Can Teachers Teach To The Common Core Standards?

I suppose the answer to that question is, “It depends . . . ,” but my general feeling is that the answer is, “Not right now.”

This is not to say that teachers won’t eventually be able to teach to the common core standards. It IS saying that many teachers simply do not have the experience in teaching students how to think – how to think through problems logically, make connections, solve the problems, and communicate the solutions effectively.

Much of this is because teachers have been under pressure to ensure that their students achieve high scores on high stakes standardized tests. The teachers’ performance rating and, collectively, the entire school’s performance rating is based on high stakes standardized test scores. Therefore, it is easy to understand why teachers “teach to the test,” are inexperienced in teaching to the “common core,” and why some organizations such as the Teachers’ Union have spoken out against swift implementation of the “Common Core Standards.” “We don’t have the resources, and we don’t have the training,” so they say. (They’re probably right.)

Teaching to the “Common Core Standards” is actually like teaching to the “Critical Skills” – something that requires students to do creative problem solving, gather relevant information, develop findings from that relevant information, draw conclusions from the findings, and make recommendations based on solid conclusions.

This does not include enabling students to choose between five answers on some multiple choice examination.

It’s MUCH harder than that.

Let’s take an example of a project where a student is asked to evaluate something and make some recommendations regarding what to do about it? This is similar, of course, to what a physician might do with a patient – or a lawyer might do in developing a case for a client’s defense (or prosecution). This is a type of project based learning called “Field Studies.” (A detailed description of this process is contained in the “Field Studies Blog.)

1. Define the problem

The first thing that the student must do is to define the problem and put together a plan to solve it. That requires articulating what data needs to be collected, analyzing that data, developing recommendations from the analysis, and articulating clearly the results of the analysis. The student also needs to put together a time table – or “work plan” – that budgets time not only to collect the data, but to do the necessary thinking to perform the analysis – and then to write a report. (This is the “time management skill” described elsewhere in this blog.)

The task for the teacher here is to assist the student in keeping the scope of the project within reason and within the ability of the student to solve the problem within a given time span.

2. Data Collection

The second thing that the student must do is to collect the necessary data to perform the analysis. This problem is much different now than it was just twenty years ago. Then a student would have searched through a library’s files, interviewed individuals, and perform many different creative methods to actually collect the necessary data. These days the problem is different. The student has access to the internet and the problem is not just finding the data, but sorting through the mountains of available information and deriving from that the relevant information that is needed to perform the analysis. (This is the “information skill” described elsewhere in this blog.)

The task for the teacher in this part of the project is to review the data collected by the student and provide counsel regarding the relevance of the data to the upcoming analysis.

3. Analysis

Here is where the “critical thinking” begins. The student must sift through all the relevant data and determine, essentially, what it means. This involves first developing a set of FINDINGS based on the facts that are true; the second step is to draw CONCLUSIONS from the findings which are based on the facts. The third step is to develop a set of RECOMMENDATIONS based on the conclusions. This is, quite frankly, the logical thinking process. P implies Q. If P is true, then you can have confidence that your conclusions will be true. Ultimately, therefore, your recommendations will be created from solid evidence.

It is obvious that this process is what a physician, lawyer, or any professional goes through to solve a specific problem.


The teacher must challenge the student’s findings to ensure that they are based on facts gained through the data collection process. Similarly, the teacher must challenge the student’s conclusions based on the solid findings. Finally, the recommendations must make some sense and be based on the evidence, the findings and conclusions.

This is HARD to do, and in my experience, I have found few teachers who know about or who take the time to guide a student through this process.

The task for the teacher is to check a student’s findings to see if they are supported by the facts, to check the conclusions to see if they are supported by the findings, and to check the recommendations to see if they are derived from the conclusions.  (This is is a combination of the “analysis skill” and “time management skill” which are described elsewhere in this blog.)

4. Writing the Report

Writing a clear and persuasive report is difficult, but an essential communications skill that students must learn. The report should be rather short and logically present the process of how the project was done. As the report is being read or presented orally by the student, the conclusions should become relatively obvious from the findings, and the recommendations rather obvious from the conclusions. In short, the report should appear to be rather simple.

However, these kinds of reports are very difficult to write, and practice in writing such reports as well as delivering them orally are the essence of the “communications skill.”

The teacher’s role in this step of the project is to ensure that the students list their findings and conclusions in a logical order as well as to ensure that what is communicated by the students is done in the most clear and efficient manner. (As pointed out earlier, this is the essence of the “communications skill” – both the writing of the report and the oral presentation of the report, and each of these steps is discussed in greater detail elsewhere in this blog.)

* * * * *

Teaching to the “Common Core Standards” is different from the way teachers teach nowadays – particularly if they “teach to the test.”

Teaching to the “Common Core Standards” requires a teacher to actually KNOW what those standards are – and, quite frankly, to be personally rather good at them.

Teaching to the “Common Core Standards” will be a challenge for our teachers if the initiative is to succeed.

We all hope that our teachers are up to this important challenge.


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