I can make the case for how the Common Core Standards will change classroom behavior, for both students and teachers, by briefly comparing a set of social study standards.  Below is the introductory paragraph to the California History/Social Studies Standards for 10th grade:

"World History, Culture, and Geography: The Modern World

"Students in grade ten study major turning points that shaped the modern world, from the late eighteenth century through the present, including the cause and course of the two world wars. They trace the rise of democratic ideas and develop an understanding of the historical roots of current world issues, especially as they pertain to international relations. They extrapolate from the American experience that democratic ideals are often achieved at a high price, remain vulnerable, and are not practiced everywhere in the world. Students develop an understanding of current world issues and relate them to their historical, geographic, political, economic, and cultural contexts. Students consider multiple accounts of events in order to understand international relations from a variety of perspectives."

A careful reading of this paragraph reveals that any connection between students and text is only implied and certainly not mandated.  In fact, many teachers feel that imparting this information is their job and already consider classroom textbooks as background support and any independent reading students do in the texts fully optional.  Most of the information students will learn in the class will come directly from the teacher by means of direct instruction, usually supported by transparencies or power point slides, and history videos.  I have observed many of these classes and the textbook reading is often done orally in class, with students passing the reading around by paragraphs.   Conscientious teachers will pause the reading periodically to check for understanding and offer further direct instruction.

The 10th grade standard cited below is typical of California social science standards.  Note that the standard does not designate how students will come by the knowledge with which they exit the class.  Teachers, ever mindful of the California Standards for the Teaching Profession, eagerly take the lead and most of the information emanates from the teacher, quite often in words directly from his mouth. 

"10.7 Students analyze the rise of totalitarian governments after World War I.

1.      Understand the causes and consequences of the Russian Revolution, including Lenin’s use of totalitarian means to seize and maintain control (e.g., the Gulag).

2.     Trace Stalin’s rise to power in the Soviet Union and the connection between economic policies, political policies, the absence of a free press, and systematic violations of human rights (e.g., the Terror Famine in Ukraine).

3.     Analyze the rise, aggression, and human costs of totalitarian regimes (Fascist and Communist) in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union, noting especially their common and dissimilar traits." 
It is certainly possible to certify the above standard as rigorous.  Proficient students would indeed possess exemplary content knowledge.  However, the ACT research, upon which the new Common Core Standards are based, have cast a troubling light on the rigor of this standard.  How a student comes to mastery on a standard is as important, or should be, as the fact of mastery itself.

Below are three 9-10th grade History/Social Science standards from the new common core.  While it is true that currently the new standards are not as detailed as the California standards, the most obvious difference is the expectation of students working with, and learning from, text:

"4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.

5. Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.

6. Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts."

My understanding is that committees are working on writing in detail the new Common Core Standards for History/Social Science.  However, the more complete standards as written thus far, for instance English/Language Arts, have closely followed the College and Career Readiness Standards, the direct product of the ACT research.  Those standards are all reliant upon independent, grade-level, mastery of content area text by students. 

The take away from this comparison is that the old standards focused on what students "know and can do."  The new standards also focus on the reading, writing and critical thinking skills students acquire as they master this content.  How a student learns is just as important as what a student learns.  This will profoundly change classroom behavior as teachers focus more on connecting students to text and writers take the lead in delivering content.


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