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What does Common Core implementation look like? Ask a teacher

BY April Brown  April 24, 2014 at 12:27 PM EDT
Students from Estes Elementary in suburban Asheville, North Carolina, live in a state that has adopted Common Core, a set of academic standards in mathematics and English language arts and literacy. Photo by Mike Fritz/PBS NewsHour

Students from Estes Elementary in suburban Asheville, North Carolina, live in a state that has adopted Common Core, a set of academic standards in mathematics and English language arts and literacy. Photo by Mike Fritz/PBS NewsHour

While the 40-plus states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards agree what skills students should have at certain grade levels, the decision of how to teach the material is not prescribed. That is one of the reasons there has been uneven implementation across the country, and why some states are reconsidering the Common Core. Other states have pushed back dates when Common Core test results will be used in evaluating students, teachers and schools.

The PBS NewsHour is in a unique position to see how the implementation is going in classrooms across the country with the help of young journalists in our Student Reporting Labs. We asked our student reporters to interview their teachers about how Common Core is affecting what they teach and how they teach it.

Regina Lauricella, a third grade teacher at Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark, New Jersey, said Common Core has changed the order she teaches topics in math.

“I used to just teach chapter one, chapter two, chapter three and I used to just go through the curriculum but now I know there are four areas that are most important for third graders to learn: they need to learn how to multiply; they need to know how to do fractions; they need to understand area; they need to understand geometric figures.” she said.

“So what I can do is make sure those topics are the big umbrella topics that I teach and I have jumped around now in my math curriculum. My students already have studied area and perimeter which is actually the last chapter in our math textbook.”

Jeremy Carroll is the Curriculum Leader at Las Vegas, Nevada’s Desert Pines High School, and has no doubt that more rigorous standards will benefit students.

“We don’t want only select students to be exposed to the types of ideas and the concepts you seen in A.P. (Advanced Placement), we want everybody exposed to them,” Carroll said.  “We want everybody to struggle a little bit in order to make themselves better.”

Sally Wojcek, a theater arts teacher at the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia, points to Common Core as the reason she’s incorporated a different kind of reading in her classes.

“As I’m planning my units I’m not only thinking about what the anchor fictional text is, generally a play, but I’m really forcing myself to think about what non-fiction texts I’m going to bring in,” said Wojcek.

Searcy High School geometry teacher Diana Beaty has changed some her instructional methods since Common Core was adopted in her state of Arkansas.

“It’s made me consider a little more of what my students are doing to get the answer rather than what I’m giving to them to get the answer,” she said.

But Beaty also believes getting everyone up to speed on the new standards isn’t going to happen overnight.

“I think it’s going to take a bit of time to find out what this animal is, and how we can tame it.”

English teacher Mike Cox of Shenandoah High School in Shenandoah, Iowa, also has concerns, and wonders how much current students will be getting the most out of the new standards.

“One of the things that we were told is that advantage of the Common Core and the literacy standards is that it’s seamless, and by that I mean that it starts in kindergarten and works its way up,” Cox said, explaining that standards build upon one another as a child moves ahead in school.

“My contention is that in order to really make the Common Core work it’s going to take a generation of students, that it will be 12, maybe 13 years, before we can see how effective Common Core is with our students at the 11th and 12th grade level where I teach.”

Dixie Ross teaches Algebra and Calculus in Pflugerville, Texas, a state that has not signed on to Common Core. But Ross has spoken with friends who are teachers in Common Core states about how implementation is going.

“Is the impact negative or positive, I think that’s a really hard question to answer,” Ross said. “I think it’s negative in that it’s really stressful to implement that greater level of rigor, but over the long run it will be positive.”