Equity and the Common Core

The question on my mind these days is: Will the Common Core, on the whole, be a force for equity? Or will it wind up reproducing the current inequities in our system?

Literacy educator Alfred Tatum asks this question even more provocatively:

Will the CCSS yield the promise for African American and Latino boys that reshapes the trend for college and career readiness to be on par with the best young minds in the nation?


Will the CCSS serve as a metaphorical noose that hangs young African American and Latino boys from data sheets until the next best reform effort comes along?

At the National Equity Project, we view the Common Core through a lens of equity. We believe in the potential promise of the Common Core. And we’re clear that unless educators approach its implementation with an eye to the predictably differential impacts it will have, that promise will go unrealized.

This post begins a blog series dedicated to Equity and the Common Core. We’ll explore a range of issues from an equity perspective: instruction, collaboration, implementation, student-teacher relationships, Common Core and complexity, john powell’s notion of “targeted universalism” and the Common Core, implicit bias, coaching in the Common Core, and more.

So let’s start at the “core” of the Common Core – what happens in the relationship between a student and a teacher. How will students, especially those experiencing less success, and especially those who are black and brown, experience teaching and teachers within this new Common Core era? How will the combination of (presumably) higher expectations, (theoretically) more engaging content, and new forms of assessment shape their learning experience? Their motivation and ownership of their learning? Their belief in themselves?

And for educators, how will the demands of the Common Core shape our experience of our students, especially those further from success? Using an equity lens, one thing we can predict about the Common Core is that it will surface tensions in educators’ beliefs about “all students can learn.” 

The Common Core indeed represents a “higher” bar – both for student learning and for instruction. So the more important question is how will we, as educators, respond to familiar patterns of student failure – and to new forms of struggle? In the words of the DuFour’s well-known PLC question #3: What will happen when students don’t learn? Will we unconsciously (or even consciously) tell ourselves (or others) that some of our students may not be suited for this kind of learning? Will we believe that “raising the bar” will necessarily leave some (potentially more?) students “behind”? As we continue to see drops in students’ scores – and increases in achievement gaps – as Common Core assessments get first implemented, how might that impact our confidence that these standards are a reachable goal for students who are further from success already?

Understandably these issues can be hard to name and explore. I do not raise these questions to blame teachers or leaders, but rather to ask “What keeps reproducing these perceptions and experiences for teachers and students?” We must examine the ways our education institutions are structured at all levels, including classrooms, to see what keeps reproducing this experience.

It is important to normalize, not pathologize, the equity-related challenges that we face as we learn to teach and lead in the Common Core. And we need to see these actually as not so different from the challenges our students face. The Common Core calls upon students to engage in deeper learning… to take risks… to fail… and to learn from this failure. We should accept – no embrace – that we as adult educators are called upon to engage in a parallel struggle. This might give us some empathy – and some new openings in our relationships with students as we learn together to navigate this new era.

At the National Equity Project we have a framework for developing student-teacher relationships towards deeper engagement for struggling students, the capacity for independent learning, and ultimately the acceleration of their learning. We call this framework a Learning Partnership. A Learning Partnership is a purposeful, culturally responsive relationship between the teacher and student. We believe Learning Partnerships are even more critical in this era of the Common Core – and enable teachers and students alike to navigate the challenges of deeper learning.

We will engage educators with these ideas and more at our upcoming learning seminar – Keeping Students at the Core of the Common Core: Learning Partnerships for Equity taking place in the SF Bay area in October and January. Learn more and register online today at http://nationalequityproject.org/events/common-core-learning-partnerships.

As our colleague, Zaretta Hammond, puts forth:

If we take the time to help students build their capacity to learn and leverage their culture as a vehicle for making content “sticky,” we will find they are better prepared for the rigors of the Common Core State Standards.

Zaretta’s new book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students is available for pre-order on Amazon.

This entry was posted in Conferences & Events, Current Events, Equity Pedagogy, Learning Partnerships, Relationships and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s