At just 5 years old, Peter Grigas had a relatively hefty kindergarten workload last year at Oakridge Elementary in Hollywood.
“Peter had to do oral presentations ... He had writing assignments every week,” said his mother, Gay Lynn Grigas. “There was a monthly schedule that came home and every night there were homework assignments that had to be turned in the next day, and those assignments were given points. It wasn’t just ‘read through with your child for 30 minutes.’”
Peter’s teacher told Grigas her son’s seemingly intense class work was due to new expectations of what a kindergartner should know and learn as laid out by the Common Core State Standards, the latest savior — or bogeyman — of public education in the United States.
The new K-12 learning benchmarks aim to change the way students are taught and learn, and to produce high school graduates who are better prepared for college and careers. They have been adopted by almost every state in the nation. Florida schools during the last two years have slowly phased in the standards among their lowest grades.
And come Monday, when South Florida’s students return to class, all public schools in the state are expected to teach to the standards across all grade levels in what state education officials have dubbed a “full frontal assault” on Common Core. That means teachers and students are entering what proponents say is a tougher, more intense age of education, despite widespread hand-wringing about whether schools will be ready to teach the standards — or whether they should be tossed out.
“We’re improving education,” said William Schmidt, a Michigan State University professor who served on a Common Core validation committee. “It’s more demanding. It’s more rigorous. It’s going to take deeper thought, and it’s going to be tougher on the kids.”
State officials say the standards, which are a new barometer for what students should be able to accomplish in English-language-arts and mathematics as they move from grade to grade, are fewer and deeper than what’s been required under Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. There’s less requirements for what teachers must cover, but a greater demand to encourage critical thinking and analysis, and to link reading and arithmetic to the skills students will need as they enter the global marketplace.
Literature and fiction will remain a part of the classroom, but will be scaled back to include more nonfiction and texts, like a presidential address or a research paper. Writing, reading and communication skills are heavily woven throughout all subjects, including mathematics, which will lean more heavily on projects and word-based questions. And computer skills become increasingly critical.
“For students, it’s taking a deeper look into the work they’re doing and relying more on themselves and the knowledge they have and finding sources to get their work done, as opposed to just memorizing,” said Mary Jane Tappen, Florida’s deputy chancellor for curriculum, instruction and student services.
Expectations are that many students will struggle initially, though Tappen said that isn’t necessarily a bad thing: