Does a 'one-size-fits-all' approach really fit our children?

By: Amy Lipman Email
By: Amy Lipman Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. It's a national initiative sweeping into traditionally locally-run schools in 45 states. It's a new buzzword in the education field as teachers, parents and students learn what it means for the future of learning. It's Common Core and it's changing what learning looks like at school and at home.

"I just think that this is the best education that we've given in ten years," said Kelly Shay, a first grade teacher at Orchard Avenue Elementary School.

Common Core sets forth learning expectations, or what students need to know and be able to do as they progress through the grade levels in order to be ready for college or careers.

"Common Core has changed so much about the way that we teach literacy in such a good way," Shay said. "They took what they expected for college readiness and workforce readiness and they worked backward all the way to kindergarten."

In 2010, District 51 adopted the Colorado Academic Standards, which embed Common Core's learning expectations with state curriculum.

"I think it really just expands upon good learning that was already happening in our classrooms," said Leigh Grasso, executive director of curriculum instruction and assessment for District 51.

There are new standards for language arts and math.

The language arts expectations require deeper analysis of readings and more focus on informational texts as students get older.

"Informational text as an adult is about 90% of where you do your reading," Grasso said. "So in order for us again to prepare students for post K-12 to be college and career ready, we want students to be very, very skilled in informational text."

Writing also gains more emphasis with Common Core, connecting it with reading students are doing in school.

"It used to be reading and then there’s a little piece of writing and we all kind of did it differently," Shay said. "Now, we know exactly what the expectations are for writing and they’re just as high as the expectations for reading."

As for math, big changes have come as well bringing more word problems, real-life applications and communication about problem solving to the classroom.

"It definitely involves more group work, discovery, being able to communicate your thinking, justify and prove your answers, but not just in writing, to be able to explain that to a group," said Carla Haas, a Central High School math teacher.

Although District 51 math teachers are having to change their teaching methods and usual lesson plans, Haas said they are better off right now than teachers in other areas because the district started adopting a new math curriculum five years ago.

"Districts across the country held huge trainings this summer trying to get their teachers to shift from a very traditional, 'Here’s how you do it. Now do it a bunch of times,' to this more of a discovery and honoring those multiple approaches," Haas said.

However, some parents think these new standards signal a loss of local control in schools and no longer focus on the individual needs of students.

"One size fits all does not fit every child because they're all different," said Karen King, of Colorado Parents Against Common Core.

King's son is a sixth grader at Orchard Mesa Middle School and she said helping him with homework looks different nowadays.

"All of the parents have already experienced the new math," King said. "It's very difficult. A lot of the kids are frustrated and stressed out over it because they can't understand it."

District 51 students will be tested on the new standards starting next school year. The new test is called PARCC, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

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