Teachers at Houston schools were in the classroom recently gearing up for the implementation of Common Core into the district’s curriculum and while the big changes will be seen by teachers, students and parents will see changes, too.
“Going to block scheduling for reading and writing at the Middle School will be one big change,” said Debbie Harmon, Director of Curriculum and Assessment. “Students will basically have two periods to work on these skills.
“We will still have the same scheduling for math this year, but we are doing away with Algebra I at the Middle School and will be replacing it with advanced math,” said Harmon. “One of the biggest changes is skills being taught are being pushed down to younger students.”
Harmon said Common Core is slated to be implemented across the nation next year and Houston chose to start this fall.
Common Core is a federal education initiative that seeks to bring diverse state curriculum into alignment with each other and national standards by following the principles of standards-based education reform. The program was prompted by a national study that found students across the country received widely varying levels of education, many were not prepared for college and American students were significantly behind students from other countries. The initiative is sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Harmon also pointed to the new state law that requires all third graders to be reading at a third grade level as one reason the district chose to implement Common Core a year early.
“We think it will be better for our students,” said Harmon. “There will be a lot more reading and writing. There will also be more emphasis on teaching kids to learn, how to study and how to find information. We think teachers will like this because it is more about learning rather than teaching to a test.”
And Harmon said while there will still be testing, they will all be done on computers and the turn-around time will be shorter. That will help teachers see where their students are falling short and if remedial study is needed.
Susan Eldridge, an 8th Grade Language Arts teacher at Houston Middle School said she likes the idea of a longer period to teach reading and writing.
“I think an hour-and-40-minutes will let us get deeper into the material,” said Eldridge. “I also think we can read the first part of the class and still have time to do a writing exercise.”
Tosha Crawford, a 7th Grade Language Arts teacher said the curriculum will definitely be more writing intensive and that may mean parents need to be more involved with homework.
“Both reading and writing are skills you learn by doing,” said Crawford. “These are major changes for everyone and we will be pushing students to learn. I do think quicker assessment will help us, too.”
Another benefit of Common Core is teachers at the next grade will know what students were taught the previous year and where to start their instruction each fall.
Common Core is also expected to save districts money since testing across the nation is standardized and the cost can be shared.
Weaknesses of the change will be it takes time to learn the new Common Core standards and curriculum.
And Common Core will be tougher on students. Math and reading instruction normally taught at higher levels will be pushed down to the kindergarten level and and many teachers do no see that as a good move.
There will be more high-stakes testing under Common Core and many parents and teachers already feel students are over-tested.
“We can talk about the methods and testing, but one of the main things is Common Core goes back to teaching ideas and concepts in the classroom,” said Harmon. “In this age of accountability we can often lose site of teaching and students learning. I’m excited about these changes.”