Common Core under the microscope

On November 4, the Education Writers Association hosted "Common Core at the Crossroads: What Comes Next?" Reporters and educators at the D.C. conference discussed issues surrounding the CCSS, including:

  • Will the standards widen the achievement gap or help close it?
  • What kind of training are teachers getting to implement the standards?
  • Do students find CCSS-aligned lessons more—or less—engaging?
  • Will music, art and foreign language be marginalized in the Common Core era?

An elementary school math teacher from Kentucky and two high school English teachers from the District of Columbia presented sample lessons.

Stacey Porter, a fourth grade teacher at Hite Elementary School in Louisville, Ky., said that the new standards, which are fewer and deeper, give students the time they need to grasp complex math concepts.

Here are articles by some of the conference's panelists:

How does one sift through the many claims and counterclaims about the Common Core? A reporter will likely be coming to a classroom near you to find out.

The mysterious life—and death—of JFK

On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th U.S. President. His stirring challenge, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” became a call to action for many young Americans. When Kennedy established the Peace Corps several weeks later, thousands of college students volunteered to serve in developing countries as teachers, health care workers and goodwill ambassadors.

Much of that youthful idealism was crushed on November 22, 1963, when Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas, Texas.

How can you help your middle and high school students understand such a momentous time in American history? How can you challenge them to learn not only about Kennedy’s assassination, but also about his life and presidency?

Unfortunately, quantity trumps quality.

Fifty years—and some 40,000 books—after his death, Kennedy remains an “elusive president,” observes Jill Abramson, Executive Editor of The New York Times.

“To explore the enormous literature is to be struck not by what’s there but by what’s missing,” Abramson writes in the Sunday Book Review. “Readers can choose from many books but surprisingly few good ones, and not one really outstanding one.”

Abramson's startling conclusion reminds us that not all pages bound in covers are equal.

Depending upon interests and abilities, you may want to select a few titles for your students and have them assess each author’s intent, background and bias. The climate in which the books were written should also be considered. In the wake of the president's death, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Kennedy adviser Theodore Sorenson became "a kind of history police," Abramson says, withholding primary materials from biographers at the request of the family.

Some biographers wander into unknowable territory, imagining a world in which Kennedy had not been assassinated. As for who murdered the president and why, the 3,250,000 results that appear with a Google search for “Kennedy + assassination + conspiracy” should tell you something.

Such insatiable curiosity, Jim Higgins writes in Milwaukee's JSOnline, continues to inspire a torrent of books “about who might or might not have been behind the shooting, how the assassination may or may not have shattered the American psyche, and what Kennedy’s legacy as president may or may not be.”

In a shortlist compiled for the Times by Jacob Heilbrunn, not one title is by a woman. Why? That's another question you might ask your students.

Yet many books about Kennedy’s affairs were written by women. I'm partial to Once Upon a Secret by Mimi Alford. I read the 2012 memoir because Alford grew up not far from where I did, and I knew of her family. (Does that count as bias?)

Contemporary "history police" chastized Alford for writing the book, which recounts her strange affair with Kennedy when she was a White House intern. I'm grateful that she told her story. When a president pursues a 19-year-old, the power imbalance and its implications, not least for the young woman, merit scrutiny. And I think the fact that Kennedy summoned a college student from her dormitory to his bedroom during the Cuban Missile Crisis—while he negotiated the world’s fate—is borderline fascinating. Don't you?


A profile of P-TECH: Rethinking career readiness

You might have heard about President Obama's planned visit today to the unique P-TECH high school in Brooklyn.

(A wacky sideshow -- really only relevent to those us who, like me, live in Brooklyn -- has been the confusion over the closing of parts of Prospect Park for the President's helicopter to land.)

If you're interested in learning more about P-TECH and its unique business partnership model that offers students associates degrees, Scholastic Administr@tor magazine has a profile of the school available online.

Here is an excerpt from it:

For a school that opened its doors in September 2011 and is still years away from producing its first alumni, Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, as it’s known, has gotten plenty of attention—most notably, a mention in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in January. There’s good reason for that. Its proponents—Principal Rashid Davis, foremost among them—believe the innovative program could transform American education. During an interview in his office, Davis points again and again to the signs on his bulletin board depicting the associate’s degrees students will receive if they complete the six-year course of study that combines high school and college, or “hollege,” as he is fond of calling it.

