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December 4, 2012

Schools Gear Up for Common Core

Watch In Chicago, Public Schools Work Towards a 'Common Core' on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

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With only 35 percent of U.S. eighth graders reading at grade level, and only 25 percent of high school graduates testing ready for college, America’s schools are in trouble.

The poor performance of so many students across the country has forced educators to reevaluate their methods. The effort to get all students on the right track led 46 states to date to adopt new “Common Core State Standards” or a list of skills that each state says every student should know by the time they leave the 12th grade.

Armour Elementary School in inner-city Chicago is just the kind of school these new standards are meant to help. Although the school is on academic probation, since it became a pilot school for the Common Core three years ago, students’ scores on state standardized tests have risen 16 points.

The Core, some teachers say, requires their students to understand their subjects more in-depth.

However, with more standards come more testing, and this has the Chicago Teachers Union worried. A new proficiency test will replace the current model in Illinois next year, and school officials expect that this will cause proficiency levels to drop dramatically. This could in turn have a negative impact on teachers, who are judged by their students’ performances.

Warm up questions

1. What is the goal of your English class?

2. What is the goal of your math class?

3. How do teachers know what to teach?

Discussion questions

1. If you were a teacher, how would you feel about the Common Core?

2. Have you ever changed your mind about something like the English teacher who initially opposed the changes?

3. Do you think there are set skills that everyone should know when they graduate? If so, what are they?

4. Do you think having a common set of goals and standards is a good way to improve the performance of low-achieving schools? Why or why not?

5. Why do you think states mandate standardized testing?

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