The Common Core State Standards Initiative is an important effort to move states in the direction of developing a common curriculum and shared expectations in what students should learn, know, and be able to do. The initiative states:

“Building on the excellent foundation of standards states have laid, the Common Core State Standards are the first step in providing our young people with a high-quality education. It should be clear to every student, parent, and teacher what the standards of success are in every school.

Teachers, parents and community leaders have all weighed in to help create the Common Core State Standards. The standards clearly communicate what is expected of students at each grade level. This will allow our teachers to be better equipped to know exactly what they need to help students learn and establish individualized benchmarks for them. The Common Core State Standards focus on core conceptual understandings and procedures starting in the early grades, thus enabling teachers to take the time needed to teach core concepts and procedures well—and to give students the opportunity to master them.

With students, parents and teachers all on the same page and working together for shared goals, we can ensure that students make progress each year and graduate from school prepared to succeed in college and in a modern workforce.”

However, the real challenges of teaching and learning will not change, nor will they be solved by simply adopting a common curriculum. Teachers will still have to teach effectively and students will still have to apply themselves to learning what is being taught. In this regard, my starting point as a teacher is not to begin with telling students what I am going to teach, but asking students where they want to go, in essence, “Pick a Box.” This illustration outlines the general choices after high school that every young person will be confronted with, e.g., will you go to work, go to college, or enlist into the military? The salary is the median salary for each level of education, i.e., high school diploma, 4-year college degree, graduate degree, etc. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010).

Raising this question and getting students to affirm where they believe that they wan to go is as important for the kindergartener as it is for the twelfh-grader, perhaps even more so. The kindergarten student who affirms that he or she wants to become a doctor has 12 years to place learning within that context. He or she must apply his or herself to math and science, not to simply learn, but to know! If he or she is affirming that he or she wants to pursue a law degree, then developing language, critical thinking, debate, and an expanded vocabulary makes sense long before he or she begins prepping for the SAT or ACT as a high school student.

Once we better understand where students think that students want to go, then we can better connect them to the curriculum, albeit the Common State Standards or what is currently being taught. Interestingly, the vast majority of students affirm that they want to attend college as they enter elementary school, however, few students are prepared for college as they exit high school. The conversation is long overdue… “Pick a Box!”

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