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Friday, February 13, 2015

Dear Governor,

When I started teaching over 9 years ago, my daddy {who is also an educator} gave me this book.

With tears in my eyes, I read his handwritten notes and thought about what the next indefinite number of years would be like as a teacher.
Whitney - I am so proud that you have chosen to be a teacher.  Except for the ministry, it is the highest calling that a person could receive.  You will be a great one!  You need to find out about MISS BONKERS and learn a thing or two from this teacher created by Dr. Seuss.  Enjoy the Journey!  Dad
The most moving notes to me are on this page.  They are forever etched on my teacher heart.

There's more "stuff" in this world than you or I could ever teach our students.  Give them a love for learning and then teach them how to think.  They will be forever grateful to you.
4 years ago, as a first grade teacher, I began pouring over the new Common Core State Standards.  They were daunting.  They were difficult to understand.  There were fewer and sometimes cloudier standards replacing many, many picky and shallow standards.  And they were different.

But that's nothing new.  Teachers getting a new set of standards to teach by isn't a Common Core thing.  It's an education thing.  Anyone who teaches for longer than a few years knows that standards change like fashion.  Sometimes it's just small changes.  Sometimes it's big changes.  But change is inevitable.

Because of the vast differences, Common Core was a big change.  It was a shift in content.  It was a shift in focus.  And it was a shift in kid thinking skills.  And while I can only speak for the first grade Common Core was a shift for the better.  Yes, there are major, major gaps for older kids.  The shift for secondary students has been more than difficult.  But my first year of Common Core kiddos are in 4th grade now.  Secondary is only going to get easier if we stay the course.

Like the text in Dr. Seuss' final book kids have learned to THINK.  That's always been my focus...despite the standards.  But our old Arkansas Frameworks were standards that focused on doing.  Common Core is a set of standards focused on thinking.

And since you are pulling together a committee to study Common Core and its place in Arkansas education, let me give you {and my fellow citizens} my two cents.

Common Core is NOT the only change in the history of education.

Common Core is NOT a violation of privacy or religious rights.

Common Core is NOT a teaching strategy.

Common Core is NOT an assessment.  That's a completely different issue.

Common Core is NOT a new step-by-step program for solving a math problem.

Common Core is NOT a mandate for how much homework your child has.

So, what is it?

It is challenging.  Do you want your child bored from the low level learning going on at his school? Challenging means learning is happening.

It is different.  Do you think 2015 first graders need to learn the same exact things that 1915 kids needed to learn?  Different means standards are changing to accommodate the different needs of today's techy generation.

It is deeper.  Do you think rote memorization is the best way to learn?  Could you still pass that multiple choice chemistry test from high school?  How many stats from your Jr. High history class do you remember?  Going deeper means concepts are fully understood and not forgotten.  It means instead of memorizing a way to solve a math problem that they'll forget in a few years, students can learn how to problem solve and persevere to get an answer.  It means they can defend their ideas and strategies.  It means learning isn't lost.

Mr. Governor, while discussions around Common Core have been heated over the last year and a half or so, I'm in my 4th year teaching the Common Core standards.  Nobody in the general public really talked about Common Core when it was rolled out for Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade 4 years ago.  And what I can tell you from my years of experience with these standards is that Common Core has helped give me more time to focus on my first graders' abilities to problem solve, think for themselves and prepare for real world success.  What I can tell you is that I have a class of first graders that is excited to tackle problems, that gladly accept a challenge, and that have critical thinking skills I didn't know 6 year olds could have when I first started teaching.  And what I can tell you is that matters.  And that is partly because of the challenging, different, and deep standards I am teaching through Common Core.

And as a mom, I'm excited about the thought of Cooper being taught the Common Core standards.  Because at the end of the day, this is what I want out of my child's education...

I want him to be prepared for success in the real world, not for taking a test that is unlike almost anything he will take beyond his high school or college years.

I want him trained in thinking.  I don't want him trained in doing.  Or memorizing.  THINKING.  And problem solving.  Because that will transfer to success in the real world.  Because that will last him a lifetime.

But most importantly, I want him to be surrounded by educators that love and care about him like his mommy does.  Because I'm trusting our state's public school system to "raise" my son for 35 hours a week starting in 3 and a half short years.

And, that, Mr. Governor, has nothing to do with what set of standards are chosen when he starts kindergarten.

That has nothing to do with the time you will spend studying the Common Core State Standards.

That...existed before Common Core, has existed during it, and will continue to exist after Common Core is replaced by even better standards in the future.