Adopting Common Core will require change in school culture

By Elizabeth Anne Garcia, MBA
Estero Founder and head of school, Discovery Day Academy, Bonita Springs

Naples Daily News 04/10/2014, Page B07

Achieving the intended student outcomes of the Common Core requires more than the addition of thoughtprovoking learning standards; it necessitates the change of school culture. An organization’s culture shapes the way it behaves, thinks and feels. Traditions and norms are deeply rooted; therefore, cultural change is difficult. If successful, change requires significant time, resources and a supportive team, with strong leadership at the helm.

Imagine if you arrived at work to find that many of your company’s policies and work practices had changed. You enter a board meeting anticipating your boss’ delivery of ideas and information. You have heard leadership’s ideas for 15 years and your job is to implement creative concepts through a given process, exercising limited critical thinking skills. On this day, you are suddenly told to start the meeting, think through the issues and share your ideas.

Imagine the anxiety you might feel. You would give your best effort, but may go back to your desk feeling unprepared and defeated. Is it possible that our children feel the same sense of anxiety with their current performance expectations at school?

The Common Core requires children to be creative thinkers across domains. No longer is the expectation solely to choose the correct answer from a set of given solutions. The 21st century demands a globally competitive education for our children. The most sought-after skills in the future workforce are creativity, problem-solving and innovativeness.

The “four C’s” of 21st-century learning are communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity, as defined by The Partnership for 21st Century Skills. The Common Core observes two of the four skills — collaboration and critical thinking. The standards were written to provide a national set of rigorous benchmarks. The intention is positive; however, the follow-through and support of these ideals falls short.

Over the last several decades, schools have been forced to give up recess and play-based opportunities for test preparation and additional time spent on isolated subjects. If science was not a tested subject in a particular grade, it was given little priority — a disservice to our children given the importance of the “STEAM” subjects (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics).

Children spend time on subjects in isolation, learning testtaking skills and stress-coping strategies. School is a place for work, to the dismay of many leaders and educators who are forced to produce high test scores for continued funding, ignoring variable factors that are often not within their control.

What should learning look like in a 21st-century classroom? Children must develop a love for learning, the ability to express their creativity, critical thinking skills and individuality. Recess and learning centers allow children to imagine and collaborate with others.

Success in the 21st century requires the adoption of the four C’s at all school levels. Policymakers must support district leaders, administrators and teachers, allowing them to exercise their professional expertise in education. Leadership must be comfortable collaborating with its staff and open to their ideas. Teachers need to be free to tap into their creativity, with the ability to be entrepreneurs of their classrooms, molding curriculum to meet the individual needs of their students. It requires a mixture of teacherdirected and student-centered learning, as seen within projectbased learningmodels.

Opportunities should be provided for children to drill down in areas of their individual interest, rather than solely focusing on broad learning concepts. Subjects must be interdisciplinary, rather than taught in isolation.

The problem-solving skills required of success with the Common Core Standards will not develop if subjects are unilateral. Approaching real-world problems requires a mixture of disciplines, approaches and problem solving skills. Why should classroom learning be any different?

School cultures have been shaped by years of public policy that have created a “teach to the test” environment. Benchmarking student mastery is important; however, testing should not be the outcome of learning or tied to certain aspects of the Common Core. Children have not transitioned to a more rigorous style of learning.

We are working against the development of a love for learning and creative thinking, the ideals at the root of the Common Core, by not providing the proper time, support and resources for a necessary cultural shift in our schools.

Garcia is the creator of Eduthink21, an educational blog. The private Discovery Day Academy now has kindergarten and will add first grade in 2014-15. Classes through fifth grade will open in 2015, with future growth planned through eighth grade. The school is at 3480 Pelican Colony Blvd.

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