Like many states, we in Arizona are implementing what has been labeled, “Common Core Standards” for K-12. The challenges are considerable, but it will be essential for those inside and outside the system who favor reform to persevere in 2013. Sunday’s issue of my hometown newspaper, the Arizona Republic, cataloged the challenges confronting Arizona’s schools in implementing tougher standards, increasing accountability, and developing a new examination program for students. The challenges are probably not distinctive to Arizona.
Among the leading challenges is training teachers in teaching methods that lead students to use critical thinking in teaching math and language. Sound teacher training remains at the heart of improving our educational system. The good news is that some colleges, like Dean Mari Koerner’s at Arizona State University, are committed to graduating new teachers with these pedagogical skills. The bad news, according to the Arizona Republic, is that many teachers lack training in this area, and districts lack funding for re-training.
This blog has written before about the role that critical thinking plays in learning science. I pointed to the advantages that arise from teaching science based on the “Five E’s” –Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend and Evaluate. Study shows that software like that from Adaptive Curriculum encourages learning based on the Five E’s. Success with the Common Core Standards depends upon teaching methods that encourage critical thinking is expected. That teachers lack this skill may be a surprise to many.
The challenge for individual teachers – and districts – is to rectify short-comings in teachers’ skills at using teaching methods that encourage critical thinking. Both have a responsibility. Like other professionals who must continuously develop themselves, teachers have a similar responsibility. School districts, of course, have a responsibility to find funding necessary for professional development training in an area that will make graduates more competitive globally.
That teachers lack training in methods associated with critical thinking is surprising, especially since the Five E’s have been around for decades. What is also surprising is that the focus of some states like Arizona appears not to include as much of an emphasis on science as language or mathematics. If the US is to be competitive globally, we will need high school and college graduates who have the capacity to meet the challenges of science, math and language skills.
Tougher, “Common Core Standards” are a major step forward. That some 46 states are adopting them is really positive. Now the challenge is to ensure that teachers are capable of implementing them successfully in math, language – and science.