Category Archives: Common Core College and Career Standards

The Capacities of Children Are Beyond Our Comprehension

Well, yesterday I heard on NPR about preschoolers solving gadget problems faster than college students. Really. Check it out.  And this morning my friend and colleague shared a charming example of kindergarten statistics and flow chart diagrams. Ah, the malleable and amazing child’s brain. I guess we should never underestimate what our young children can handle–be it abstract thinking of sigma six or common core state standards.  Peace.


Teaching Literacy Through Climate Change Science

There was a time when science, social studies, and other non-English Language Arts teachers were exempt from teaching literacy in their classes. Aside from performance based subjects (arts, tech…), rote memorization of content was mattered greatly and the notion of close reading, writing from sources, text-based evidence, and disparate viewpoints and positions was unfathomed. For many, chugging through the core curricula via a favorite textbook or select set of readings got one from September to June. Fast forward to the Common Core State Standards era and today EVERYONE has responsibility to teach literacy within their subject areas. Not surprisingly, teachers are embracing the changes when given adequate time to develop the necessary understandings and skills literacy instruction require.

To help educators make the shift to literacy instruction, last week a friend and colleague of mine at Capital Region BOCES presented a session on Climate Change and the Common Core to a group of 25 science, social studies, and ELA teachers (Six participants were MST students from SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury).  Laura Lehtonen is the BOCES Science Director, and like me, strives to help educators incorporate rigor and relevance into classroom instruction while also meeting state-mandated curricula. For our workshop, we decided to look at the Common Core Literacy Instructional Shifts through the lens of Climate Change. Climate change was our chosen topic given the misinformation, confusion, and at times, ignorance about climate change swirling among this great nation’s populace.

Our day began with a 90 minute Climate Reality presentation which describes the process of global warming and the impacts of climate change on extreme weather and drought events, rising sea levels, melting of glaciers and ice caps, dwindling food production and potable water supplies, and spread of tropical diseases. We followed the melancholic Climate Reality session with the Common Core Instructional Shifts, and then had participants practice a number of fun and engaging literacy-based strategies.

Participants investigated and interpreted the message of climate change cartoons, practiced and responded to text-based questions, jigsawed a Royal Society publication on Climate Change and Causes, and reviewed evidence based claims. My favorite activity was the 4 A’s protocol (see below) from EngageNY which includes close reading, text-dependent questioning, use of evidence, and discussion strategies required by the Common Core.  For that activity, participants evaluated first the Climate Reality presentation given in the morning, and in the afternoon an opinion piece by Charles Krauthammer Op-Ed piece, Observing ‘settled science’.  Though one may not agree with another’s opinions, it matters little without critical inspection of the piece (think close reading, evidence based facts… ala 4A’s Protocol).

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Armed with a good understanding of climate change, our participants scrutinized Krauthammer’s op-ed piece and found a number of assumptions made by the author including confusing “unsettled science” correlations of climate change science and mammogram studies, changing climate change predictions as a flaw of climate prediction models, suggesting climate change scientists spend all their time in white lab coats in front of computer screens, and citing one physicist’s interpretations of climate change as a non-urgent matter while disregarding 98% of the world’s scientists including those on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who state climate change is a problem and anthropogenic in origin. There was agreement that climate change science is complicated, and some participants were interested in checking Krauthammer’s data more deeply, including claims that global temperature hasn’t risen in 15 years or that there are fewer intense tornadoes than in previous years.

The beauty of close reading, text-based evidence, and other shifts of the Common Core State Standards is the promotion of critical thinking. Charles Krauthammer is an excellent writer, and it was an interesting and satisfying experience for participants to use what they learned to verify facts from fiction. Whatever the topic one teaches, the beauty of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for non-ELA teachers is the opportunity to engage students in greater rigor and relevant activities. Activities that demand students read text closely and use evidence to support their positions, whatever their positions may be. By implementing CCSS, we are in effect empowering students to use evidence to speak, read, and write with conviction. And that’s a very good thing for the future of our global society.

How I See the Math Common Core: A Guest Post

Betty Barrett is a friend, colleague, and master teacher. With 40+ years work as a math teacher, director, and professional developer, she has a perspective and historical knowledge of math instruction few can claim. Enjoy.

