• In Other Words

Texas Educator Asks, 'What Common Core?'

by Jessica Goodrow
February 22, 2013
As an elementary school teacher in Texas, it is difficult to know that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) even exist, never mind that they are dominating schools, conversations, news, and professional development around the nation. Out of curiosity, I asked my colleagues if they were aware that all but five states (one being Texas) were in the process of implementing the CCSS. The majority were unaware that these standards had even been developed.

However, all agreed that they felt like it would eventually be a disadvantage for both students and educators in Texas to not take part in the adoption of the CCSS. The main reason for this concern is the idea that our educational standards in Texas may not be as challenging as those that students are being held to in other states. As a result, we may or may not be preparing students for success outside of the state upon graduation.

Teachers also feel at a disadvantage simply because they are not aware of what education is like in other states, what is being taught, the materials that are being used, or of the strategies and methods that are common. Although the CCSS does not currently impact educators or students in Texas, it will likely some day in the future.

So, why am I aware of the CCSS? Simple—I used to teach in the Northeast. Upon arriving in Texas, I was immediately aware of (and shocked by) the vast differences in the education systems from state to state. Texas schools are much more grade-oriented, beginning at an early age. This continues to be a difficult adjustment for me because my previous experience focused on a more standards-based educational foundation, which was designed to meet students where they are at. As a result, I try to keep up to date with what is going on in the rest of the country regarding trends in education.

I am also currently pursuing my Master’s degree in reading and language arts, and recently started blogging about teaching ideas, which keeps me connected to other teachers outside of the state. Having been in Texas for the past three years, I had only briefly reviewed the CCSS. In my mind, if the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) are just as rigorous as the CCSS, then why not adopt the new standards and collaborate with the rest of the nation?

Since Texas is a large state, finding materials that match the TEKS is not difficult for teachers. The textbook companies will continue to develop editions solely for Texas. Reading basals and other textbooks are written to specifically align with the TEKS for use in Texas school districts. The TEKS are actually listed in teacher’s manuals and all materials have the distinctive Texas Edition label. While teaching in the Northeast, we spent a great amount of time analyzing textbooks for their alignment to state standards. Often, it was determined that some material was extraneous while other resources were created to supplement the teaching of standards that were not addressed sufficiently. Textbooks and materials that align with the CCSS are already being adopted. Smaller states would not have had the luxury of abstaining and remain able to obtain adequate materials.

In addition, many Texas school districts use an online curriculum management system called CSCOPE. CSCOPE is directly aligned with the TEKS and provides a curriculum calendar for each subject and grade level, as well as materials and lessons. Some school districts require teachers to teach lessons explicitly from CSCOPE, thereby reducing the need for additional resources. However, since the concepts are generally the same, resources found online and from teacher resource stores which cater to the CCSS can be adapted for use by teachers in Texas, provided the focus is on the skill being targeted rather than the grade level in which it is taught.

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Professional development in Texas is offered locally through regional education service centers, which develop training based on trends in the state. While it is advantageous to have teachers in Texas educated in the same way, it may pose a challenge since, unbeknownst to many Texas teachers, the pedagogical techniques are not necessarily aligned with the trends in the rest of the country. As time goes on and other states unite over the CCSS, this gap is likely to widen.

Even more concerning is that Texas will not be involved with the development or implementation of a standardized test to match the CCSS. Texas recently implemented its new STAAR test last year. By administering a different assessment than the remainder of the country, it will be difficult to compare results and determine whether the educational system in Texas is on par with the rest of the nation. This possibly puts Texas students at risk for being underprepared for colleges or the workforce outside of the state.

As an educator in Texas, I worry that we may be missing out on some of the advantages of the CCSS—particularly, the commonality of the common core.

This spring, the International Reading Association Annual Convention will be held in San Antonio, Texas. Since educators from all around the country will be in attendance, it is likely the CCSS will dominate sessions and discussions. However, this will likely make many Texas educators feel left out of the loop.

Personally, I am looking forward to attending the conference to find out what are the hot topics in education outside of the state as well as to gain some insight on the CCSS and whether or not they are comparable to the educational standards in Texas. There are many authors whose materials I read that I plan to attend their session, whether Common Core focused or not. Hearing Richard Allington speak about getting all readers up to grade level is beneficial for any educator, regardless of the state standards.

Jessica Goodrow is a second grade teacher in Texas. She previously taught first grade in Connecticut before relocating. She is currently working on obtaining her Master's degree in reading and language arts from the University of Texas at Arlington.

© 2013 Jessica Goodrow. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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