Common Core, the state standards education initiative that is being developed across the country, was the focus of PW’s Discussion Series, held at Random House on April 10 in front of a sold-out audience. Panelists spoke enthusiastically about the potential the implementation of Common Core standards could have on students' performances, including author, editor, and publisher Marc Aronson, who said, that for anyone involved at all with education: “Standing on the sidelines and waiting for Common Core to pass is a mistake.” But why?
To begin with, the scope: 46 states in ELA (English/Language Arts) and 45 in mathematics have joined the Common Core State Standards initiative, with the first assessments already being conducted in Kentucky. (Standards in science and social studies are still being developed). But the main reason relates to the effect the initiative aims to have on students. Said Barbara Stripling, president-elect of ALA, “If I love Common Core for one reason this is it: we’re teaching kids how to think critically and creatively.”
Common Core’s goals seek to shift what students read, how they read, and how they are assessed. The initiative, therefore, requires well-researched informational text, well-crafted narrative text, and readings that engage critical analysis and reward rereading. What this means is students engaged in materials set forth by Common Core are reading with an eye toward reasoning and a use of evidence in the text. In short, reading materials are designed to promote comprehension and critical thinking, deep engagement rather than engagement of facts that simply skim the surface. “Understanding is deeper than information,” said Stripling.
In practice, Common Core materials include a focus on content-rich nonfiction—writing that contains evidence, so that students learn the value of forming their own opinions and arguments to convince others in their own writing. Questions asked of students while engaged with Common Core materials might include: How does the author form his/her opinion and support it with information in the text? How do you compare and reason through multiple arguments across multiple texts?
The reason for evidence-based reading and writing materials gets to the heart of the goals of Common Core: to prepare students for college and careers right out of high school. The most common form of writing in which students will engage after their education ends is evidence-based, and Common Core seeks to prepare students now for what they will need in the future.
Teaching that focuses on “content-rich nonfiction” doesn’t mean that fiction is no longer valued. Instead, an example of a Common Core-based lesson, as Student Achievement Partners’ David Liben pointed out, would be supplementing a reading of Romeo and Juliet with a New York Times article about Chinese tribalism. An English teacher did just this and saw his students become far more engaged with the text as a result, Liben said.
For both trade and academic publishers (many of whom were in attendance), panelists suggested developing a Common Core lens, a new way of seeing and sharing materials, both already published and to-be-published. More specifically, Aronson said, one way publishers can align with Common Core principles is to let schools use excerpts of their books. One teacher faced prohibitive costs to excerpt a short section of The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. “There’s no danger of poaching sales in letting students read a five-page excerpt,” said Aronson.
The majority of states will begin to implement standards between the current school year and the 2014-15 year. Publishers can find more information about Common Core at Achieve the Core.