Bob Dylan’s classic, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” captures the talk resonating throughout the kindergarten through 12th grade world as states have quietly adopted the new “Common Core” standards that will radically shift teaching and learning away from low-level multiple-choice tests to measuring higher-level thinking, writing and application to real-world problems.
Moreover, with the passage of AB 250 in California, co-sponsored by our state superintendent, Tom Torlakson, and supported by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a consortium of business and education leaders, the Department of Education will integrate the four c’s (collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity) into all content frameworks for the new Common Core, which will be assessed statewide in the spring of 2015.
The four c’s are critical skills that have been sadly lacking in our system for the duration of the federally mandated NCLB (No Child Left Behind).
For too long we have defined academic achievement way too narrowly. Common Core redefines academic achievement to focus on the skills and broad content knowledge that are necessary to succeed in college, careers and life.
In response to lock step adherence to a narrow focus on only reading and math as mandated by NCLB, 47 states including California, developed their own common standards that better reflect the skills students will need to succeed at the next level.
With major input from business leaders, higher education and international education experts like Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond, the new standards and assessments will help move our state forward through the 21st century.
To better imagine what this means, think about the old, popular game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Remember that? Remember what happens when the contestant gets stuck? He can ask a “Lifeline” — somebody, including the entire audience, whom he can ask for help.
We need to teach kids that in a globally interconnected world, they are not alone. They can learn to rely on each other as lifelines to support new learning and through technology and the Internet can access millions of lifelines. Think about how that will change classroom learning. It’s exciting to many of us who came into the profession wanting to ignite the passion for learning so kids can truly reach their potentials as active participants in a democratic society.
This new shift will require teachers and students to become facilitators of accessing knowledge, sorting good information from bad, becoming better questioners, communicating with each other and applying information to solve real-world problems.
Students will need to show what they know through speaking, writing and demonstrating mastery of knowledge. In order to do this, they will have to be taught how to think critically and creatively and have opportunities to speak and write about what they learn hopefully every day and in every subject. Instead of focusing on two subjects, literacy will be taught in every subject. That is 21st century learning under the Common Core.
Sadly, in our current system students are left to fend on their own, and since schools are judged mostly on how they do on multiple-choice tests in just reading and math, that is what students mostly get — test-taking skills through a narrowed curriculum.
They seldom have opportunities to work in groups or to be exposed to subjects that might interest them.
Because the tests do not emphasize writing, writing is not generally taught or assigned for homework.
Moreover, because the current content standards are more than 14 years old, current events are generally not brought into the classroom. Vital global events that impact all Americans like “Arab Spring,” “Sea-level rise,” “the search for the Higgs Boson — the god particle,” are seldom if ever addressed.
Students, especially those from urban areas in central Orange County or from schools that teach to the Academic Performance Index scores, are increasingly being shortchanged.
We are inadvertently raising a generation of passive learners whose knowledge about the world and its challenges is extremely shallow.
This must stop.
But as Mr. Dylan pointed out four decades ago, change will not be easy.
Mike Matsuda is a Voice of OC Community Editorial Board member and serves on the board of trustees for the North Orange County Community College District.