A few days ago, Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy wrote about supporting the Common Core State Standards—and doing whatever it takes to implement them well—simply because they reflect real-world standards. Institutions of higher education and employers have high standards. For many children from disadvantaged homes, rigorous schooling offers the only hope for being well prepared. Tucker recalled:
Years ago, I was running a focus group in Rochester, New York. I was asking parents how they felt about standards. An African-American single mother living on welfare said, “My boy is in middle school in the city. He is getting A’s just for filling in the colors in a coloring book. The kids in the suburbs have to work really hard for their A’s. When my child graduates, all he will be good for is working the checkout counter at the grocery store. I want my child to have the same opportunities they have. I want him to have to do as well in school as they have to do to earn an A.”
Tucker points out that instead of shying away from the Common Core, we ought to accept it as one necessary step in a total overhaul of our educational approach. “We will have to do what the top-performers everywhere have done: radically change our school finance systems, academic standards, curriculum, instructional practices and tests and exams. Not least important, we will have to make big changes in teacher compensation, the way we structure teachers’ careers, the standards for getting into teachers colleges, the curriculum in our teachers colleges, our teacher licensure standards and the way we support new teachers.”
All true. I argue that the place to start is standards and curriculum. The standards provide the goals and the curriculum provides the specific content. With those as the foundation, we can rebuild the rest of our educational infrastructure—especially teacher preparation.
Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) is a comprehensive reading, writing, speaking, listening, and knowledge-building curriculum for preschool through third grade that could be used to strengthen the elementary grades.
Teachers are excited about it because it develops decoding and encoding skills while also engaging students in listening to and discussing rich teacher read-alouds. Fiction and nonfiction, the read-alouds have a mix of fables, science, and history, including tales from around the world, ancient civilizations, the human body, and astronomy.
In the video, Alice Wiggins, Core Knowledge’s executive vice president, explains that one great benefit of CKLA is the carefully organized content: Children “are pulling knowledge from what they learned earlier in the school year and even in prior years because of the way the program spirals.”
Hope Wygand, a teacher, has seen this in action. In her hands, CKLA builds knowledge and excitement:
In second grade, I know I have to teach ancient Greek myths because in third grade, they are going to do ancient Roman myths. So it all builds….
When you can start a lesson and the children already know what you are talking about, they are so much more interested because they already have an investment in it—and they want to show you what they know.
But don’t just take it from me. See for yourself.