary School, has had great success with the new standards in her classroom:

“Common Core standards don’t limit what I do in the classroom – they open doors. . . . We go deeper and spend more time on skills. We don’t just teach something and move on. . . . I try to make sure they really, really own those skills.”

If you’re skeptical about the Common Core, ask your child’s teacher about it. In most New Hampshire schools, you’ll find her knowledgeable about the new higher standards and committed raising expectations for what our kids will know when they leave her classroom.

PACs and politics aside, that’s got to be a good thing.

(Bill Duncan of New Castle is the founder of the advocacy group Advancing New Hampshire Public Education.)

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