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The Common Core Curriculum in a Flatter, Faster World

BY: DR. CINDY GUILLAUME AND DR. CASEY REASON

The common core curriculum has been a long time coming. While much has been said about the challenges of its implementation, one thing is clear: the common core curriculum is a sure sign, as Thomas Friedman has reminded us, that the world is flatter and faster and those flattening elements are having an impact on the steps me must take to be competitive, which includes more thoughtfully examining what is happening in every classroom in the United States.

What makes the common core so unique is the fact that for the first time ever there is a national conversation about the specific learning outcomes in math and language arts. While we have had recommendations in the past from national organizations in math and language arts, we have never established an agreed upon set of specific learning outcomes in these subjects that all schools in the United States are asked to achieve (source). Other countries like China, Singapore, and Norway do have a published national curriculum, and those countries all rank higher in both math and language arts than the United States (OECD, 2014).

So why did it take so long? The answer is simple. Local control. One of the more formative aspects of K-12 public education in the United States is our adherence to the importance of local control (Edgar, 2008). Local communities are afforded the opportunity to establish schools that meet their standards and have choices and priorities matching local preferences. This has been a wonderful attribute that allows a local school to indeed create learning opportunities that prepare the student to be a meaningful contributor to the local community.

The downside of all this local control has been uneven expectations and, at times, exceedingly low standards (Duncan, 2012). Before the common core curriculum, it wasn’t uncommon to find high schools where graduation didn’t require more than two years of math. That math experience wouldn’t necessarily have even included Algebra.

These lower expectations may have been acceptable in local school districts and surrounding communities based on regional jobs and expectations for work standards in the near future. However, that was then. Today, the internationalization of almost everything we do has made the working environment excruciatingly competitive and is forcing schools throughout the United States to broaden their horizons and indeed think about their curriculum against a broader national and at times international standard as they prepare students for an economy that will be altogether different than the economy most of us grew up in. Local control was based on the assumption that the local community would inherit the benefits (Edgar, 2008). Today, there is a much greater level of mobility and competition from all corners of the world are emerging.

Indeed Thomas Friedman was right. The world is getting flatter, faster, and more deeply interconnected. And the common core curriculum, although imperfect, is helping all students get ready for it.

Duncan, A. (2013, June). Duncan Pushes Back on Attacks on Common Core Standards. Speech presented at the American Society of News Editors Annual Convention, Capital Hilton, Washington, D.C.

Edgar, W.G. (2008). 21st Century Challenges to Local Control. Presented to the Washington State School Directors Association.

OECD (2014), PISA 2012 Results: What Students Know and Can do – Student Performance in Mathematics, Reading and Science (Volume I, Revised edition, February 2014), PISA, OECD Publishing.

Trends in K-12 Education: Online Continuing Teacher Education

With each passing year, standards for student achievement in K-12 classrooms across the country continue to rise. Most recently, the wide-spread adoption of Common Core State Standards has forced a new focus on student achievement and application of real world knowledge and skills. In an effort to help students exceed these expectations and succeed in the classroom, proactive educators must seek continuing education that can be immediately translated in to the classroom.

With this goal in mind, online degrees and certificate programs have quickly become the solution. “Choosing between a certificate program and degree program should really be tied to the student’s goals,” says Dr. Karen Ferguson, Assistant Dean for Northcentral University’s School of Education.

Dr. Karen Ferguson -  Assistant Dean, School of Education

Dr. Karen Ferguson – Assistant Dean, School of Education

“A degree program will provide students with both a breadth and a depth of information in their chosen area.  A certificate, on the other hand, tends to be very focused and specific.  Students should choose between the two based on their personal goals and professional requirements.”

In today’s competitive market for online education, fewer requirements, a completion date that is often as short as a few months, and a lower cost for total tuition have given certificate programs the edge – for now.

“Certificate options demonstrate to your school leadership that you are dedicated to continuous improvement and learning,” explains Dr. Ferguson.  “Often, certificates are a nice addition because students can learn focused content that may not have been offered at the time they earned their degree.”

For example, earning an education certificate in early childhood education, e-learning or education leadership would serve almost any educator well. While these specializations are common among online schools, NCU’s School of Education has taken specialized to a higher degree by becoming hyper-focused on the needs of teachers across the country attempting to adapt to the Common Core State Standards requirements.

“NCU offers certificates in a number of areas, all of which will support our students’ goals.  One of our recent additions is the Mathematics Excellence in the Common Core post-baccalaureate certificate.  This unique certification in education is designed specifically to help educators who are currently teaching mathematics to implement the Common Core State Standards,” says Dr. Ferguson.

Whether completing a degree program for advancement or a certificate program for added knowledge, online continuing teacher education is now the go-to solution for educators looking to prepare their students for success. For more information on all of NCU’s Title IV funded certificate and degree programs, visit www.ncu.edu.

Common Core State Standards: Helping or Hurting K-12 Education?

