Point of view

Common core: Puts a needed focus on universal skills for NC students

May 2, 2014 

The recent proposal by a joint legislative committee to replace the Common Core State Standards with “homegrown” standards overseen by political appointees is another blow to education in our great state.

As an engineer turned teacher with 20 years of industry experience, I can strongly say that the CCSS provide a framework of what is needed in today’s modern workplace: an emphasis on skills that can help our students compete with anyone on the planet.

Not being able to easily find skilled talent is unacceptable and the reason I decided to leave an engineering career to teach in the rural mountains of Western North Carolina. The committee’s recommendation to return to a patchwork model of state-to-state disparity will inevitably lead to less thorough and inadequately vetted standards, which will negatively affect the education of our state’s youth and the future of its workforce.

Believe me, I have some issues with the CCSS and how they were originally implemented. I also respectfully take issue with the testing approach my colleagues and our students must face at the end of each course. What I don’t do, however, is lump all of these problems together and blame them on the standards themselves. Indeed, I support calls to review the standards, isolating and correcting problems to make them better. Businesses follow this process on a daily basis to stay competitive. But don’t scrap the whole thing, especially over claims that are not based on solid evidence.

As a high school teacher who has spent seven years teaching math to students in Cherokee County, I know that these standards work. If you don’t believe me, then I challenge you to spend an hour in my classroom. There, in a second-hand trailer, you will see students solving difficult problems in a collaborative, student-centered manner and building critical skills such as communication, accessing and analyzing information and the ability to transfer knowledge to real-world scenarios. This method of instruction is aligned with the rigorous expectations of the common core and is helping to equip my students with skills they will benefit from for the rest of their lives, regardless of their intended career or academic path.

These students are also using this approach to do quite well on their high-stakes tests – all with absolutely no “teaching to the test.” And this is happening with all of my students, not just the ones who love math or who would be doing well under any set of standards.

The cool thing is that I am not alone. Many fine teachers across North Carolina have been using the standards to make the curriculum more relevant and engaging to their students. This is why this committee’s proposal is so troubling to our state. The standards they propose to eliminate are a vital ingredient in the ability of teachers to help reach individual students so they can be successful in ways they had not been before.

If you are at all concerned with our state’s students and how they will eventually affect the economic trajectory of North Carolina, then this decision should be personal to you, too.

Benjamin C. Owens of Murphy is a 2014 Hope Street Group National Teaching Fellow.

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