How I See the Math Common Core

By Betty Barrett

Remodeling my kitchen was a cataclysmic upheaval of my life, especially considering that all during the restructuring time I had to continue to prepare meals and clean up afterward. But, once the stressful period was over, the end result was a modern, more efficient kitchen that made my food-preparing experience much easier and more productive.

At the present time there is a cataclysmic upheaval occurring in our educational system with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. In the classrooms where I have spent my 40-plus years of teaching mathematics, conducting effective teaching workshops, and coaching teachers, there are necessary, albeit stressful, restructurings taking place.

I have been living with the K-12 Common Core Math Standards 24/7 for the past 30 months. All the educational research on how teachers effectively deliver instruction and how the Brain learns, along with the mathematics necessary for students entering the world of the 21st century went into creating the new Standards.

In my workshops and in-school training, I hear teachers discussing mathematics as never before. I hear them telling stories of elementary students who can think more clearly, demonstrate more understanding, who have become more fluent in their number sense, and who have more strategies available for them to solve abstract, novel problems involving real-life situations.

I spend numerous hours observing the Common Core Math Standards being taught in classrooms. In the past two years I have seen many positive changes.

I see students spending more time practicing the “Core” operations to become Fluent in basic mathematical skills, freeing their brain’s working memory to concentrate on more complex application processes.

I see students learning more than “how to get the answer”; I see them understanding the “why” of mathematics.

I see students being taught number bonds, tape diagrams, area diagrams – strategies by which to  “picture” a mathematical situation.

I see students being asked to extensively apply their learning to problem-solving. We are taking mathematics out of the classroom laboratory and into real-life. Students are immediately knowing when they are “going to use this.”

During the reconstruction, my kitchen was a stressful mess. Workers did not do all they were asked; materials did not arrive on time. The finishing backsplash was brought in before the wallboard had gone up. The cost was more than projected. My family wondered if eating would ever get back to normal. But, eventually, it did; and it is now so much better.

Yes, right now, during the process of implementing the Common Core Standards, there IS an educational mess. We are all absorbing new curricula, changing instructional styles, adjusting to new assessments with higher expectations; and all this under the stress of being evaluated on the finished product before it is completed.

Education is being changed one student, one teacher, one administrator, one parent at a time. The final result of this restructuring is going to be students who possess a far better understanding of the concepts of mathematics and who have a greater ability to analyze problems and make better decisions. We will see improvements in education that will be well worth the wait.

Common Core Standards Breaking Bad?

29–remember this number–we’ll get back to it.

Meanwhile, what is going on with the Common Core State Standards? From reading the sensationalized media, it seems in a matter of months the Standards have broken bad as their cachet reveals cracks through supposed flawed rollout programs, accountability measures tying student achievement with teacher and principal performance, communication with parents problems, and threats of new assessments. What began five years ago as a solution to many of public education’s ills, including declining US competitiveness on international student achievement measures has now seemingly become problematic. What started as a pathway to nationwide rigor and consistency has become fragmented and politicized in some states. What promised to increase literacy and math skills for all students is now accused of stressing children (and parents) and lowering their sense of worth. What in the world has happened? Are things really that different? Are the standards no longer worthwhile and valid? Are they beyond our children’s capacities? Are they too hard? No, No, No, No. Rather, the standards are now more critically important than ever (Remember that number, 29). What’s happened is the Standards are being confused with other challenging elements of school reform including standardized testing and student assessments tied to teacher performance.

As a refresher, the Common Core State Standards were created five years ago through the efforts of the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. They were designed to ensure students in every state of the nation graduated high school ready for college or career, leading to fewer remediation classes at college, less time for new employee training on communications, basic skills, team work, and so on.  In other words, the Common Core were written to pull America up by its boot straps by raising the proverbial bar of academic rigor. To be exact, two years increased rigor were part of the package. What was once reading material at 5th grade would now be found in 3rd grade, 9th grade literacy expectations were now required in 7th grade. The same rules applied for math. The elementary math curriculum was heavily pruned to remove the excess baggage that bogged students and their teachers down, and at all grade levels, there was a call for mathematical fluency, process skills, and application of mathematics in familiar and unfamiliar scenarios. Increased academic rigor are what the standards  promised and are now delivering in schools across the nation.

