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Birkenmaier: Understanding the Common Core

Community voice

The Common Core State Standards establish clear expectations for what students should be learning in English language arts and mathematics at every grade level, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Spearheaded by governors and state education leaders from a consortium of more than 40 states, the Common Core represents a collaborative effort to raise expectations and improve instruction for all students so they can succeed academically. The Common Core sets high, clear and uniform standards to prepare students for college and the work force.

The Common Core standards differ from previous learning standards because of their emphasis on critical thinking and concept mastery. In English language arts, the Common Core underlines the importance of reading nonfiction, using evidence to back claims and expanding academic vocabulary. In mathematics, the standards call for greater focus on fewer topics, so that students gain a more comprehensive understanding of key components. They also emphasize the application of math towards solving real world problems.

Although created by a national consortium of states, the Common Core standards are independent of the federal government. Implementation decisions will remain local and teachers and school administrators will continue to write local curricula and lesson plans for their classrooms. The Common Core standards establish the benchmarks for what students need to learn, but districts still determine the best strategies and content for instruction and curriculum. Teachers will continue to make daily instructional decisions to reach individual students.

Illinois adopted the Common Core standards in 2010, recognizing the need to update existing learning standards. The creators of the Common Core consulted with parents, teachers and school administrators through public comment periods held in September 2009 and March 2010.

Illinois is currently in the process of updating science standards as well. The Next Generation Science Standards will provide a new way of teaching science and engineering to students in kindergarten through 12th grade. As a lead state, Illinois helped to write the standards and provided guidance on their eventual implementation.

Students will ultimately benefit from the Common Core’s consistency and higher standards. The Common Core aligns with international standards as well, so that students will be well equipped to compete in today’s global economy. Because it encourages students to apply and demonstrate their knowledge in real world settings, Illinois students will be better prepared for life after high school graduation.

Susan Birkenmaier is the superintendent of Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A

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