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American Graduate: The Sounds Of Common Core In The Classroom

Cyd Hoskinson

When school starts next year Common Core will be in practice in every public school classroom in Florida, but there are already teachers in Duval County using the standards.Common Core is a national system of standardized learning goals developed by the states for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Florida adopted the standards in 2010 with the idea of implementing them statewide by 2014, but those plans are up in the air at the moment.

Some ultra conservatives want to block implementation because they believe the federal government will use Common Core to teach their children inappropriate material or illegally collect information about their political and religious affiliations.
Earlier this month, the Florida Association of School Superintendents asked the state board of education to postpone implementation for three years so teachers have more time to prepare and the state has time to find an acceptable assessment test.
But while everyone else is fretting about Common Core, kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade teachers in Florida, like Mayport Elementary School’s Michelle DeLoach, are busy teaching the standards in reading, writing and math.

DeLoach’s classroom is a busy place. Kids are sitting at tables, on the couch and sprawled on the floor reading to themselves while DeLoach works with 7-year-old Joshua Brittle in the back.

DeLoach says Common Core requires critical thinking, something that’s easier to teach to students one at a time or in small groups.  
“You know, anyone can say, 'Yeah, he was happy by looking at the picture.' What I had him do was show me in the book what made him believe the dog was happy to be home, and those are the kinds of things that before we weren’t so conscious of asking children: show me where it is, show me where you see it in the story," he said.
“Kids cannot meet the Common Core standards without doing all that thinking. It’s not just about getting the right answer anymore.”
That’s Mayport Elementary School Principal Yvonne DiMattia. Common Core, she says, ensures that every student gets a quality education.  Regardless.
"No matter what side of town I teach in, no matter what demographic I’m teaching, whether I’m teaching students with disabilities or without disabilities, that fixed standard is a goal," she said. "Now how do I get kids to do that? That’s the challenge.”
Common Core, it turns out, is also a challenge for parents. First grade teacher Ashley Williams says they worry when they don’t see the teacher talking in front of the class or students working quietly at their desks.
“But when they come in and we have conferences and I show them this is what we’re doing, and explain to them the process of how we’re teaching it, they understand a lot better and they’re very accepting of it,” she said.

Duval County Public Schools offers workshops on the standards so parents know not just what’s expected of their children, but how they can help them. Parent guides are also available from the district PTA.

89.9 WJCT is participating in the American Graduate project supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The goal of American Graduate is to reverse the national drop out crisis by identifying and then addressing the factors that cause students to leave school early.

You can follow Cyd Hoskinson on Twitter @cydwjctnews.

Cyd Hoskinson began working at WJCT on Valentine’s Day 2011.