Five years ago, the Common Core Standards were advertised quite rightly as a game changer!! From Common Core State Standards InitiativeThe Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy. Well, with the challenges of implementing large-scale school reform, some are beginning to balk at the inherent difficulty of such reform and confusing Standards with other reform elements. As my good friend and colleague, Mike DeCaprio, said, “Part of my current push is for clarity about just what we really dislike. Are the Standards actually breaking bad? Or is the roll out breaking bad? Or was the assessment requirement? Or VAM? Or….” It’s all so confusing, but it needn’t be.

To be clear, the standards have not changed–at all. They still prepare students for college and career readiness. They remain rigorous, and continue to demand higher level thinking across all grade levels and subjects. No one is exempt from teaching or learning the standards, and theoretically, it no longer matters in what state you graduate high school from. As long as the state is one of the 45 which has adopted Common Core, the high school graduate will be prepared for success. What has changed, sadly, is people’s eagerness to lump Common Core Standards with the messiness of standardized assessments, performance reviews, federal intrusion in schools, etc…

It’s hard reforming a nation’s curriculum, particularly when politics enter the equation. It’s hard when student report cards include letters of the alphabet beyond A and B, and it’s hard when this is all done during times of economic duress. And yet, there has been immense progress made in implementing the Common Core. Students are now reading more complex text at earlier grades, learning fractions, ratios and proportions beginning in elementary school, and most significantly, using evidence to support positions. In this region of New York state, parents and educators are finding students can do Common  Core Standards work. Some are downright gleeful with the level of work being done by their children. For a variety of reasons, many of the success stories don’t pass muster in the news media. Instead, recent headlines and political whirlwinds suggest much like in Mary Poppins, a change in the weather is approaching for the Common Core.

With NPR, Lehrer Newshour, Fox News (Yes, I watch both Fox and Lehrer News Hour for my contrarian views), CBS, NY Times,……all reporting regularly about education and Common Core topics, I did a Google search January 22nd on “Common Core News.” What I found is disconcerting, and demonstrates the noise occurring in parts of the nation regarding Common Core Standards.

1. From, TN lawmakers balk at Common Core school standards.

Republican lawmakers are putting the final touches on legislation that would delay the implementation of Common Core education standards and the companion test in Tennessee, perhaps setting the stage for the type of fight playing out in statehouses across the country. Around a dozen House Republicans, according to Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, are united behind a bill to take a pause from the controversial curriculum — for up to three or four years —

2. From the Pensacola News Journal, Education chief defends changes to Common Core standards

MIAMI — Education Commissioner Pam Stewart defended proposed changes to the Common Core on Tuesday, saying they will set Florida apart and strengthen the state’s academic standards. Stewart presented the changes and fielded questions from the Board of Education at its meeting in Miami. The benchmarks for learning in language arts and math were adopted by Florida in 2010… In Florida and elsewhere, the standards have been criticized as being part of a “federal intrusion” into state education and a strategy to force children to take more high-stakes testing.

3. From Alabama Media Group’s Mike Cason, Superintendent Tommy Bice, panelists disagree sharply on Common Core standards at forum.

Bice defended the use of Common Core as an Alabama-driven approach to set benchmarks that prepare students to succeed in higher education and careers. The detractors described Common Core as a poor substitute for traditional approaches to education that focused wrongly on work preparation and indoctrination.

4. From the Syracuse Post Standard, Cuomo calls for panel to take ‘corrective action’ on Common Core.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today that he will assemble a panel of educators and legislators to fix what he said was a “flawed” rollout of the Common Core learning standards in New York’s schools.

