As a guinea pig in a nationwide experiment, Chicago's Philip D. Armour Elementary School is seeing drastic improvements in student performance.
Even the most ardent critics of the nationwide Common Core Standards initiative can't dispute the school's strong student improvement: Armour's state standardized test scores have moved up 16 points, in a school where 98 percent of students are low-income and come from a high-crime neighborhood, PBS NewsHour reports.
Illinois is one of 46 states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards, a set of academic benchmarks that raises the bar for teaching and learning across the country. The goal of the states-led initiative is to establish a uniform set of expectations for what students must learn, eliminating educational inequities, and to ensure college and career-readiness.
The standards focus on teaching fewer subjects in greater depth, replacing a melange of educational expectations that vary wildly across districts and states.
Neither the city nor the teachers union dispute the fact that curricular reforms and more rigorous standards are necessary to reverse an American trend of dismal student performance and lagging global competitiveness. But the pilot program at Armour Elementary first saw resistance from teachers exasperated by the need to develop their own curriculum to meet Common Core standards.
Despite Armour's success, teachers across Chicago remain concerned. Student scores are expected to plummet when Illinois unveils new high-stakes exams in 2014. And those scores, according to the deal reached following a bitter seven-day labor strike, will account for 30 percent of a teacher's evaluation. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis worries that the shift could be a "death sentence" for teachers and schools.
But for now, teachers at Armour are doing what they do best: helping their students learn.
Watch the full PBS NewsHour segment above to hear more about the Common Core, how Armour teachers have adapted and how the students are doing with the new standards.