If you’re a K-12 educator, you’ve likely been discussing the Common Core State Standards with your school administration and what it will mean to you as a teacher and to your students.

According to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “these standards have the capacity to change education in the best of ways – setting loose the creativity and innovation of educators at the local level, raising the bar for students, strengthening our economy and building a clearer path to the middle class.”

However, not everyone shares our Secretary of Education’s point of view. There have been mixed feelings about the Common Core State Standards since they were introduced in 2007.

Some feel that the implementation of such standards is a federal takeover of schools (even though the federal government did not create them), while others feel that having more rigorous, high-quality learning standards evens the playing field among states and will benefit our students and our country long term.

What They Are

Figure 1 Image from www.corestandards.org

Figure 1 Image from http://www.corestandards.org

The Common Core State Standards is not a federally mandated program. In 2007, a group of governors and state education leaders created the Common Core Standards “to establish a single set of clear educational standards for English-language arts and mathematics that states can share.” The standards were designed in part due to the declining rank of America in education and in college completion rates. The Common Core strives to prepare students to be college and career ready so the U.S. can compete in a global economy.

Today, 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity voluntarily adopted these standards; however, many states have not fully implemented them. For example, Pennsylvania adopted the standards July 2, 2010, but they are not expected to fully implement them until school year 2013-2014.

According to Duncan, “When these standards are fully implemented, a student who graduates from a high school in any one of these states – who is performing at standard – will be ready to attend and succeed in his or her state university without remedial education. Historically, in far too many communities, more than half of those who actually graduated high school needed remedial help in college.”

The Impact on Teachers

The Common Core State Standards are just that – standards. In other words, this is what students should academically know by a certain age. Common Core is not a change to curriculum, which is what teachers teach to help students meet academic standards. By law, the federal government is prohibited from creating or mandating curricula.

Dr. Renee Aitken, director of assessment for the School of Education at NCU, explains, “Teachers are encouraged to be more creative in reaching the standards. For K-12 teachers, the Common Core Standards will require evaluations, but each state is responsible for making up the evaluation points.”

According to corestandards.org, “Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they do help teachers figure out the knowledge and skills their students should have so that teachers can build the best lessons and environments for their classrooms.”

The Impact on Students

With Common Core, students will be required to demonstrate more critical thinking skills so this may change how and what they are learning. The goal is to fully prepare students  for college and a career in today’s environment as more jobs require a deeper level of thinking and comprehension.

“Common Core is a touchy subject for some diverse groups – parents, teacher educators, teachers, administrators, government officials, and concerned citizens,” said Aitken. “It is very early in the adoption process to know if implementing it is a good or a bad thing.”

Are you a K-12 teacher, parent or administrator? If so, we’d love to know what you think about the Common Core State Standards in our comments section below.

Happening Now: Trends in K-12 Education

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment at post-secondary, degree-granting institutions in the United States hit 21 million students in 2010. Millions of students, from hundreds of cities, thousands of school districts, and countless different schools all with one common goal: the desire to better themselves with higher education.

Right now, you’re wondering what this has to do with K-12 education, and the answer is simple – everything. The foundation for a successful educational career is laid in the halls and classrooms of every K-12 school across the country. In order for that foundation to be as strong as possible, standardization of the years of education spent in preparation for success in higher education – and life in general – is a must.

With this in mind, we took the time to gain insight in to the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core Standards Initiative from course designer, successful author, and Northcentral University faculty member, Dr. Casey Reason.

Q: What is the Common Core Standards Initiative?
A: Put simply, the Common Core Standards is a national standard for math and language arts performance that allows every state to work in a way that allows every student to be competitive. The goal of this initiative is to bring into alignment the curriculum expectations for the United States.

Q: What makes this superior to previous efforts for standardization in K-12 education across the United States?
A: In the past, we resisted offering a sense of clarity about exactly what educators were supposed to be teaching and how. The Common Core Standards are far more explicit and even go so far as to describe how to get to the articulated standards. This is unprecedented.

Q: Northcentral University’s School of Education has focused its efforts on properly preparing teachers for success in the classroom. In your opinion, how will Common Core Standards impact teacher education?
A: The Common Core Standards will improve our ability to prepare teachers. These standards give us the ability to give teachers the specific tools they need to be successful in the classroom. In addition, Common Core Standards level the playing field between schools, districts and states, giving us the consistency that will make preparing teachers much easier.

Q: What changes, if any, can parents expect?
A: The biggest change for parents will be overcoming the notion that their children are being taught in a manner which is not consistent with the way they were taught as children. Schools who are implementing the Common Core Standards Initiative have to work overtime to let parents know that the approach will be different. Some schools, for example, are asking parents to take classes in the Common Core Standards Initiative so that they are of greater assistance in helping with homework. It will undoubtedly result in some bumpy transitions along the way, but I truly believe that this is progress and we will be better off for it.

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