BY BRENDA BERG, BEST NC AND MOM Recently, Ann Carroll of Women AdvaNCe posted a blog detailing the “unintended consequences” of North Carolina’s Standards in math and English. I agree with Carroll that we all want our students to succeed and that working with educators is essential to that efforts,but we may have to agree to disagree on the facts. As a parent of elementary students, I have done my homework and spoken extensively to educators about the standards, and want to address the impact the standards will have on our students.
Common Core State Standards, adopted two years ago in North Carolina, are focused in mathematics and English language arts, but they also include literacy standards for subjects like science, social studies and art to help students understand how learning translates from one subject to the next. North Carolina will maintain other subject area standards to ensure students learn content and skills associated with science, social studies and more. As teachers across subject areas collaborate more, students receive the added benefit of more clearly understanding how subjects and skills relate to one another. Rather than narrow what our students learn, as Carroll asserts, we will actually see a deeper and wider experience through Common Core.
One vital point that Carroll misses is the distinct difference between standards and curriculum. Standards are a list of expectations for what our students should know and be able to do at each grade level, while curricula are the materials and methods that teachers choose to use in their classroom to meet standards. They are not the same, and any North Carolina educator can attest to the increased flexibility teachers have in designing their own curriculum under the new standards. Instead of solely using textbooks, many of which become obsolete quickly, many teachers are designing engaging projects that allow students to read and write in addition to performing a hands-on task that shows students how to apply their knowledge and skills.
Because of the increased autonomy in the classroom curriculum, educators are also no longer focused on “teaching to the test.” North Carolina’s Common Core standards focus on mastering knowledge and skills that are transferable to all subjects and situations, such as critical thinking, analysis, vocabulary building and strong communication skills.
Like any profession, our educators will require some professional development for this shift in teaching and learning, but our educators are always working to improve their craft and do their best for our students. Likewise, as with any standards change, districts will have to ensure their materials align to the standards, but high-performing districts are already be updating their materials frequently. In fact, with this standards change, many districts may actually save money in the long-run because they are no longer restricted by the repeated cost of updating textbooks. Educators can also create their own materials and, more than ever before, utilize resources from other teachers. It’s telling that more than 70 percent of North Carolina educators support these standards, and we should trust their expertise in education.
I’d also like to touch on assessments, which are important for parents and teachers to determine what students are learning well, and what topics need further attention. Assessments aligned to the standards will be focused on students showing their work and providing evidence from reading to support their reasoning. As a business leader, I know how vital these skills are to any business environment, and am encouraged that these skills are at the heart of the Common Core and its assessments.
North Carolina’s high standards in math and English are the first and only state education standards to be based on research, inclusive of the expectations graduates will encounter in college and the workforce. They have consistently been rated stronger than our previous standards, so Carroll’s claim ignores the history of standards in our state.
As a mother and a businesswoman, I know well the value of high standards. Whether it is in the workplace or in the classroom, North Carolina must strive to set high standards for our future. Our state’s current standards are a step critical in raising the bar for our children. We all want our children to succeed and we may not agree on how to do that, but for any progress to be made, we must base our decisions on facts.