By the time you read this column, Common Core’s “Next Generation Science Standards” may have been released. (They’re scheduled to go public sometime this month.) I hear tell that a draft was briefly available earlier this year if you were savvy (or lucky) enough to visit the right website at precisely the right moment. I wasn’t, but I did find a well-informed critique of the science standards on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s website. The expert panel commended some of the new guidelines’ strong directions, including, for example, their clear, honest, and science-based treatment of evolution. But the panel also had some significant criticisms. Among those concerns is how well the science standards will mesh with the new math standards, which have already been released. Although the critics saw improvement over earlier drafts, they noted that the cross-pollination of science and math standards still need more work.
Clearly, if we’re reconsidering how to teach both science and math, it makes sense that the resulting standards should be interconnected. Perhaps they’re not as interwoven as they should be. But as you’ll see if you spend time on Stanford’s Graduate School of Education’s website, “Understanding Language,” the links among the standards are much more interesting than simply making sure that science and math are aligned. There’s a Venn diagram that shows that English language arts (ELA) standards are an equal partner in the educational triumvirate: the sweet spot where all three disciplines meet is “building a strong base of knowledge through content rich texts; reading writing and speaking grounded in evidence” (ELA standards); “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others” (math); and “engaging in argument from evidence” (science).
There you have it, the heart of the Common Core: an approach so clear, solid, and significant that it’s as true for English as math, as crucial in science as in the other two areas. We haven’t yet received the Social Studies standards, though New York State has created modified Common Core social studies frameworks for kids in K–8 and in grades 9–12 that give us a good sense of what’s coming. (For a preview, see “Draft NYS Common Core 9–12 Social Studies Framework Is Now Posted.”)
The same focus on evidence, argument, point of view that was the beating heart of Common Core’s math, science, and English language arts is evident here. I can’t tell those of you who are reading this whether your state will adopt all four standards. And as I wrote in my last essay, even those states that have agreed to adopt the English language arts standards are all over the map in their actual implementation. Another essay on the Thomas B. Fordham site called, “Moving Forward: A National Perspective on States’ Progress in Common Core Implementation Planning,” offers a recent survey of how prepared each state is, along with a healthy dose of skepticism. But the good news is that as each standard is released, we are turned back to the essence of this entire grand attempt to improve education: to help students to read, question, examine evidence, think, and debate—whether they’re adding a column of numbers, peering through a microscope, comparing two biographies, or closely examining a primary source. And that’s wonderful news.
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