There has been a lot of talk lately regarding education reform, and one of the biggest reform movements sweeping through U.S. public schools has been the Common Core Standards (CCS). CCS is a state-led initiative developed by a coalition of teachers, administrators, and leading experts in the field of education. The majority of states have decided to jump on board with the Common Core, with the exception of Texas, Alaska, Nebraska, Minnesota (They’ve actually adopted the English standards), and Virginia. According to the CCS website the standards “define the knowledge and skills of students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs.” Yowser! So in theory if we assume that all schools and classrooms are teaching to the standards (many won’t be, even though they’ll say they have adopted the Common Core), then our students should be ready to tackle college or vocational programs like an NFL linebacker. That sounds great in theory, but in reality I don’t really see these new standards doing much to change the face of American education. It would be awesome if they did, but the root of our education woes goes much deeper than standards. As is the case with any educational reform, success is dependent on commitment and follow-through, and with all of the roadblocks (teacher’s unions, administrators, burnt out tenured teachers) standing in the way of change, it’s hard to envision anything magical actually taking place. Now that just happens to be my insanely cynical view, and don’t get me wrong…for some schools, the Common Core will have a huge impact. We do have some excellent educational institutions in the United States, but I am simply referring to the majority, and as a collective group I just don’t see it. Let’s check back in 5 or 10 years though.
Moving along…So what does this mean for response to intervention? Well, not much really (in my opinion). Now you will probably hear from people, who absolutely love to hear themselves speak, talk about how it’s going to change everything and revolutionize education, but feel free to tune them out or ignore them. This is typically coming from folks who haven’t worked in a school for decades (or in many cases, never), and who are totally disconnected from the way things actually work. I’m not saying they aren’t extremely smart, it just seems like most of them have long been removed from the public school system. So in any case, when we talk about meshing common core with RTI, keep in mind that we’re going to be referring to a small number of schools who have incorporated RTI and CCS, and who have actually done so with fidelity. We’re still going to use the RTI framework as a means of identifying benchmark, strategic and intensive students, and this process shouldn’t really be impacted at all by Common Core. I have heard from some people who think CBMs, like DIBELS, will soon be obsolete and won’t be our main source for benchmarking and progress monitoring, because now all schools will be beacons of critical thinking…seriously, it’s hard not to laugh out loud when I hear that ridiculousness. However, I happen to think this is insanely far-fetched, and I still haven’t seen a viable alternative that can be administered in less than 5 minutes per student, while producing the same amount of quality data. Until that happens, I don’t see DIBELS (or AIMSweb, or easyCBM) going anywhere. Again, I’m certainly not an expert, so I really don’t have much proof to support any of this…it’s just my (humble?) opinion.
Core instruction will be where Common Core has the biggest impact and this is true in the case of RTI as well. Tier 1 (core) instruction is the foundation of the RTI pyramid, and under RTI students in every tier take part in the core curriculum. Because Common Core is altering the way students are taught to a certain extent, every student taking part in an RTI framework should feel its impact. Because of this the issue of curricular fidelity is as important as ever, and hopefully the Common Core can be another tool for driving this vital RTI component. With that being said, our schools would be in a much better place, regardless of RTI or Common Core, if curricular fidelity was happening in every classroom. Above all else, the number one most important factor for our students is that high-quality research-based core instruction is happening on a consistent basis, and until that happens most of these reform measures will continue to fall by the wayside after a couple of years.
Bottom line – the Common Core Standards are great, and they should mesh nicely with any school working under the RTI framework. Some really smart and talented people put a ton of time and thought into their formation, and the idea that students in all states (minus the few holdouts) will be held to the same benchmarks, “regardless of where they live,” is a bold action that needed to take place. The real challenge will happen by ensuring that the standards are actually driving instruction in the classroom. This means every educator should be cross-checking their instruction with the standards, to ensure their teaching has a evidence-based purpose and is appropriate for their grade-level. This is also going to force a lot of those 1970s worksheets, that so many teachers continue to utilize, right into the garbage can. Will it happen? We’ll have to wait and see I guess…In the meantime, check out this vid that goes delves into the Common Core in much greater detail and clarity:
Photo Via The New York Public Library