Uniting Not Dividing

Education in The United States of America has been a disparate and disorganized entity. Education is constantly the subject of electoral debate and the talk around dinner tables. Why? Because the education system in the USA is failing our children. According to OECD figures from 2009, The USA ranks 33rd in reading and 27th in math amongst other developed countries. What is our country doing to solve this problem? In 2009, an initiative was launched to establish consistent educational standards from Kindergarten to Grade 12. They created the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The CCSS is a national curriculum that unites teachers across The USA by creating common language and expectation, and an expansive learning community.

There are international schools that follow the American Curriculum and are consequently affected by the CCSS. Many international schools teach to the American Education Reaches Out (AERO) standards, which are very similar to CCSS. These standards are fine-tuned CCSS to address the wants and needs of the international community. The success or failure of CCSS will have far reaching consequences for students and families attending schools all across the globe.

“More change?” groans an educator, “We’re just reinventing the wheel,” complains another, “They’ll think of something new in a few years,” exasperates a third; common comments that echo every teachers’ lounge. The transition from state standards to CCSS has created a division amongst American educators. Ask American educators their opinion of CCSS and you will undoubtedly receive mixed responses. Why? If you examine the top ranking education systems in the world, each country follows a united, national curriculum where all teachers use the same language to provide a rigorous and effective educational system. I was teaching in New Orleans, Louisiana, when the transition began from Grade Level Expectations (GLE’s) to CCSS in 2011. It is my opinion that the transformation brought many benefits to the teachers, and more importantly, the students. The transition brought teachers closer together by increasing the rigor and simplifying the wordy and dated objectives. The CCSS also rejuvenated and inspired teachers who were exhausted by the frustrating GLE’s. With ease, I was able to communicate with teachers in other states at the click of a button, sharing best practices that were aligned to consistent educational standards.

For millions of students that are being failed every year by our education system, the problems were compounded by the fact that teachers had limited common ground. A nationally coordinated set of foundational objectives would help the states begin to build these bridges. A common language affects the way educators use the syllabus available to them. Instead of taking a syllabus and aligning it to the specific standards of each state, this alignment to CCSS can be written into the syllabus for every teacher. For each lesson in a syllabus, a teacher would know which CCSS objectives the lesson was aligned to. This would release teachers to spend more time to concentrate on other teaching essentials.

With the introduction of CCSS, teachers now have a common goal and most of all, a common language where teachers have the opportunity to share and collaborate in an effectively streamlined learning environment. This has allowed lesson plans, assessments, and countless communication platforms to be established where teachers from New York to Hawaii communicate in the same language. But, who benefits from this? Our children. We can utilize this collaboration to bring teachers closer together, ultimately to make more highly effective teachers and to make our jobs more sustainable. Teachers in the USA can have access to thousands of resources already aligned to the CCSS. These are made by teachers, for teachers, and used by teachers, all at the click of a button.

My school in Ho Chi Minh City has adopted a data-tracking program that includes over 40,000 schools that are aligned to CCSS, with teachers all working to the same minimum expectations. Educational websites will have a multitude of lesson plans and ideas relating to a specific objective. Enter the specific CCSS code and a teacher will have access to a vast range of tried and tested ideas and activities. It’s possible to leave comments or ideas to improve the resources if a teacher chooses. With such an expansive learning community, we are creating a superior learning environment with quality resources for all teachers.

CCSS is trying to unite all the states together: a vision where any student in any state has the same rigorous education, the same foundational expectations, and the chance to standardize the teaching language across the incredibly diverse 50 states. This even extends to American Schools across the globe that want to provide a comprehensive American Curriculum. Sounds like a big goal right? Is it a SMART goal? (Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Based.) It can be if all educators embrace these changes and begin this goal in the same way we hold our students accountable to the targets we set them or they set themselves. CCSS are designed to be a foundation of expectation, a minimum that is required for a student to master in a specific grade. It is not designed to limit teachers or students. Quite the opposite. The standards encourage teachers to go ‘above and beyond’ these foundational expectations, to push every student to reach their potential. Many expectations have a progressive continuum through grades; to take your student to the next level is a much easier task. Ultimately CCSS is an attempt to unify effective hardworking teachers into one organic organization, where it can constantly develop best practices.

James Hardy is 1st Grade Teacher at International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP)