Parents, teachers and school administrators are concerned about the impact new Common Core State Standards, now formally adopted by 45 states*, will have on U.S.schools.
Common Core, an initiative of the National Governors Association in partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers, seeks to solve a basic problem facing American schools: too few young people are graduating with the skills and knowledge expected by employers and colleges. Announced in June, 2010, the initiative’s stated goal is to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them,” according to CoreStandards.org. The Obama administration, as part of its Race to the Top grant program, has endorsed the initiative by setting adoption of the Common Core State Standards (or similar career- and college-readiness curricula) as prerequisite for grant eligibility.
The Common Core State Standards, currently comprised of English and Mathematics (science and social studies are still under development), expressly define what a student is expected to learn, but not how to get there. Many schools and teachers are left searching for answers—their experience akin to a homebuilder who’s been given detailed blueprints but no tools to build the home with.
Most states face a painful transition process as they begin tying their statewide proficiency tests to Common Core. Kentucky recently became the first state to test students against Common Core; initial results showed a decline of about one-third in the number of elementary- and middle-school students considered “proficient.” Kentucky high schoolers demonstrated a double-digit drop, as well.
Clearly, what needs to be embraced with equal enthusiasm as the new standards themselves are new techniques for learning. For a generation of students weaned on Facebook, video games and 140-character Twitter messages, old methods are often insufficient. It’s imperative that we adapt our educational approach to take advantage of not only what kids relate to, but also to how their brains work.
Math is the perfect example. More than any other subject, math requires repeated, structured practice. But how can cash-strapped, time-starved schools give students the necessary opportunities for this specialized type of deep practice—especially when modern attention spans are measured in seconds?
Technology, in this case, may be both the cause and the solution to the problem. Many school systems are finding that specialized, online gaming—the very environment with which students are so familiar—can produce the level of educational engagement necessary for math practice. Think about it: the online gaming format is typically progressive, with each new level building upon skills gained in previous levels. It also provides instant feedback, a sense of positive affirmation, and a familiarity that makes it a perfect supplement to classroom instruction.
There is much to be gained by applying consistent standards, but it is also important to note that educational benchmarks, for all their benefits, push many students to a level of greater anxiety about their classroom performance. Just ask any teacher preparing for state exams; as test time approaches, kids feel immense pressure. A technology-based solution that engages students and lowers the anxiety level—while still achieving the learning objectives—can be an invaluable tool.
When our children can eventually meet or exceed Common Core standards, it will be a major step in the right direction. To achieve that goal, it is imperative that we put as much thought and effort into finding out how to teach Common Core, not just the what-to-teach that has received so much emphasis. By identifying learning tools that are in step with today’s student, we can ensure that such broad educational goals are ultimately met.
*One additional state,Minnesota, has chosen to follow only the English portion of Common Core.
ROBERT SUN is president and CEO of Suntex International and inventor of First In Math, a well-known online program designed for self-paced learning in mathematics.