“Success is the students leaving with the associate’s degree,” Davis says. “That is the only definition.” The school offers two associate’s: one in computer information systems, the other in electro­mechanical engineering technology.

“If they do not leave with the associate’s degree, then we’re just another high school. The idea is that the associate’s degree is the modern-day diploma. It’s a nonnegotiable for me. It’s a model of excellence, but it’s also a model of completion. It’s not the attempt; it’s the completion.”

Thinking Big
The school, now finishing up its second year, is the result of a partnership between the New York City Department of Education, IBM, the City University of New York’s Early College Initiative, and the New York City College of Technology (City Tech).

P-TECH was developed with the idea of connecting education to solid career opportunities. A successful collaboration, IBM officials felt, would require the involvement of higher education, and of CUNY in particular, since the first marketable degrees for jobs at IBM and its clients are associate’s degrees in computer science or applied science.

Located in Crown Heights, a diverse, working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, P-TECH shares a campus with two other schools charged with readying students for “real-world” employment. In fact, schools have been providing vocational education within the building’s walls for more than a century. (For more on the building’s history, see the sidebar “Then & Now.”)

IBM, which is providing mentors and hosting student visits, and has “co-­located” a program manager at the school, has promised that P-TECH graduates will be “first in line” for jobs that range from corporate help-desk staffers to systems and data administrators to Web designers, and have starting salaries of as much as $40,000 a year.

Graphical literacy: Tips for teaching with maps, timelines and flowcharts

In a recent article from The Reading Teacher about fostering graphical literacy, Kathryn Roberts and five of her colleagues share instructional practices to support children in their understanding of graphics. “Diagrams, Timelines, and Tables—Oh, My!” discusses the important role of graphics (including flowcharts, graphs, insets, and maps) in children’s literacy development and acknowledges the emphasis on this in the Common Core.

Here are a few of their suggestions for helping students notice and understand graphics as they read:

  • Select books with clear, persuasive, and engaging graphics. During read-alouds and shared reading, talk about graphics and model how good readers pay attention to them. Discuss why the illustrator chose to include graphical devices, emphasizing their value and the meaning.
  • Have students create their own graphics and plan for the purposeful use of graphics in their compositions. Provide opportunities for students to give and receive feedback on the clarity, accuracy, and impact of the graphics they create.
  • Make your classroom a graphic-rich environment by filling the walls with high-quality graphics.  Within your school, develop a plan for teaching students to understand and compose graphics, which should include using consistent language.

Any other strategies you use to support graphical literacy? Let us know in the comments below!

Common Sense for Common Core

If you need Common Core resources, check out our redesigned website. We've added several features, including:

Videos by experts who share insights on such topics as fostering a growth mindset in struggling students and the nuances of text complexity.

Get answers. Our team of 17 educators will answer your Core questions, like how to find time for differentiated instruction, choose the right texts for your students and address the diverse needs of English Language Learners.

Updated nonfiction and literature book lists, as well as professional titles on Common Core instruction and recommended books for parents to read with their children.

As the Common Core is implemented in states across the country, Scholastic will continue to support teachers and families so that all children can nurture their unique talents and thrive in a rapidly-changing world.

We hope you like what you find at As always, we welcome your thoughts.

Writing is learning

For me, writing is a messy process.

I agonize over opening sentences. I use the backspace button a lot. I delete whole paragraphs, rewrite, then realize I liked it better the first time. I often start with a kernel of an idea, start to flesh it out, then abandon it. I constantly edit, even before I finish a full draft. I start, then stop and put it aside, then go back a day or two later.

I almost always start off confused about what I know and what I want to say. But almost always, when I'm finished, my mind is clear. My thoughts are in order. And I've learned something.

It's an incredible, satisfying feeling to stop at the end of writing and know that the fuzzy, foggy jumble of information and ideas I started with are now right there in front of me, crystal clear and in their rightful places.

Yes, writing can be about demonstrating knowledge and understanding, and about sharing it with others. But at least for me, it's an essential step in the process of learning.

Happy National Day on Writing!


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