We're a week into the new school year, and by now students have begun filling notebooks with writing — first letters for some and full essays for others. They've begun reading new books, using new computer programs and solving math problems. It may appear to be a typical first week of school.
But under the surface, a sea change is happening in our schools that you might not notice right away. But it's going to make a big difference over the course of your child's education.
They're called the Common Core State Standards. We are fully committed to making them a reality in our San Francisco Unified School District classrooms.
Let's back up a bit: Already in California public school classrooms, teachers at every grade level have specific educational standards to meet. California's Department of Education adopted standards in 1997.
A concern with these standards was that they were a mile wide and an inch deep. There was so much teachers were expected to cover that they had to rush through important topics with no real opportunity for deep, rigorous learning. We now have the opportunity to change that.
The Common Core State Standards are standards that reflect the kind of academic rigor demonstrated in academically high-achieving nations. Put simply, they reflect what students need to learn to be literate people in the 21st century. They will master the ability to closely read and analyze works of literature and nonfiction text in an exploding print and digital world.
They will use research and technology to sift through the staggering amount of information available to us today, and be expected to engage in collaborative conversations about the information, sharing and shaping viewpoints with a variety of written and speaking applications.
In first-grade science, students learn how to use simple tools (like a thermometer or a wind vane) to measure weather conditions and see changes from day to day and across the seasons. In eighth grade, students write detailed literary and informational texts (like arguing for or against genetically modified organisms in food) with their peers and on their own.
Don't get me wrong, though. Even with the new Common Core State Standards, there are a lot of important decisions that require education professionals to decide how the standards are to be met. In San Francisco, our district will continue to choose curriculum that will best serve our students and teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the needs of the individual students in their classrooms.
Our transition to fully implementing the CCSS began two years ago with introducing teachers and administrators to the new standards in math and English-language arts. Our talented teachers have been working with educators across California to learn about, share resources and collaborate on the implementation of the CCSS. By 2015, our students will be taking new tests that measure how well they are learning the new standards.
As a former teacher I can tell you it helps to learn about something in multiple ways, and that's why I recommend watching this three-minute video describing the CCSS. It can be found at www.sfusd.edu/en/curriculum-standards/state-content-standards.html.Richard A. Carranza is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.