Blog: The Educated Reporter

Common Core Classroom Visit Cheat Sheet

So what should reporters be looking for and which grades are best to visit to see the roll-out of Common Core?

For mathematics, the fourth and eighth grades are good places to start, says William Schmidt, a Michigan State University professor of education and mathematics who discussed the Common Core State Standards during an EWA webinar on September 25.

By fourth grade, students are veering into deeper analysis; by eighth, students are tracked by level of comprehension. He recommends journalists review the standards for those grades and come to class prepared to spot what kind of exercises the students are doing.

Under the common core, teachers should be teaching concepts or having students break out into smaller groups for nearly the whole class; if worksheets rule the day, that’s likely a red flag for the reporter, Schmidt says.

Journalists entering an English class shouldn’t be fooled by the number of different texts students are asked to read, says Susan Neuman, a professor of literacy at New York University and former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education. It’s better to spend more time on less material if it helps the teacher dive more deeply into the reading, she said during the webinar. Vocabulary lists that aren’t tied to specific texts are a red flag, as well.

The professional development required to get teachers up to speed also matters, Neuman says. One-off sessions won’t help English teachers appreciate the nuances of the common core. Continuous collaboration among teachers and mentors is more likely to yield positive results for students, Neuman says.

Other highlights:

  • Both experts fear teachers are not prepared to help students transitioning from older state standards to the new multistate standards.
  • To keep up with grade-level reading, struggling students may have to spend additional time during the day or after school to receive the support they need to stay on top of the reading material.
  • The standards are counterintuitive to the precepts of earlier state standards, Neuman says. Those went for breadth while the new standards go more slowly and reach greater depth. That’s a culture change that teachers and administrators will need to adopt. 

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