As the preceding news articles indicate, there are pockets of angst with Common Core. However, to fully appraise what’s happening, one has to have a ground level look to see the problem is not Common Core Standards but the churn, implementation dips, and struggles significant change brings. And at the ground level, one would see we’re moving through the change process. Teachers, students, principals,….are adjusting to the new rigor and challenges. Progress is being made, and students CAN DO the work. Another confounding element is the emphasis by many states on using student achievement data to rate teacher and principal performance. That is a dicey concept at all times, but particularly so when the rules have been changed with new curricula and assessments. People get stressed when there are unknown variables out there, especially when jobs are on the line. A final factor is the misinformation being sent out via the blogosphere, twitter, Facebook, and other forms of media. It so often seems when the going gets tough, the tough get going and the rest complain.

So, about the number 29. 29th is our country’s international ranking  on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  That is not good, and in stark contrast for a country that prides itself on being number one. We really must look in the mirror and accept that we are losing when it comes to P-12 education. If we truly believe that a first class education system really, really matters to our longterm global success, then we must address the income inequality gap that exists in the U.S.. 23% of our children live in poverty, which places us 23rd among industrialized nations in terms of childhood poverty. That is unacceptable and damaging to our country’s welfare. Not surprisingly, our students perform much better when poverty is not factored in to the PISA comparisons. We must also continue to demand more from students, teachers, parents, principals, community members, politicians… (The good news is the vast majority of people are rising to the challenge). Lastly, if we want to rise up the international education rankings, we must stop poking holes in quality standards that have pushed students to succeed at higher levels of rigor. Simply put, it’s important to remind ourselves that the Common Core Standards are more rigorous than what we’ve had in the past and as a result provide a pathway to inch back up the rankings list.

Let’s put as much energy and commitment into our PISA ranking as we will do at the upcoming Winter Olympics. Let’s earn the gold medals for academic performance by addressing childhood poverty, pressing all stakeholders to do more, and staying the course on the Common Core Standards and academic rigor. Too much is at stake to do otherwise.

Race To The Top in New York: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

To get in the right mood, think Clint Eastwood as bounty hunter, spaghetti westerns, and the haunting theme music of Ennio Morricone. Think gun slinging outlaws, dusty deserts, tired horses, and poorly lit bars. There we go. Now we’re ready to talk about the biggest modern day reform agenda launched in New York state history, ie. Race to the Top (RTTT). One reminder, however. All significant change events carry with them good, bad and ugly elements, and so it goes with the New York State Board of Regents Reform Agenda-an agenda which has taken more than its fair share of heat. Here’s how I see the breakdown.

  • The good: Career Teacher Ladder, Teacher Leadership, Common Core State Standards, Data-Driven Instruction, Evidence-Based Teacher and Principal Observations, Rigorous Assessments, and Student Learning Objectives.
  • The bad: Career Teacher Ladder, Teacher Leadership, Common Core State Standards, Data-Driven Instruction, Evidence-Based Teacher and Principal Observations, Rigorous Assessments, and Student Learning Objectives.
  • The ugly: Career Teacher Ladder, Teacher Leadership, Common Core State Standards, Data-Driven Instruction, Evidence-Based Teacher and Principal Observations, Rigorous Assessments, and Student Learning Objectives.

Okay, that’s not fair. How can we have all these various RTTT deliverables categorized as good, bad and ugly together? Is there a way to differentiate the best RTTT has to offer from its worst elements? I’m biased, obviously, so I don’t dare venture too deeply down such a path. However, I think it’s fair to venture a little.

Common Core Standards are not good, they are great, and their adoption across the nation brought consistency and rigor to the 45 States in which they now exist. Rigor that was sorely needed to increase our students’ capacities to successfully compete in a flattened world. It’s hard work when a curriculum bar is suddenly raised, particularly when the rigor is two years higher than past curricula. Our students are now being asked to do 5th grade math in 3rd grade. To do 7th grade reading in 5th grade. Etc. Needless to say, there are serious growing pains with such a change in standards.

Data-Driven Instruction is not good, it’s essential. Many schools claim they’ve been doing it for years. Yes, end of year student assessment data have been analyzed and curricula changed in some schools. And yes, primary school teachers regularly use running records and other reading data to inform decisions. However, the widespread, purposeful actions of Assess, Analyze, and Act are done sparingly in our nation’s classrooms. Too much to do, a lack of professional development on how to do DDI, and other reasons compromise a truly data-driven instruction mindset.

