A recent post in Education Week sketches the dilemma faced by Republicans over the Common Core State Standards (http://goo.gl/WHLiU). Apparently, for some GOP leaders, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) represent a “state-led effort to help improve learning outcomes throughout the nation”. For others it’s considered “Obama Core”.
My hope is that in the course of arguing the pros and cons of CCSS the parties (and all of us) will be forced to ask: “What is the mission of 21st century American education?”. After all, if we don’t have a clear, shared, understanding of the mission of education, how could we possibly evaluate CCSS? Moreover, if we don’t engage in the deeper dialogue, CCSS could go the way of the reading wars. We could get mired in polarized and superficial arguments (like phonics v whole) that impede rather than enhance the kind of professional learning educators most need to engage in.
We need a 21st century curriculum and having common core standards is a vital part of the equation. The question is what is the purpose of CCSS? What is it designed to do and for whom? What is its mission and what does its mission say, implicitly, about the underlying educational mission it serves?
CCSS Mission Statement: (from: http://www.corestandards.org/)
The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are EXPECTED to learn, so teachers and parents KNOW WHAT THEY NEED to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS that our young people NEED for success in college and careers. With American students FULLY PREPARED for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy. (Bold All CAPS emphasis mine)
So in other words, the mission of CCSS is to:
Improve our economic future by teaching students the common core of knowledge and skills that WE KNOW THEY NEED TO LEARN.
But how could we possibly think that WHAT WE THINK THEY NEED TO LEARN is more important to their futures than HOW WELL THEY CAN LEARN WHAT THEY NEED WHEN THEY GET THERE?
My point is that everything we ‘know‘ they ‘need to learn‘ is at best scaffolding for their future learning.
What should today’s children learn in order to be ready for a world in which virtually everything known about everything known is instantly available through inexpensive mobile devices? What facts should they remember? What mental skills must they have when these same devices will be able to coach them, in real-time, through learning to perform virtually any task they feel challenged by?
What kind of jobs will exist for humans? What should today’s children learn in order to be ready to compete for jobs with tomorrow’s computers and robots? (http://goo.gl/8kTE5) In what kinds of ‘knowledge work’ jobs will humans still be able to out-perform the ROI advantages of machines? In what kinds of manual labor jobs will humans out-perform machines?
Clearly there will be ever fewer opportunities for human beings who can only perform repetitive manual labor, remember factoids, or perform routine intellectual functions. So, what can we do today to prepare today’s children for tomorrow? What is the mission of education? (http://goo.gl/utHwH)
More than anything else we can say with certainty, the future depends on how well our children learn when they get there – depends on how well they can learn in ways and about things we can’t teach them in school.
Imagine developing common core standards with the mission of stewarding how well children learn – that use what we think they should learn not as the ‘end’ objective but as the evolving ‘means’ to exercise their ability to learn whatever they need whenever they need to.
To prepare children to learn in the future we need a 21st century curriculum. The question is what is the purpose of the curriculum? What is the mission of 21st century education in America?