The “New” Standards: Holding our kids to better standards

Okay….so let’s begin the conversation by not referring to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as “new.” At this point they’ve been around for 9 years (since 2010). At this point most teachers should have been trained to understand them and at this point most teachers and students should be living and breathing them in their classroom. Of course, we know, that is too often not the case.

I still hear people, inside and outside of education, talk about the CCSS all the time in an “I can’t believe this is what we’re expecting of kids nowadays” sense and in an “I can’t even do the math” sense. I’m also in groups that fully embrace these standards. I sit in professional developments and on committees where, 9 years later, we’re still trying to problem solve how to get teachers up to speed with these not-so-new standards.

I can remember when the CCSS was first being rolled out; I was a fairly new teacher in NYC who didn’t have a grasp on the standards of the time. All I really “knew” was that the workload expectation for students and teachers would be greater with CCSS. Having not really felt comfortable yet with the status quo, I was resistant to the CCSS at first. (That happens in eduation a lot; you don’t feel like you’ve quite gotten a handle on something and then, BAM!, we’re switching something up on you.) I sat in morning meetings where we looked at the standards, sorted tasks, and tried to see how the standards vertically aligned; our main focus was literacy. No one wanted to touch math. We were supposed to have students complete what was called a “bundle” at the time of grade level tasks aligned to the CCSS.

This was troublesome for me because I taught in a school for students with disabilities and most of my students were functioning, in more ways than one, years below grade level. Before the CCSS I had been given a 1st grade math curriculum and a 1st grade kit to teach students foundational reading skills; I had students in 3rd-5th grade. I thought I was doing my job when I figured out the resources given to me. Now I was being told that I would need to teach actual grade level content (across 3 grades, nonetheless). So, at that time I was one of “those people”; A CCSS hater.

As an alternatively licensed teacher no one had ever talked to me about the standards. Throughout grad school (which I went to while I was teaching) no one had brought up the standards at all. As a teacher in NYC we received some hit-and-run professional development around CCSS probably no more than 3 times. We did receive new curriculum for both literacy and math–which I was very happy with–but with no training. I didn’t like the CCSS because I didn’t understand them. And most people can’t embrace what they don’t understand.

I still see that 9 years later. People don’t understand the standards; all they know is that they don’t understand them. Therefore it must be bad. A few years ago students weren’t expected to be as critical as thinkers and as conceptual at math; so since we didn’t expect then we shouldn’t expect it now. A parent has never seen a math concept presented in a bar model; if they can’t do it then their kids must not be able to either OR it’s just not important. My kids can’t just read a book and write a summary to show that they understand? Why do they need to dig deeper into the text? Think for themselves? Support their thinking?

I spent a few days during my last week of school at a Standards Institute put on by Unbound Ed. I’ve spent the past few years, especially since becoming an instructional coach, digging into the standards and learning as much as I can. Are the standards more rigorous than they were 10 years ago? Yes! Will teachers need to combat some personal philosophies to truly implement them? Yes, for some! Are the standards backed by research and what we know about child development? Yes! The tasks presented at each grade level are intended to meet the child at their development level, assumming they have been receiving rigorous instruction in the standards from the prior years.

The goal of the standards, the way I see it, is to create adults who are able to problem solve, think critically, think creatively, evaluate a situation, and propel our society forward! When I think about my own education, I didn’t really begin to develop most of these skills until college. Now we’re saying, with the CCSS, that these are the skills we want out kids to grow up with. Don’t worry; encompassed within these skills students will learn algorithms and answer questions about reading passages. But they will do so much more!

By not providing access to these standards we are saying we don’t belive our kids can do this. Or we’re saying these skills aren’t as important as being able to be a human calculator and regurgitator of information. We’re saying we only want you to think and do what we teach you to do and think.

By providing access to these standards we’re saying we believe in you; you are smart and capable and can do great things. Your thoughts and opinions are valued. What you’re learning in school are skills that you will be able to use throughout life! (Right, we all know that questsion…”When will I ever need to know this?) Each year students receive another piece of the large puzzle of their K-12 education; each year is meant to build on the last! When we start kids out on the right path, they will be complete by the end.

If a student has a teacher who doesn’t embrace the CCSS (and his/her administrators let him/her get away with it!) then this will create a gap for the students and impact their ability to access instruction in the coming years. This struggle is not okay and it’s not the student’s fault. With so much stacked against many of our kids, why not at least give them these tools provided by the standards!

It may be hard for some, but it is our charge as educators….and as parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles/caretakers. Get to know the standards before you knock them down; especially in front of a school aged child. Your knocking down their education and their opportunity instead of building yourself up and learning and understanding: What a great example that could set for our youth!

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