Evidence-based observations of teachers AND PRINCIPALS are not good, they are desperately needed in all schools. Perhaps for the first time ever, all teachers and principals are being observed by lead evaluators trained to do such observations. And the observations conducted are based on analytic rubrics proven to be aligned with teaching and leadership standards. That’s fantastic! I remember years ago having observations done sparingly, and with checklists. There were no detailed descriptors built around reputable standards of teaching or leadership. Rather, they were primarily subjective evaluations (think judgments) of what good instruction or leadership looked like. That’s a dangerous proposition, particularly if the evaluator has unsound understandings or values.

There’s so much angst about Race to the Top, so let’s jump to the “ugly” elements. I will admit to being a fan of more rigorous state assessments, but there are obvious flaws in our present model that are blemishing the Regents Reform Agenda. The biggest issue is tying teacher and principal performance to student assessment data while the plane is still being built. Though the vast, vast majority of teachers are placing in the effective or highly effective APPR rankings, it is still exceedingly stressful to have one’s professional performance review partly contingent on how your students do on a new assessment based on new and much more rigorous standards. That’s very scary for many, and that is what adds the ugliness to the equation. Other “ugly” elements are just part of the change landscape. We will always have our “deniers” and “chicken little” types who prefer the comfortable status quo they’ve grown to love. However, most professionals within the field are working their best to make the necessary adjustments, and doing so successfully, though not without the periodic “hiccup” or “crash” such wide scale change brings.

Let’s Celebrate Academic Rigor, Rigor, Rigor…….

Imagine yourself a classroom teacher walking into school to start your day. It’s 7:00AM on a cold November Tuesday, and as usual, your lesson plans tucked in your plan book hold promise for a good day of active learning. After signing in at the main office, you check your mail box, catch up with colleagues on the morning chatter, and then head down the hall to your classroom. After you unlock the door and turn on the lights, you are greeted with the following student scribbled words in big, bold letters across your white board:

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You know that beneath the scrawl lies a hidden message, and that message brings a smile to your face. Your students get it. They know the high expectations you have for them, and they proudly broadcast their cognizance for you to see. Congratulations. You have raised the proverbial bar in them, cultivating an appreciation for rigor which bodes well in their future endeavors.

We have a motto in our SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury school culture class: The Three R’s for quality teaching and learning are Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. Whether we are looking at impacts of the New York State Regents Reform Agenda on school culture, evidence-based observations and teaching rubrics, Common Core State Standards, Data-Driven Instruction, or change theory, individual and collective success in education (life for that matter) hinges on Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. Good teaching is about the Three R’s.

Our most effective educators maintain high expectations for their students. They work hard on lesson plans to make the learning meaningful, and they structure activities that promote relationship-building. In the process, their students’ natural curiosity and desire for social interaction lead to greater cognition and competencies. These master educators accept the challenges and look beyond the distractions that exist in any significant reform effort, focusing instead on ensuring students are pushed towards greater academic rigor through relevant, relationship-building instruction.

As we know all too well, we play and perform at the level of our competition, or in the case of school, at the level set by standards and educators. To my School Culture student who shared this picture with me, “Congratulations! You are making a difference with your students.”

A Reading Conference and Things You Can Do to Battle Climate Change

In four hours I’ll be speaking with nearly 100 educators about climate change at the annual Iroquois Reading Council Conference held at the SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury Branch Campus. I’m excited and thankful for the opportunity and hope the content resonates in each and every participant. The Climate Reality Project material is top-notch and, frankly, paints a disturbing picture of our changing climate and the implications for the biosphere. Mindful of the draconian message and urgent need for action, I’ve compiled a “Top Five” list of things people can do to offset climate change (See below). It’s not perfect, but it is something tangible people can take with them.

The part I’m most interested in will follow my presentation when five SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury education students present fiction and non-fiction texts that align with the climate reality theme. Showing teachers how to embed relevant issues into classroom instruction is extremely important and relevant in this era of common core standards. The students will be doing a poster session to illustrate the connections, and I’ll update you on their efforts in my next blog entry.


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