Vincent Costanza, Executive Director, Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, New Jersey Department of Education, and parent, responds on the issue of Parents don’t understand the CCSS and are concerned about what they mean for their children.
As a state policy maker, early childhood professional, and elected school board member in my home district, I participate in many discussions about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). While it would be easy to go into educator or policy mode in addressing some of these questions, those perspectives dissipate and become subservient to my lens as a father of an 8-year-old girl.
Given the controversy that currently exists around CCSS and the associated assessments (a quick Google search will yield plenty of evidence for this) parents have plenty of reason to wonder what these standards are really about. While some of the commentary regarding the standards has been negative, as a parent, I search for someone to answer this question for me, “Which standard should my daughter not be learning?”
With the intense dialogue around the standards, it’s often difficult to focus exactly on what the standards say and exactly what our children are expected to learn. Of course, this puts parents in a difficult position and makes it hard to ask the right questions, advocate for our children, and be true partners in the success of our children. With this said, there are two common and thoughtful questions I’m often asked by parents, friends, and family members alike, which I’ll address below.
Where do these new standards come from?
First, the CCSS were established in back in 2010, so they are not exactly new. The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) led the development of the CCSS. Although a common criticism is that the CCSS initiative is an attempt by the federal government to dictate education in states, such a sentiment is inaccurate. In fact, it was governors and state education Chiefs who recognized the economic reality that it makes no sense to have children throughout the country aiming for different sets of standards when our children will live in an increasingly flat country and world. After all, there’s a good chance that some of the jobs in Seattle, for instance, will be filled by people from New Jersey. Does it really make sense for children throughout the country to have different learning targets?
What do the Standards require?
Unlike the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach of previous state standards (ask any stressed teacher who has needed to jam in lessons to cover standards how well this works for your child), the CCSS are much more focused and emphasize depth over breath. Moreover, as standards that set learning targets for our children, they are NOT a curriculum. Hence, the CCSS do not mandate how teachers must assist our children in meeting these targets.
This point is essential because there is much conversation regarding how the standards are curtailing the curricular offerings available to our children. This leads me to wonder, Did I miss something here? Were there grand curricular offerings before 2010? For instance, was there a proliferation of play-based learning experiences in kindergarten before these common standards? Did teachers organize their understandings of child development by systematically using performance-based and formative assessment? Although early childhood professionals have wanted quality adult-child interactions with meaningful investigations that teachers assess authentically since long before my kindergarten teacher days, there’s plenty of evidence that this type of teaching hasn’t happened for quite a while.
What these standards do provide is a “staircase” of increasing complexity with the goal that all children become college and career ready. As such, they offer a clear design, central goals, common language, and high standards. Cross-curricular teaching that emphasizes problem solving, persistence, abstract reasoning, and the ability to construct arguments and critique reasoning is at the core of these standards. Since I know a few adults who could use assistance with these skills, I’m assuming they were never given the chance to practice solving problems at an early age. I’m certainly happy that CCSS does this for our children.
A few important considerations
First, like ALL standards, these standards are not perfect. As an educator, I notice standards that children will undoubtedly struggle with in particular grade levels. For instance, I wonder how many children will not be able to do CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.K.2.D in kindergarten:
Isolate and pronounce the initial, medial vowel, and final sounds (phonemes) in three-phoneme (consonant-vowel-consonant, or CVC) words.1 (This does not include CVCs ending with /l/, /r/, or /x/.)
However, since some children will be able to do so easily, the question should focus on how teachers respond to children who experience the standards differently. Again, this is a question for all standards.
Second, as an early childhood professional, I remain concerned that CCSS only represents two domains of development. How teachers integrate and simply appreciate other domains of learning and development, such as Social-Emotional Development and Approaches toward Learning, needs much more conversation.
Lastly, as a parent, I wonder how the curriculum my daughter experiences daily, fits in, and aligns to CCSS. I understand that CCSS is not a curriculum, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that work needs to be done on the curricular front.
Given the volume of conflicting information that exists around CCSS, below are some resources that can help arm parents to ask the best questions and be the best advocates for children. The way that this initiative is implemented will shape the academic careers of a generation of children, my 8-year-old included. Now those are high stakes!
Many states have always had standards and schools operated with specific curricula. I know this because I was a sales rep for curricula K-8. Teacher guides for curricula are definitive, so it’s not like teachers were winging it or lacked training. The problem was and remains social and economic inequality that right now cannot be solved by good union jobs. So what’s left is inequality. CCSS are voluntary and like anything else, need careful, thoughtful phased implementation. High stakes tests with punitive consequences are doing nothing but putting money in the pockets of corporations and driving good candidates away from teaching. Standards aren’t a problem if they provide good ideas. In ECE, standards must support the purpose of ECE, i.e., to provide social and emotional growth and meaningful opportunities to develop self-regulation. Play and conversation, appropriate hands on experiences with blocks, and art materials, exposure to literature and early experiences with counting, pattern recognition, etc. are what ECE teachers and policy makers need to emphasize. CCSS apply beginning in K. This is too young. Give ECE the time young children need to develop and grow. CCSS shouldn’t kick in with such specific skills and knowledge until grade 4. Robust parent education from 0-pre K that is high quality would tamp down the hysteria and mitigate the effects of poverty and inequality.
Very nicely said!
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Thank you for your thoughtful insights. Just a note regarding the literacy standard you used as an example: as a preschool teacher, I can say with some confidence that many — perhaps most — children are capable of reaching that benchmark BEFORE kindergarten. I think it’s a reasonable expectation for almost all students to reach by the end of kindergarten.