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How Do Common Core Standards Impact Art, Sports, and Social Science Teachers?





By Jacquie McGregorTeacher guides students through art project

The implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS)  is a hot-button issue in education. As most classroom teachers are aware, the Common Core Standards arose from a partnership between the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. The underlying principle behind the movement is that there are higher-order-thinking skills, currently articulated for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics, in which all students should be able to obtain at least a baseline measure of mastery.

Common Core State Standards: clear objectives

By implementing common standards across the states, the initiators of CCSS not only hope to ensure increased proficiency in the core subjects, but to create a common educational thread for students whose lives are often uprooted by an ever-more-transitory economy. If a student is forced to transfer school districts within a given state, or move to a new state entirely, the Common Core Standards provide a benchmark level by which the student can be consistently monitored.

Common Core Standards do not call for a prescribed curriculum. Rather, they articulate meaningful benchmarks and necessary higher-order thinking skills that should be taught in math and English. Core subject teachers will eventually be responsible for prompting critical-thinking skills, turning to performance-based and portfolio assessments, and focusing on active reading across the curricula, with a renewed push toward nonfiction texts and technical literacy. For core teachers, the objectives are clear, although the practical implementation is certainly still a work in progress.

Concerns of non-core subject teachers

To educators who teach subjects other than math and English, the CCSS shift presents the possibility of a new learning paradigm. As with all grand ventures in education, the potential effects of this paradigm shift are deeply debated.

Teachers of non-core subjects — including social sciences, world languages, music, art, theater, and physical education —¬†cite concerns with the implementation of CCSS. Among the questions raised:

  • Will teachers be forced to add a literacy component to an already overloaded curriculum?
  • What if the humanities in schools disappear in favor of CCSS and STEM priorities?
  • Will non-core subject area teachers be held responsible for teaching ELA and math content?
  • Could subjects like physical education, family and consumer sciences, and the arts take an even further back seat to subjects considered core?

For many non-core subject area teachers, the question is training versus education. Will CCSS create a nation of children who are trained to function as adults, or students with the depth of knowledge to improve their world?

Does CCSS affirm the value of non-core subjects?

Not all non-core subject teachers see CCSS as a bane to specialized content areas. Some education professionals believe that the non-core subjects can lead the way in implementing a new school culture. These potential improvements include:

  • School-wide cross-curricular integration: teachers in subjects that already use a performance assessment model would lead the rest of the school in developing assessments of the core standards
  • Partnerships across the curriculum in which all subject areas are reinforcing the same content
  • An expanded curriculum centering around project-based, hands-on learning
  • Increased student motivation as learning becomes an integrated activity rather than an isolating obstacle

David Coleman, in writing for Americans for the Arts, has noted that the Common Core Standards actually provide a platform for widespread curricular integration. He notes that non-core disciplines have actually been implementing the skills outlined in the standards for years. Students have always learned how to transform knowledge to performance in music, art, drama and physical education. Mathematical concepts are used in music, sports, and fine art; literacy is a necessary part of theater and history; the social sciences require both math and English skills. Because of this, the Common Core Standards could actually be the means through which non-core subjects become a vital component of the curriculum, rather than an afterthought.

Non-core subject teachers should adapt and advocate

Teachers in non-core subjects cannot avoid the Common Core Standards conversation. Unlike some bandwagon movements in education, Common Core does not seem to be on the verge of extinction by apathy. Instead, CCSS assessments are currently in the implementation stages and Common Standards for subjects other than English and math are being developed. Educators in non-core subjects are standing at a crossroads with two very distinct options. If they choose to ignore the movement, and hope it goes away, they could face becoming obsolete. However, if they learn to adapt to this new paradigm, and make themselves integral elements of change, the future of education — both academic and humanistic — looks bright.

Jacquie McGregor has taught a wide variety of subjects in 15 years as an educator, including music, art, language arts and life skills. She currently works in online education as a course mentor, teacher and curriculum writer, at both the K-12 and university levels. She is completing her doctorate in education, with a dissertation
focusing on arts programming in educational free markets.

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