While the debate about the Common Core learning standards rages, I thought I should share my perspective as a fifth-grade English Language Arts teacher with almost 10 years of experience.
There seems to be a lot of confusion about the Common Core. The Common Core is not a curriculum. Local school districts maintain control of curriculum just as they always have. The Common Core is simply a set of standards that spell out what students should master. Standards have always existed in teaching, but are now universal and much more rigorous.
Having the same standards across school districts is already reaping dividends. Many students move during their educational years. In my experience, it is the students in need of the most help that are the most likely to move - sometimes moving two or three times during the school year.
Now, when I welcome new students to my classroom, they have been working on the same skills as the students I've had all year. In the past, these students who frequently moved would often get lost and have huge gaps in their education. Now they have the same chance as every student.
Just as importantly, the standards are much more rigorous. Students are expected to read a variety of texts, synthesize the information they have gathered, and write a cogent essay using evidence from the texts. In the past, a typical writing prompt for fifth-grade students would be, "Explain why you think Jackie Robinson was important." With the Common Core, the prompts are more demanding: "Explain how Jackie Robinson helped break the color barrier being sure to cite evidence from at least three of the articles you have read." With the new standards, my students are learning skills they will need in high school, college, and beyond. More importantly, they are learning to be critical thinkers.
While mastering the Common Core standards will not be easy for my students, I am already amazed by the progress I've seen. I have been implementing the Common Core over the last 3 years. The new standards are the most rigorous I have used, and already the results have been remarkable. Each year my students have risen to the challenge, worked harder, and exceeded my expectations.
I have no doubt that in the years to come, the success of our students will put to rest any doubts about the Common Core.
Lisa Sabella is a fifth-grade English language arts teacher at Ripley Central School and is a member of the New York Educator Voice Network.