Common Core: Flat Solution to a 3D Problem? (Part 2)

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Common Core: Flat Solution to a 3D Problem? (Part 2)

Yesterday I wrote a post prompted by comments from Bob Gallagher on the long-term goals of the Common Core Standards.  I argued that CCS may be a step in the right direction, but that it is constrained to the same plane of thinking and learning that has defined the industrial age model.  It is the plane in which the pendulum swings between mastery of content and acquisition of skills, the CCS allowing or urging the pendulum to swing in the direction of the later.  I join those acolytes of John Dewey who trace great learning backward from passion to student engagement to relevance to student ownership of the learning experience. Yesterday I posted a tri-axial graphic care of Albermarle County Schools that highlights the critical need of the third axis of relevance. Lacking this third dimension, this impetus to want to learn, school is still a chore, a task, work.  Read to the end, and the students themselves will define exactly what the third  dimension is.

Others speak more eloquently than I, so I share them with you and urge you to follow them, with the caveat that they speak for themselves and by no means support my thesis or thoughts. They speak to the foundation of the issue, to the questions that test the assumptions of a major pedagogical shift like the CCS.

Chris Lehman, Principal of the Science Leadership Academy, perhaps the iconic American public school of our time, has been writing a remarkable series of blogs about what school should be.  A few slices that speak to this theme:

In the end, the problem with the Common Core isn’t that it is too broad, it is that it is too narrow. It makes no attempt to teach kids the most important thing there is to understand: there is always more we can learn.

Schools can be places of great passion where students learn what it means to be scholar-activists, fully invested in authentic work that matters to them today, not someday. When we do this, we will fully realize the promise of the idea that school should not just be preparation for real life, but rather that school can be real life, not just after school, but all day long with students and teachers who are making meaning relevant to the lives we all are leading now, as well as growing thoughtfully into the lives we will live tomorrow.

Chris Thinnes at The Curtis School is exploring the foundational question of what school is for:

What purpose do our schools serve in and for our country? Too often our answer to this question has relied on myopic and reductive assumptions about the symbolism of our country in the world’s imagination. As such, we are preoccupied as a nation with products, rather than processes; with competition, rather than collaboration; with dominance, rather than participation; with achievement, rather than imagination; and with results, rather than with passion. The same has become true in our schools.

Ken Kay and Bob Lenz, two leaders of the drive to transform how and what we teach, writing in Education Week, argue that Common Core is a beginning, not an end:

While we view the adoption of the common core as a positive turn, these standards should be considered the floor and not the ceiling when it comes to achievement. Important student outcomes (financial literacy, global competence, and self-direction, to name a few) are not addressed. We believe it is critical to adopt a “common core and more” approach, as some schools are doing.

Peter Gow, a veteran educator and thought leader who is now writing for Education Week:

How do we start developing in ourselves, our schools, and most critically our students the habits of mind and the essential skills—and essential kinds of voices—that they will need to navigate their own pathways to learning?

How do we engage pre-adolescents, tweens, and secondary school students in the kinds of conversations about pedagogy that will help them understand their own wants and needs and how these relate to the work being done by the adults in whose schools and classrooms they find themselves?

How do these conversations relate to established and conventional ideas about student learning styles and the power of metacognitive and reflective capacity?

And Bo Adams at Unboundary cuts to the heart of the matter: is learning really enhanced, do students actually acquire a better set of skills, when they remain largely passive receptors in a pre-ordained process?:

For student learners to develop deep degrees of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, cross-cultural competency, computational capacity, etc., don’t we need to facilitate them having more control over their learning?

Don’t we know at least that much about motivation, relevancy, cognitive commitment, heartfelt conviction, grit, and perseverance?

This morning, I asked my eight-year old son, “PJ, what are you looking forward to in school today?”

His first reply: “I don’t know dad. The teachers are in control and decide what we’re going to do and learn today. I won’t know until I get there.”


The CCS is not bad, it is just not what is needed.  Thirty years ago I was told that we could not teach things like the art of questioning or problem finding or creative thinking to students…that they would not “get it”.  With the CCS we are still holding back the keys to the kingdom from our students.  We are still saying “we can’t really require teachers to create a student-owned ecosystem of passionate self-discovery; how the heck would we assess that?” Bull. Sure we can. It is happening in small brushfires of innovation at schools across the country; I saw them.

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Listen to the students themselves; they are the ones who came up with this list about what they need to be successful in their futures.  Don’t try to plot these on the flat, two-dimensional plane of the current system and the Common Core.  You will not find them within the axes of content and skills.  They are up in the third dimension. Heck, they DEFINE the third dimension! 

I am not an expert on the Common Core Standards, and I know great people have put a lot of time and thought into them.  They are an improvement, no question.  But they are an improvement at the margin and that is just not good enough. I disagree with Mr. Gallagher; I do not believe that “the Common Core is asking teachers to think and act differently across the board from the way schools are now organized.” I believe they represent good thinking within the current box, which in this case is not a box; it is a flat plane. We KNOW what the third axis looks like.  Are you asking the kinds of questions that the people I linked you to today are asking? What are you doing in your district or your school to ensure that your teachers and your organization lift off of the two-dimensional plane and up into the third, the dimension that separates real learning from just going to school? 

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By | 2013-04-09T15:12:40+00:00 April 9th, 2013|Innovation in Education, Uncategorized|2 Comments

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  1. Thanks Grant for amplifying Dewey’s call to “trace great learning backward from passion to student engagement to relevance to student ownership of the learning experience,” and pressing the driving questions so many teachers and leaders — who, like you, have far more stripes than I — are asking about #CCSS.

    Your citation of Albermarle’s example — which, like many leading schools and districts may be obligated by policy to the Common Core, but driven by a district-wide vision of more engaging and student driven learning — seems from what I understand to represent an excellent response to your call to action, and to Ken and Bob’s identification of a higher ‘path’ that sees CCSS not as the ‘ceiling,’ but as the ‘floor.’ Very exciting to me — as w/ Albemarle’s example — is the opportunity great teachers and leaders have designed and realized to intentionally and inclusively indentify the ‘crosswalks’ between #CCSS and a shared vision of deeper learning; to make these intersections, alongside student-driven inquiry, the framework for decision-making re: teaching and learning in their schools and districts; and never to misunderstand or misrepresent the Common Core as a ‘curriculum guide.’

  2. […] Lichtman’s second post on the topic, he offers muted praise for the standards, claiming, “The CSS is not bad, it is just […]

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