As a retired educator with 30-plus years of experience in the classroom, principalship, and superintendency, several times recently I have been asked my opinion of the Common Core Standards that are currently being implemented in our Mississippi public schools. Do I think they are the savior for public schools? No, but I don’t think they are of Satan either.
Our schools are asked to produce students who can function at a higher level in this fast-changing world, and the CCS are designed to bring about higher level thinking skills. For too long we have expected our students to spit out facts with no ability to apply those facts in real world situations.
I see frustration in the faces of parents, teachers and students. My own seven year old grandson has struggled with the higher order thinking skills that are being presented at younger ages. I do feel that some of the skills may be above the maturity level of these children, but we will never know what they can grasp unless it is attempted.
The mind is like a knife and must be sharpened, but you don’t sharpen a knife with butter. You hone it against something hard to get it sharp. Knowing facts are essential but applying them is imperative. I can see my own failures as a junior high classroom teacher when I only required students to work the math problems that were already set up instead of emphasizing the understanding of the math reading problems. Life is a reading problem, and we must be able to decipher the information and apply the appropriate method to solve it. We must give our students the ability to think higher and deeper.
Testing and grades have driven us to be afraid to fail or to look as if we aren’t making As on everything that is attempted. No professional baseball player started off batting 1.000 or pro basketball player shooting 100 percent. They hone their skills for years. There has to be an understanding that not everything will be mastered the first time it is taught. It is a growing process that will take years to master. The investment, however, will last a lifetime.
In fairness to our schools and administrators, when funding and public perception are tied to testing then the pressure to look good on the test outweighs many other important issues. Our schools walk a fine line to walk as they attempt to stay in good standing with the standards set forth by the state and federal government.
I am sure I do not understand everything about CCS, but I do feel there are more positive attributes to their implementation than negatives. We have to challenge our children in this ever-changing world to be problem solvers not just fact repeaters.
Teresa McNeece is a former Itawamba County Superintendent of Education