I’d bet a Galapagos Tortoise that no one decides to become a teacher based solely on the prospect of adhering to a list of teaching standards.
So, here’s a great question: why in the heck should we care about them?
(Hint: It’s not because some armageddon is coming in the form of a standardized test that will rank my soul against every other educator in my building.)
They call for challenging all students with complex texts
One of my great regrets as an educator is the year I wasted teaching remedial students with the remedial Language! program that my district spent millions on. (We didn’t call them remedial classes; they were ”accelerated”). One of my most freeing moments as an educator was when my bosses told me, “Okay, those first year test results were terrible; do what it takes to grow your students as readers and writers.”
Those magic words terrified and electrified me.
I felt terror because I could no longer blame a bogus curriculum for bad results, yet I was thrilled because I already knew that my students were capable and longing for so much more. I knew that, even though my students were allegedly the antithesis of their peers in “Gifted and Talented” classes, they could handle GT-level challenges.
So, during that first year of freedom, I stumbled upon a two-pronged approach:
- I would require students to read self-selected books on their own (for the sake of spawning recreational reading habits, building stamina, creating a readerly ethos in our learning community),
- but I would also require us all to read books that were appropriate for the seventh-grade level. This meant that my students at a seventh-grade reading level would be challenged at a somewhat comfortable level, and my below-seventh-grade reading level kids would be much more challenged.
Surprisingly, the second prong of my approach did not foment a revolt from my low reading level kids (at least, not for long). This is because there was a key resource in the room that enabled them to cope with complex texts: me.
The CCSS simply believe that the key to raising reading levels is not merely giving each kid a book that just above his/her reading level; rather, it’s to give kids the chance, every year, to read books that are increasingly complex, regardless of where their skills are at. In other words, even if a student enters ninth grade with a fourth grade reading level, he should still be taught how to grapple with a book like Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. If this sounds cruel to anyone, that’s because you might undervalue the power that a teacher can have in helping students learn to read texts that are well above them, and you also might undervalue a kid’s desire to leap over a high bar.
(For the record, challenging “remedial” students with texts like The Diary of a Young Girl and Romeo and Juliet didn’t come from my own brain; I owe a great debt to Rafe Esquith and his book There Are No Shortcuts.)
They call for engaging all students with complex texts
Not only do the CCSS require students to read complex texts; kids are also expected to argue about them, write about them, discuss them, analyze them, and make connections between them.
Oh, and towards that end, kids are expected to know stuff; knowledge about the world is a key part of the CCSS. By the grace of God, education is moving away from treating reading comprehension like something that happens within a vacuum. We’re done pretending that a kid from rural Wyoming can comprehend a story about sailing with the same ease as a kid from Salem.
The end result is a text-rich, knowledge-informed, literate culture within classrooms around the country.
They call for preparing all students for college and career
The CCSS debunk the myth that, if a student is not “the college type,” he/she will not need skills similar to those required by a college-bound student. The person who can’t read complex texts, who can’t make evidence-based arguments, who doesn’t know how to listen and speak and use language effectively within a variety of settings isn’t ready for college or work: he/she is just screwed.
Thankfully, the CCSS gets this, and this is one more reason that I support the CCSS…
…even while I still don’t love standards.