Understanding and Supporting Common Core State Standards in Education
By Morgan Appel, director of UC San Diego Extension's Education Department
In Greek legend, the Gordian knot was tied in a manner so complex that it mentally exhausted those seeking to untangle it and eventually to divine unique solutions to do so. In common parlance, the Gordian knot represents a metaphor for seemingly unsolvable problems and is often coupled with the equally compelling legend of Sisyphus, who committed himself to pushing a large rock up a steep hill, only to see it tumble backward. School reforms present an intriguing context to gain insight into the meanings of these myths, as practitioners frequently understand sea changes in policy and practice in the same way. Although changes can prove frustrating, misinformation and ambiguity around reform only serve to amplify these feelings, leaving many to ‘go through the motions’ or passively (in some cases, actively) resist implementation.
Take, for example, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that have emerged in the wake of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Research indicates that there is a degree of confusion around their implementation and implications for certain populations—English Learners and Gifted and Talented students—remain somewhat opaque. One might liken the experience to building a bridge as one crosses it. Some districts remain steadfast in their commitments to former iterations of reform, and many worry over their abilities to infuse significant metacognitive and process-based skills in environments that are assessment heavy. In the United States, the pendulum of reform swings purposefully and extremely, and CCSS represents a distinct and marked departure from its predecessor. For practitioners and administrators alike, change is daunting as it breeds ambiguity, which in turn breeds anxiety. One certainty is that CCSS is here and will be implemented.
We also know that CCSS focuses on rigor; depth and complexity; differentiated instruction; and creative and critical thinking. These skills are vital without doubt. The questions then become: how do we train practitioners (many of whom were licensed in the 1990s, when lock/step adoption-heavy training was the norm) to think differently about pedagogy in an engaging way? How do we prepare them—both cognitively and affectively—to deliver the types of instruction called for by CCSS?
In collaboration with the Professional Development Institute (PDI), the Education Department has developed and/or approved several courses to help teachers, administrators, staff and community to cut through the Gordian knot which is CCSS. In very real ways, these courses clarify and cut through to the core, building upon existing expertise and experience, and empowering teachers to collectively rediscover their creative spirits. PDI also provides foundational trainings for schools and districts, enabling them to send clear and meaningful messages about CCSS and what it means for their constituencies. These trainings are being offered at a discounted rate (please see http://www.webteaching.com/flex/cc.html for additional details). For more information about coursework and trainings for teachers and administrators working with Common Core State Standards, please refer to the PDI website at http://webteaching.com and the Education Department website at http://extension.ucsd.edu/education.