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The Next Generation of Leaders

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By Alexandra Fuentes

As we honor our nation's leaders on Presidents' Day, few of us stop and think about our presidents as they were at age seven or 15, sitting in a classroom learning to read, reason, and write.

I imagine our presidents, many with Ivy League degrees, had access to some of the best k-12 classrooms our nation has to offer - a far cry from the schools that some of my 10th graders attended. If we want to get serious about becoming a nation where all of our children attend quality schools, then we need to stand up for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

CCSS are a set of learning goals for math, English, and literacy in science and history created by educators. For example, 10th grade science students need to "assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author's recommendation for solving a scientific problem." Now that's a learning goal that pushes students to reason and think like our next generation of leaders should.

What started as a state-driven, bipartisan initiative went national when 45 states and the District of Columbia adopted the CCSS. That solidarity is now at risk as politicians debate the merits of the standards and states like Indiana threaten to withdraw their commitment. Those who oppose the standards should put students ahead of political pressure and pay attention to the gains students are making as well as the testimony of teachers all across the nation.

1. Students are learning more
When I first started teaching, a fellow teacher told me: "These kids can't take notes on their own. They need fill-in-the-blank guides to follow along." The "kids" she spoke of were our 10th grade biology students and they have done far more than that teacher expected of them. This fall, those students analyzed evidence from a mock crime scene, engaged in Socratic discussions about DNA manipulation, and presented their findings to scientists from NIH. With standards that say students need to "present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning...," Common Core makes it undeniably clear what expectation to hold.

2. A strong focus on Literacy
This fall, my biology students learned about the link between proteins and inherited diseases by reading about the role of HLA1 receptors on white blood cells in Type I diabetes and how mutations in hemoglobin protein cause sickle cell anemia. My 10th graders, many of whom read at a middle school level, were able to read and understand those complex texts because of a close reading strategy I learned at the Common Core Teacher Institute at NBC's Education Nation in New York. In a very short period of time, Common Core has made reading for understanding a priority for all teachers. I can no longer call myself a biology teacher. I am a biology and a literacy teacher and that is a good thing.

3. Teachers have meaningful opportunities to collaborate
In order to do Common Core well, teachers in DC asked for opportunities to collaborate. Teach Plus responded by creating the Cutting to the Core workshop series open to all teachers. Expert teachers lead each session by modeling best practices and providing opportunities for teachers to delve into the standards, find quality resources, and problem solve together. I have left each session inspired to try the things that are working in other teachers' classrooms all across the city.

With the Common Core we finally have a tool that sets clear goals for what students should learn each year in order to be college and career ready by 12th grade. Teachers are also getting the opportunities to collaborate on what we need to do in order to transform our instruction to meet these more rigorous goals.

What better way to honor and celebrate the leadership of past presidents than to stand up for the education of our next generation of leaders.

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