“Why is my first grader preparing for college?” This question reflects a significant misunderstanding of the common core initiative by many parents and it is a question teachers should be able to answer. Some school districts have ignored the question, while others have partnered with parents to respond to the question. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were designed to provide teachers and parents with a clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, and how they can help. They are intended to serve as a guide towards attaining the knowledge and skills required for success in college and careers. The establishment of consistent standards offers educators and parents novel opportunities in developing and sharing curriculum and instructional best practices that include training in self-regulation.
Standards define learning expectations they do not dictate curriculum (e.g., textbooks and reading lists) or prescribe a method of instruction. As more states uniformly adopt CCSS, decisions about curriculum and teaching methods continue to be made by local communities. The hierarchy of standards implementation is not generally understood and this misunderstanding contributes to much of the confusion surrounding the common core. Standards decisions are made at the state level, curriculum decisions are made by local districts, and local teachers and principals make instructional decisions. Federal and state agencies set the standards, superintendents, principals, and teachers choose the best curriculum and methods to meet the required learning goals.
As learners grow and develop physically, mentally and emotionally they can also mature towards becoming proactive learners and eventually take charge of their learning. It makes common and educational sense to link the standards to strategies that enable students to “spiral up” aligning their progress with the common core standards for text complexity. As students navigate what is known as the “staircase of complexity” they remain in an upward progression towards more complex texts secure in their prior knowledge and proficiency in literacy skills from previous years of learning. It is educationally appropriate to prepare students for the complexity of college and career ready texts. When we consider each grade level to be a “step” of growth and development towards acquiring the necessary skills to reach specific goals for all readers, we are equipping students to develop the language skills and the conceptual knowledge they need for success beyond the academic setting and help them shift their focus to lifelong learning. Teachers are given the opportunity to scaffold and support learners as they set proximal goals, monitor performance, and reflect on their progress towards becoming college and career ready.