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Why Teacher Voice Should be at the “Core” of the Education Policy Debate ~ Jeff Hinton

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Jeff Hinton, a former Marine, has been teaching history in Clark County School District for 10 years. Jeff is Nevada’s 2014 Michael Landsberry Teacher of the Year.

<span “font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”,serif”=””>“I hate history class, it’s boring!” If I had a nickel for every time I heard a student utter that sentiment, I could retire by now. Before we condemn our students for their historical illiteracy and lethargy, we should acknowledge that there may be some truth to their protestation. Before Nevada adopted the Common Core State Standards, standards required little to no higher level thinking and most students forgot the material they crammed into their heads after they take the test. No wonder students found history boring.

<span “font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”,serif”=””>The Common Core State Standards provide a fresh and intellectually invigorating approach to how we teach and learn. Good history instruction should be less about rote memorization and more about analysis, interpretation and understanding the complexities, decisions and points of view of historical actors.

<span “font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”,serif”=””>Unfortunately, not everyone believes the Common Core standards will raise student achievement in Nevada, and there has been movement within the state to repeal them. But that doesn’t mean that the voices of those most intimately involved in teaching the standards – Nevada’s teachers – should be ignored.

<span “font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”,serif”=””>Last week Citizens for Sound Academic Standards presented a forum to debate the standards. The “debate,” unfortunately, was little more than two professors, Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram, making spurious attacks against the standards. The highlight of the evening came when Aaron Grossman, a curriculum specialist with the Washoe County School District, gave his articulate and passionate statement in support of the standards. However, Citizens for Sound Academic Standards – led by protests from Stotsky and Milgram – forbade other teachers from giving their opinions.

<span “font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”,serif”=””>As a National Board Certified Teacher, teacher leader, and Nevada’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, my experience with and knowledge of the Common Core should have been part of the conversation. Dale Erquiaga, Nevada’s Superintendent of Education, released a statement following the debate: “I consider our educators to be the most credible and knowledgeable speakers about Nevada’s standards.” At least our Superintendent has the sense to know that teacher’s voices matter. It defies common sense that the “experts” would not want to engage with, and hear teacher’s points of view, I found it to be insulting and condescending.

<span “font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”,serif”=””>Our technological world necessitates that we change the way we teach and the way our students learn. As the new Nevada economy brings high tech jobs to the Silver State, our students must graduate with the skills needed for the 21st century economy. Students need to be able to think critically about information and make judgments based upon evidence. They need to be able to answer their own questions through research, and they must be able to effectively communicate across a variety of platforms and networks. Common Core standards bring my classroom alive as my students debate the past and think critically about important events in American history.

<span “font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”,serif”=””>When the Common Core standards ask students to analyze and interpret documents, they have the opportunity to interrogate the past by asking questions, proposing claims and counter claims and deriving meaning directly from the source material. What makes this approach particularly powerful is the fact that teachers don’t tell students what to think, but teach them how to think. Teaching history in this way is by far much more intellectually stimulating and rewarding, and requires students to think at a much deeper level than the traditional “one damn thing after another” approach. If we’re going to such great lengths to ensure that students can not only function – but excel – in the 21st century by thinking deeper and asking questions, what kind of example are we setting by not allowing the very teachers they admire to express their opinions?