Common Core Drives Improvement Across the Curriculum

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By Krista Fincke

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Legislature held a hearing on a ballot initiative that would repeal the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, which include the Common Core. The Legislature would instead enact the old Massachusetts standards, and then establish an expensive and chaotic process for writing new standards. As a teacher, I believe that this would be a big mistake.

I began teaching in Massachusetts after the Common Core was adopted in 2011, so I haven't experienced anything except the rigor that the Common Core has to offer. For many teachers like me, the current standards are the only ones we have ever known. And they are worth knowing. The depth and rigor of the Common Core has pushed us to evaluate the skills we are teaching, allowing lessons to drive critical thinking and analysis.

In my five years as a middle school science teacher in Chelsea, my school has seen improvements in all subjects. English teachers have transformed how they teach writing, asking students to find evidence and support their claims with reasoning. We are doing the same in science, where I ask my students to not just memorize important information, but to apply it to new problems. In my earth science class, students analyze graphs about the average air temperature changes since 1880 and the change in carbon dioxide levels from 400,000 years ago to today. From these graphs, using background information about the greenhouse effect, students draw conclusions about the rise in temperature. Through this process, they are not only able to solidify information in a different way, but are practicing the crucial skills of analysis and critical thinking which are central to their future success.

In addition to increased rigor in English and science, math teachers at my school have noticed that each new batch of 5th graders is more prepared to tackle complex, conceptual math problems. We attribute this to the Common Core. Four years ago, our 5th graders came to us unable to multiply or divide. With Common Core, teachers introduce fractions in 3rd grade and then gradually cover often complex math concepts so that, by 5th grade, our students are not only able to multiply, divide, and use fractions, but have a strong understanding of math on a conceptual level.

According to our 5th grade math teacher, Sarah Sutton, "Since students had a strong understanding of fractions when they enter 5th grade, they showed mastery of subtracting with regrouping within the introductory period this year, whereas in the past, students struggled even after three periods of review." Because of this solid understanding, Sarah was able to cut months of the typical 3rd and 4th grade remediation and start with 5th grade content in September. Because of Common Core, her students are now prepared to tackle content at their grade level in a more comprehensive way.

As a teacher, I want to feel confident that my students will walk out of my classroom better prepared for life outside of our school's walls. Repealing Common Core would undo all of the progress schools and teachers have made to increase the rigor in their courses.

I sought out a teaching position in Massachusetts because it is a state known for its top notch education system and high expectations of both teachers and students. Taking away Common Core moves us in the opposite direction. I hope legislators take this into consideration when deciding if repealing the Common Core is the right path for our state, for our schools and, most importantly, for our students.

Krista Fincke is a 5th and 6th grade science teacher at Excel Academy Charter School in Chelsea, Massachusetts and a Teach Plus Policy Fellow.