Common Core Standards Prepare the Future Workforce
The integration of Common Core State Standards will develop students who bring 21st-century skills into the workplace.
A review of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ lists of today’s fastest-growing industries and occupations show that 21st-century jobs will focus on technology, providing services to people, or both. Jobs in manufacturing are nearly nonexistent on these lists, which are dominated instead by jobs in health services, social services, financial services and information services. The challenge for workers: technology changes rapidly, and people are, well, challenging. Unlike staffing a rote assembly line, providing services to unpredictable, unique, opinionated individuals requires workers who can research, collaborate and solve problems.
Educators must cultivate in students the ability to investigate, recognize and validate multiple paths to correct answers; to articulate and defend advantages and disadvantages of ideas and solutions; to respectfully debate to find a final “best answer.” These are the skills required in the coming decades. Cultivating these skills is the goal of the Common Core State Standards. CCSS does not replace the existing curriculum; instead, the standards are absorbed into what classroom teachers already teach.
Integration in the Curriculum
The transition to CCSS has been a focus of school districts throughout the country, with varying degrees of success depending on advocacy of the standards by state and district educators, support from local communities and adequate training of classroom teachers. In Peoria Public Schools, the transition has been exceptionally smooth, as Math and Science Coordinator Susan Gobeyn and Literacy and Social Studies Coordinator Shamieka Sykes-Salvador have facilitated its integration into classrooms over a four-year period.
Peoria Public Schools began integrating Common Core State Standards into its curriculum in the spring of 2011, when subject-area teachers and school interventionists created school-year road maps for content areas. These plans, known as four-quarter plans, outline key CCSS standards that must be covered during each school-year quarter. Curriculum leaders in math and English/language arts then built a framework that would eventually be used throughout the district. The actual classroom implementation of these four-quarter plans was left up to each teacher.
Throughout 2011 and 2012, district teachers attended numerous professional development events focused on integrating CCSS while meeting the instructional needs of a wide variety of student skill levels. In particular, teachers became experts in the College and Career Readiness anchors of the standards. Simultaneously, district staff created curriculum guides aligned with the four-quarter plans and made additional resources available to teachers. The curriculum guides and four-quarter plans were continually fine-tuned to ensure that pacing would match what students would be expected to know in March and May when the new state assessment, known as The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), launched during the 2014-2015 school year.
New district software, Pinpoint, also launched to build a library for teachers containing lesson plans that are vetted by peers and attached to four-quarter plans. Pinpoint makes the development of math and reading classroom plans a science while allowing the delivery of instruction to remain an art form.
Application in the Real World
As a result of the district’s planning efforts, input from classroom teachers and interventionists, and rigorous training for teachers, CCSS integration was nearly transparent to students. For the most part, students were unaware that the teaching methods were introducing them to higher-level critical thinking and improved collaborative skills.
“The problems we encounter in the ‘real world’—our work life, family life and community life—don’t ask us what chapter we’ve just studied and don’t tell us which parts of our prior knowledge to recall and use,” notes Gobeyn. “They rarely even tell us exactly what question we need to answer, and they almost never tell us where to begin. To survive and succeed, we must figure out the right question to be asking, what relevant experience we have, what additional information we might need and where to start. We must have enough stamina to continue even when progress is hard, and flexibility to try alternative approaches when progress is stalled.”
CCSS teaches students what they need to be able to do, rather than a set of specific facts they need to know, adds Sykes-Salvador. Incorporating CCSS means teaching students how to ask questions such as “Do you agree?” and “Why do you think so?” Teachers must learn to incorporate written reflection, evaluation and synthesis, as well as allowing creativity in expression and modeling solutions. For example, the English and Language Arts (ELA) standards require students to read a variety of texts, both fiction and nonfiction, and to master the skills of gathering evidence, analyzing texts and communicating research and analysis in writing and through oral interpersonal communication.
Successfully integrating CCSS can initially be challenging for teachers, in that they must let go of a traditional “lecture, memorize and test” model of teaching. Sykes-Salvador explains that an alternative strategy in ELA is to guide students step by step through modeled reading, shared reading, guided reading and independent reading. As students build literacy skills, they are given more opportunity to self-select texts and to select texts which challenge their literacy skills, so they can progress beyond their grade level. CCSS empowers students to be proactively involved in the learning process through investigation, collaboration and the search for multiple or nuanced correct answers.
“We are helping students embrace the idea that there’s more than one way to get to a solution,” says Gobeyn. For example, in incorporating CCSS for math, students learn procedural fluency. “Effective teaching practices provide experiences that help students connect procedures with the underlying concepts and opportunities to rehearse or practice strategies and justify their procedures.”
As Tom Henry recently noted in the Blythevile Courier News, “Often, the difference between a city only having stores that sell potato chips or receiving a new factory that makes computer chips is the skill level of the workforce.”
The continued integration of CCSS into Peoria Public School classrooms will develop students who will eventually bring 21st-century skills like critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and technology adaptability into the workplace. iBi