Common Core -- Curriculum Aims to Standardize What U.S. Students Learn

By Roberts, Jane | The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), March 8, 2012 | Go to article overview

Common Core -- Curriculum Aims to Standardize What U.S. Students Learn


Roberts, Jane, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


Michele Dial has taught school for 23 years. But last month, for the first time in her career, she spent an entire hour teaching first-graders at Lakeland Elementary to add and subtract by tens.

"This is a great big, huge skill, and we have never done it before," Dial told the children. "I want you to remember the commutative and inverse properties," she said as students pondered 92 - 10 = 82 and 82 + 10 = 92.

"OK, let's put it in a sentence," Dial continued, writing on the board while the children followed along.

"Great. Kiss your brain," Dial said as hands across the room arced triumphantly between puckered lips and foreheads.

The lesson and time spent teaching "deeply," as Dial describes it, are among the most tangible signs of Tennessee's progress in adopting Common Core Standards.

The effort is led by the National Governors Association and other groups intent on standardizing nationwide what children learn and when .

In 2009, 48 states and the District of Columbia committed to raise academic standards; 45 states and Washington have adopted the Common Core Standards.

(Nebraska, Virginia, Texas and Alaska have not adopted them. Minnesota has partially adopted them.)

Tennessee budgeted $2.95 million in federal money to make the change. About half - $1.6 million - is set aside to train teachers.

"The really cool thing, if Common Core is implemented well, is there is a lot more critical thinking and rigor," said David Mansouri, spokesman for the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

"It's a piece of reform work, but really a critical piece. If you have higher standards, kids will achieve more."

It requires states to throw out content no longer important to be ready for college or work to focus on lessons that are.

In third grade, for instance, Tennessee teachers will go from teaching 113 standards to 26 under Common Core.

"At one point, Tennessee had more standards than any state except Texas," said David Stephens, head of curriculum and instruction in Shelby County Schools. "We were teaching a mile wide and inch deep."

This year, K-2 students in Tennessee are learning the new standards in math. Next year, the new standards will be taught in grades 3-8.

By 2013-2014, all students will be taught under the new standards. And then in 2015, national exams will be in place, making it possible for the first time to compare student achievement across states.

Based on ACT scores, about 4 percent of Memphis City Schools students and 20 percent of Shelby County Schools students are ready to succeed in college. …

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