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Ohio Must Stand Firm on Common Core ~ Tricia Ebner

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Tricia Ebner is an intervention specialist, teaching gifted and talented students in English-Language Arts in grades 6-8 in Stark County, Ohio
Just a couple of days ago, the Rules & Reference Committee of the Ohio House of Representatives voted a bill out of committee that would repeal the use of the Common Core State Standards in Ohio’s schools. This move would jeopardize the work of thousands of teachers over the past four years, as we’ve worked to bridge and transition from the 2001 Ohio Academic Content Standards to these new, exciting, high-quality, worthwhile standards. From my little desk in my classroom in a northeast Ohio middle school, repealing the Common Core would be a big step backwards.

The plain and simple truth is this: my students need these standards. They are growing up in a world that demands strong communication skills, and those strong communication skills go well beyond the ability to send text messages quickly. Students need to be able to read a variety of materials from newspaper articles to research materials, nonfictions books, the classical works of fiction, and more. The ability to write and speak clearly and with strong and appropriate vocabulary has never been greater. We want our children graduating from high school ready to take on the next step in their lives, and whether that step is into a career, the military, an apprenticeship, or a college education, they will need to be able to read, write, and speak well.

One of the concerns and complaints I’ve heard and read often is that the new standards take away local control, and that local school districts, boards, parents, and classroom teachers have no say in what is taught and how it is taught within classrooms. I can speak plainly and clearly, from my own experience: that is not the case at all. I am most certainly making decisions about what books, stories, and articles my students are reading as we work on the standards.

One of the first articles I used with my eighth graders this year was the LeBron James essay “I’m Coming Home,” and we used it to take a look at how the words used and the organization of the piece worked together to make his message even clearer. We talked about why he’d choose to share this news in an essay rather than a press conference or televised announcement, and this led to some discussion about how we all need to think about the audience we want reading or hearing our words, and how we can most effectively reach them.

This was just the beginning of what has become an exciting year. We’ve spent time looking at how our Founding Fathers crafted the preamble to the Constitution. We’ve written about what roles fiction could and should play in learning history. These activities are all ones I’ve selected, knowing what my students need and what teaching strategies will work most effectively with all of them. Control still resides within our classrooms, schools, and districts.

With each lesson I teach, each paper I read and grade, and each discussion we have in my classroom, I see evidence of how these new standards are encouraging my students to read more deeply and carefully and write with more research and careful organization supporting the work. I also see my students developing stronger critical-thinking skills, which they will need in college and their careers.

The Common Core are positive, powerful standards, and they’re good for Ohio’s students. These are the standards I want for my middle school students. Stepping back from them now is a mistake, and reversing course by repealing the standards and replacing them with something likely to be inferior will cause irreparable harm to students’ academic potential. We need to stay strong and move forward with the standards.