Critical thinking is good, but Common Core didn’t invent it


by David Safier

I applaud the teaching techniques spotlighted in the AP article in today's Star, Critical thinking hallmark of Common Core class. Math lessons where students perform multiple steps and have a variety of ways to arrive at their answers are good things. Literature lessons where students use critical thinking to dig deeper into the text foster stronger analytical skills. According to the story, these innovative techniques are attributable to Common Core. Except they're not. They're simply examples of good, creative teaching, the kind of thing teachers have been doing pretty much forever.

The good thing about the new Common Core standards is that they can promote a discussion about what students should learn and promote the development of strategies to help them learn it. New ideas, new techniques, new ways of looking at the classroom can be valuable. Sometimes change for change's sake is good because it shakes things up and makes teachers dig deeper and try harder. That is, so long as the change isn't destructive.

The problem is, the Common Core is being rammed down the throats of states, districts, schools and classrooms. Teachers have high stakes tests pointed at their heads, and the people with their fingers on the triggers are saying, "You will to teach to these standards, and your students will score well on these tests, or else."

Here's a better idea. Let's put these new, untested standards out there. Let's have interested states and school districts try them out. Let's see what works and what doesn't work. Let's keep the discussion and implementation fluid — that is, let's not lock in the standards by testing them within an inch of their lives — so they can be modified and improved. Otherwise, we end up with a new set of high stakes tests enforcing a new set of expectations. We've had 10 years of a similar regimen without seeing a significant boost in student achievement.


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