Is the Common Core a Good Thing?

Bill Ivey at the Stoneleigh-Burnham School in western Massachusetts started a conversation on AMLE’s MiddleTalk Listserve about the Common Core:

I suddenly realize, Common Core would be pulling the country away from the direction I would love to see education take of more fully individualizing and personalizing each kid’s own path of learning. Maybe they could be used in such a model, and more power to them if they can. I somehow doubt it.

The conversation spurred a bunch of great responses (including Jill Spencer’s post on the Bright Futures blog). Below is what I submitted about Maine’s Customized Learning work and how it may fit with the Common Core:

Maine is moving in the direction of customized learning. I think this would go by a lot of different names around the country: standards-based instruction; performance-based instruction; individualized instruction. And there are lots of models: RISC (Reinventing Schools Coalition); Integrative Curriculum (see here or here); the Foxfire Approach; student designed projects ala Minnesota New Country School and Projects4ME; etc.

At the core are the two key principles that people learn in different timeframes and in different ways.

Maine has a grass roots effort: The Maine Cohort for Customized Learning. There isn’t much online about them yet, but they are currently 14 or so districts working together to implement customized learning. The Cohort’s roots are the RISC model, and Bea McGarvey’s work around Mass Customized Learning. Also, Commissioner Bowen has just recently announced his strategic plan for the ME DOE, Education Evolving, which essentially provides all the policy support for a standards based (NOT Carnegie unit based!) diploma and for performance-based customized learning.

AND, Maine has signed on to the Common Core.

How does this all fit?

The Cohort districts are taking the Maine Learning Results (our learning standards, which by next year will include the Common Core), and are dissecting them and reformulating them into a collection of user-friendly (well, relatively speaking), performance-based learning-friendly list of measurement topics. We’re using Marzano’s framework, and each measurement topic includes a leveled description describing what is necessary for a Level 1 or 2 (essentially lower level Blooms attainment) and for a Level 3 or 4 (essentially an upper level Blooms attainment). The Cohort is sharing these with any district the wants to start exploring or using them.

This has been quite a task. Anyone who has worked at true standards-based learning (not just standards-referenced, but where you are looking for artifacts and evidence of student mastery of the standard) knows that many sets of state’s standards are not really designed to be used this way. Some standards you would need a 3-year portfolio of work to demonstrate, or aren’t clear, or are linked to a specific task or assessment strategy (write a report about X, etc.). Our teachers have had to strip out all the assessment info in the standard, so it is just the content topic (in some cases, once the assessment information is gone, there is little left to infer what the content topic was!).

So this all boils down to the fact that Maine will have a viable curriculum, based on the Common Core, that will lend itself to an individualized, customized, standards-based, performance-based approach.

One of the follow up questions that comes from this work (trying to be more standards-based) is how will we monitor student progress and know where they are in mastering their learning topics?

Some districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning are using Educate, a progress management system in development by some of the RISC folks. It is in the early days of development, but feedback from our districts is being used to shape the development, and I hear from colleagues using it that each new release is better and better.

I’ve been using Project Foundry for more than 4 or 5 years, including for Projects4ME (Projects4ME is Maine’s virtual, project-based program or at-risk youth). They earn credit by designing and doing standards-based projects. Although Project Foundry was designed for programs like ours and the one’s that ours is based on, it is being used mostly now by schools looking at standards-based activities, not just student designed projects. Project Foundry doesn’t only allow project proposals and time logging, but the uploading of artifacts and evidence of learning, assessment against correlated learning targets, and individualized, data-based learning plans, transcripts! and progress reports.

Of course, the next step is not just learning progress management, but also utilizing a database of learning activities correlating to the measurement topics but appealing to different learning styles. Imagine as a student completes a measurement topic, getting a recommendation from the system of an activity for the next measurement topic which is an approach the system thinks the student will like. Think Amazon book recommendations, but for learning activities…

So, depending on how much flexibility you believe you have (or are willing to take regardless!), it isn’t so much the Common Core, as it is what you decide to do with them…

About Mike Muir

I'm an educator, teacher trainer, and educational developer interested in creating multiple pathways to learning and helping people figure out how they are smart.
This entry was posted in Curriculum Content & Organization, Customized Learning, Learning Progress Management and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Is the Common Core a Good Thing?

  1. Chris Toy says:

    Great points and resources Mike. I think the key is who the “you” is. If the “you” are poorly informed Policymakers, inept central office folks, less than courageous principals, or unempowered teachers there’s a very real possibility that history will repeat itself.

  2. Bill Ivey says:

    I love the conversations we have on MiddleTalk – they frequently push my thinking forward. In this case, I see so much of good in what Maine is doing here, and I have been musing in and referring to the MT conversation (and now this excellent post too) a lot.

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