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High Comparable Standards Support Me in Supporting My Students

Perhaps nothing has become more politicized, polarizing, and dividing in education currently than the Common Core State Standards. From heated discussions about a state’s right to choose curriculum, to bad worksheets from terrible websites, social media is constantly abuzz with pictures, stories, and articles all building a case against these comparable state standards.  brooke-powers

As a classroom teacher, I’d like to propose we look at it less as a political hot button issue, and instead through the lens of my classroom and the 120 kids I am teach every day.

In December, I welcomed a new student, “Geoff,” into my classroom. Technically, Geoff is homeless—although his parents have a place to stay, he does not have a permanent residence.  Upon further investigation, I learned that Geoff had been enrolled in five schools in two years.  One of those was another middle school in my own district and the others were from another state. Five schools, two years. You can imagine the impact on a young mind and body.

Geoff is extremely bright and a joy to teach. Although he has strong reasoning skills in math, he came to me with Ds from his last school and a failing record from the out of state schools.  I have to believe these grades are a result of a lack of consistency in education and home life, rather than as an indication of his math ability. From the first time I watched him learn, I was confident that Geoff is more than capable of high quality work.

Soon I learned that Geoff’s struggles stem from the amount of content he missed while moving from state to state and school to school.  In the transfer from district to district and curriculum map to curriculum map, he missed not just lessons but entire units of instruction.  If the state he came from was teaching geometry when I was teaching integers, and he showed up to my classroom during the geometry unit, he ends up learning about geometry twice, but never learning about integers. Although I work tirelessly to address gaps for all students, it is very difficult to replace entire units of instruction for a student while teaching 30 other students in a classroom.

Trust me, I believe more than anyone in the need for autonomy in teaching.  I thrive off the opportunity to select my own activities and lessons to meets student needs and help each of them reach their full potential.  The last thing I am looking for is a prescribed curriculum where teachers’ hands are tied to daily lessons and activities that undermine their professional judgement and abilities.  I will always make a case for high, common standards to ensure that no matter where Geoff enrolls next, he will be able to pick up where we left off without massive gaps in instruction.  As we continue to live in an increasingly global society, shouldn’t our education system find ways to support students regardless of location rather than hoping they all get all the content at some point?  Let’s make the Common Core argument more about kids and less about politics.

Brooke Powers is a middle school math teacher in Lexington, Kentucky.  She blogs about her classroom experiences and implementation of the Common Core Math Standards at www.powersfulmath.wordpress.com, where a version of this post was originally published.