The national debate is intensifying over the Common Core State Standards, adopted by the state of Florida in 2010. You can rest assured that neither the federal nor the state government is controlling what we teach at Cambridge Christian School (CCS) or how we teach it. We have complete jurisdiction over our own curriculum and standards.
When a school has no standards and no scope and sequence, there is no measure for student achievement beyond that which the individual teacher or textbook dictates, and the level of that mandate can vary widely from classroom to classroom, grade level to grade level. Well-defined, pre-determined targets must be clearly identified, accepted and pursued in order to measure student growth. The ready, fire, aim methodology that historically has been prevalent in many Christian schools is the very thing that has closed many Christian schools. Further, it has produced graduates ill-prepared to navigate the university landscape (much less engage the culture), and it has left us with a black eye of perceived inferiority to overcome. In many Christian school environments, standards of any sort are still held at arm’s length. In some cases, this may be attributed to a lack of understanding or training by leadership. In others, it may be due to viewing standards as a threat to teaching truth. It needs be neither.
Does the adoption of any set of standards ensure more effective instruction and/or higher student achievement in and of itself? Absolutely not. The evidence simply does not bear this out. The other variables that impact the quality of education are too numerous to list, but the primary factor is the teachers. At Cambridge Christian School, we are blessed with a phenomenal team of teachers across disciplines and grade levels. Still, we are committed to recruiting and retaining the brightest and the best. CCS teachers will be lifelong learners with a passion for Christ, for students and for teaching. Currently, our teachers are serving on vertical teams across grade levels to review Common Core, national, and state standards in order to:
• Find common ground between these and the current CCS standards, prioritize important standards and ensure that they are being met.
• Develop a current scope and sequence that identifies and eliminates gaps and minimizes unnecessary overlaps. In this process, the Common Core is being viewed as a floor rather than a ceiling.
• Better understand and embrace the push for some best practices such as more informational writing.
• Become better acquainted with the benefits of formative assessment.
• Evaluate the standards using the lenses of a Biblical worldview and the mission of CCS.
Some would assert that developing and implementing standards is an exercise in futility and does not improve the quality of education. In schools where the focus has shifted to the standards at the expense of the students, where teachers are mediocre and unmotivated, and where uninvolved parents have abdicated the responsibility for their children’s education entirely to the school, this is an understandable conclusion. However, as you know, that is not CCS. At CCS, we are committed to:
• Build upon the awesome relationships that already exist here.
• Provide a 21st Century education that takes into account our technology-driven global economy.
• Integrate Biblical truth. This will create the “… bedrock in which to anchor content knowledge, which allows deep roots in faith while attaining high levels of academic rigor; critical thinking, problem solving, and other 21st century learning skills…” (“Christian Schools and the Common Core,” Sheri McDonald)
• Develop our teachers into master educators.
• Be Christ-driven, as opposed to standards-driven. We will focus on the students before the standards. This does not mean, however, that we will not have standards. We will strive for the best of the best – we should adopt and adapt the best of Common Core, national, and state standards as a minimal expectation for our students and then filter them through the lens of a Biblical worldview.
As Assistant Head of School, my simple thoughts on the Common Core standards, in no particular order, are as follows:
• They are not inherently evil.
• They do not contain our ace in the hole, which is truth.
• They won’t exist ten years from now.
• I prefer the style in which they are written over Sunshine State standards.
• I will never be in favor of becoming a “Common Core” school any more than I would want to subscribe wholesale to any secular set of standards.
• I do see value in using the Common Core, among other standards, to develop our own standards that incorporate the best of the best.
• As with any set of secular standards, we will need to filter for humanistic elements in addition to blatant mistruths.
Please know that while we will not subscribe fully to any one set of secular standards, we will also not be naïve to the impact of the Common Core on college-bound testing and the reality that publishers have already made the shift. We will continue to monitor these developments, make adjustments accordingly, and communicate that progress to you. As always, our Administration is available to discuss this topic in person as well.