I have been an educator for 13 years and consider myself someone who is passionate about the profession. My work experience has included being a teacher, coach, vice principal, principal, district supervisor and rural state representative.
I have a desire to help young people be successful, and I get up every morning with a sense of urgency to help make this happen. With all this being said, I want to make the following statement: I fully support Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards and believe these standards will help students be more prepared for the real world.
I will be quite open about my intentions for writing this column: I care about students and what I believe is best for their future. Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards are a step in the right direction for students because they allow them the opportunity to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Students will no longer be trained to pick the correct answer on a multiple-choice test, but instead will be trained to explain answers using logic and reason.
Business leaders across Tennessee have overwhelmingly stated they want employees who can use reason to solve problems, make sound decisions and effectively communicate in verbal and written form. The standards are a shift to what students actually need in society rather than continuing to stubbornly cling to a model that rewards memorization and recall skills.
Most teachers I have spoken with also see great benefits in teaching real-world skills versus preparing for a test that relies on rote memorization. Tennessee’s Common Core Standards are more focused on the essential content of the class than the standards formerly used in Tennessee. These former standards were numerous, and required teachers to teach a new standard almost every day, which led to a large amount of surface learning instead of in-depth mastery.
Teachers recognize that the shift to the new standards will require hard work, but they are excited to be free from the rigid imparting of mass amounts of information required by the old standards.
On the subject of testing, there will be a new assessment associated with the Common Core standards. Two Common Core assessments currently exist nationwide with Tennessee choosing the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Career test. The PARCC test will utilize writing, short answer and other descriptive feedback methods to measure student learning. This assessment will replace the current standardized tests (TCAP and EOC) that students have been taking in English and math.
Another important item of note is that the Common Core standards are standards and not a curriculum. Some critics of Common Core have stated that the standards will drive instruction. I disagree wholeheartedly because I will always argue that teachers drive the instruction in the classroom. Teachers, schools and districts will still have complete flexibility to teach what they want in the classroom and choose the materials and resources they use for instruction. The standards are simply a roadmap of where we should go, and it doesn’t matter if the teacher takes a car, bus, airplane or scooter just as long as the students arrive at the destination.
Please understand that I am not someone who mindlessly agrees with every educational reform that is proposed. I am sometimes critical of things I have seen implemented, and I would never publicly endorse anything that I did not think was best for students.
However, it is my belief that these standards can dramatically improve education for Tennessee students and it would be foolish not to embrace something due to misinformation or misguided beliefs. I will always support what I believe to be students’ best interests and hope that others continue to join me on that journey.
(About The Author: Dr. Jason Bell is the supervisor of Secondary Curriculum and Assessment for the Polk County school district. He is also the executive director of the Tennessee Rural Education Association.)