The standards matter

Male teacher pointing to students who have their hands raised

A new report out of the Brown Center, How Well Are American Students Learning? shares the latest findings from a longitudinal study examining the impact of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) implementation on test scores. While results are mixed, I urge us to continue the fight for standards-rich learning for all our children. The standards movement is an equity and opportunity gap closer. And closing gaps takes time and requires resources.

The CCSS were born into controversy. They have been politicized and attacked in equal measures by the left and right. (Someone once wisely said that the left doesn’t like the word “core” and the right doesn’t like the word “common.”) Therefore, there is something in the naming that has rankled, and also has the chance to bring factions together too.

Despite common misconceptions, the CCSS came to us with no curriculum attached to guide implementation at the classroom level. Teachers and districts were and are still given ample opportunity to create, build and select curriculum they like that suits their values and the spirit of their district. But with this openness also came confusion. Teachers were not given a lot of professional development opportunities to support standards-based teaching and materials were chosen with sometimes little forethought. The standards were explained, sometimes over and over the same explanations, but not enough has been done to really honor the professionalism of teachers and the dignity of the profession to ensure that teachers could have questions answered and practice while implementing. The opportunity to build new models for professional learning and give teachers access to inquiry-based learning of their own was missing.

Amid the furious debates over whether or not states would sign on to move students toward CCSS achievement, districts who did choose to adopt and implement the standards were rushed to test students and measure results of Common Core instruction, and the mixed results disturbed and distressed teachers whose students were still struggling. The teachers then became pressured to do more and more test prep, not at all the mission or the message of the standards, an ironic twist that leads to the mixed results in the study we see before us now.

The standards are in my view an educational bill of rights for children. With rich and robust professional development support and accompaniment and abundant resources for our students, from quality curriculum to authentic texts to meaningful technology, the standards can make a world of difference for all our students.

The standards set forth a set of aspirational goals for every child as a reader, writer, speaker and listener which deepen and grow with the child at every grade level. This is the first time in the history of public education that we have had such a document. Like other documents that have come before it that seek to tell a new story to achieve excellence for a large community, the work is long and hard and results are not easy to see in a few short years.

The implementation of the standards initially was deeply flawed. Teachers and parents alike, as well as students, were told, not enrolled. Rather than investing in deeper opportunities for professional learning and study and sharing of literacy curriculum best practices, states rushed in with more testing and test prep, more evaluation and a punitive approach to the teachers working with the most struggling students.

Let us now instead move forward to embrace and delight in the authentic reading and writing experiences the standards champions. Let us demand equal access across all schools in all cities in all states to resources and materials needed for children to meet and exceed standards. This includes equitable access to diverse and beautiful books in all genres and from all perspectives, and to technology that is meaningful to literacy and engagement. We “implemented” standards while leaving our schools to languish in building access to rich resources. We “implemented” standards while not dignifying our teachers with enough opportunity to learn deeply and with confidence that their learning would have an arc and a growth and that they would not be punished at the outset for the results of their most struggling students.

The standards offer a once in a generation transformational moment for public education. Let’s use the standards as a clarion call for equity and opportunity for every child. Call them state standards. Call them whatever empowers the local districts and schools to feel ownership over this innovative process. They don’t need to be “common” and they don’t need to be “core”. They need to be essential. For no matter a child’s zip code, he has the human right to an education that makes him truly college, career and civic ready: well prepared for his role in his school and community and his leadership, becoming a knowledge seeker and idea builder for the 21st century. The time is now.


About Pam Allyn
Pam Allyn

Pam Allyn

Pam Allyn is a world-renowned literacy expert, author, and motivational speaker. She is the founding director of LitWorld, a global literacy initiative serving children across the United States and in more than 60 countries, and LitLife, a cutting-edge consulting group working with schools to enrich best practice teaching methods and building curriculum for reading and writing. She has written many books including an English/Language Arts Core Ready series that offers teachers ideas to make the most of their time in the classroom.

Pam received the 2013 Scholastic Literacy Champion Award, and is Scholastic’s Open a World of Possible Ambassador. She is a spokesperson for BIC Kids, championing BIC’s 2014 “Fight For Your Write” campaign. Pam was selected as a mentor for the 2013 Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative Fellowship to help young Egyptian women develop leadership skills. She was chosen as an inaugural W.K. Kellogg Foundation Fellow in April 2014, becoming a part of a national cohort of 20 fellows focusing on racial healing and equity. She is on the Advisory Boards of the Amherst College Center for Community Engagement, James Patterson’s ReadKiddoRead, the Pearson Foundation’s We Give Books, and the Millennium Cities Initiative Social Sector.