There's a push across the U.S. to align common core standards in classrooms. The standards, which have been adopted by dozens of states, are defined goals for what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade.
But the implementation process doesn't just involve making sure veteran teachers are up to speed. Teaching universities face pressure to prepare tomorrow's educators about what they'll encounter.
It's the last day of school at Herrick Middle School in Downers Grove. With the academic year nearly finished, lesson plans here are on the back burner. Teachers are signing yearbooks. Students are also taking part in a scavenger hunt.
But it hasn't all just been fun and games this year at Herrick. English teacher Alison Swade says Common Core really started to make its presence known. She says it brought about some changes in her classroom.
"This year, I focused on bringing more text complexity to the classroom," Swade said.
And what exactly is text complexity? For example, Swade says in her class, it meant moving away from having all students read from the same book.
"Allowing students to choose the book they want, so it is meeting their individual level," Swade said.
Swade recently obtained her master's degree from Northern Illinois University. She says while her district is taking steps to train staff for this newer wave of rigorous standards, much of what she has used came from NIU's program.
Jennifer Berne chairs the Department of Literacy and Elementary Education at NIU. She says the university recognizes the importance of preparing their students for the common core.
“Our students won’t get jobs if they walk into a job interview and say they don’t believe in the common core standards,” Berne said.
But Berne says that doesn’t mean faculty members don’t have questions.
“Some faculty feel that they’re too homogenous, designed to make everyone the same. I think some faculty think they’re too ambitious. I think some faculty think they’re too detailed,” Berne said.
Berne says no doubt some faculty are calling for more research on the effectiveness of the standards, She also says they’re telling their students about what they think is good, and what they have concerns about.
But experts like Amber Northern say even if there is some questioning going on, schools like NIU should be noted for their willingness to integrate Common Core into their programs.
“Historically, when you’re asking a professor to teach something new and they’re used to their pet course, I think it’s natural human behavior that there’s some resistance there,” Northern said.
Northern is a lead researcher with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education think tank. Northern says they are starting to see a patchwork of colleges and universities embrace the common core movement.
She says it's important for these schools to get involved, and not just leave it up to the school districts.
“A lot of these districts are [cash]-strapped. They’re in high poverty areas, and they don’t have a lot of money to put toward professional development,” Northern said.
While the common core standards have ignited political debates in many parts of the country, Northern says educators need to stay away from any finger pointing so that current and future teachers can adapt, along with their students.