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According to our teachers, the Common Core Standards are already a success in New Hampshire

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Legislators and school boards are hearing from advocates wanting to roll back the new Common Core State Standards. Fortunately, while this political push has been building, New Hampshire educators have been gaining experience with the new standards.  And among educators who have actually implemented the standards, there appears to be almost universal support.  Here is some of what they say:

New Franklin School (K-5), Portsmouth

Asked how it feels to be moving toward Common Core standards,  Angela Manning said,

It’s overwhelming, of course, because it’s a big shift” she said matter-of-factly.  ”It’s been interesting, though, to watch the kids step up to the level of deeper thinking that we’re asking them to do.  We’ve done persuasive writing in the past but this is the first time it’s been research based.  

In this particular project, we started with debating, on two different teams.  After that it just progressed.  I didn’t have to say, ‘Now let’s do a research-based writing project.’  The kids said, ‘Let’s research something,’ and decided on ‘Do fast food restaurants cause obesity?’  They’re writing this essay together as teams.  The next one they’ll do alone.

….Our teachers are saying, “Ok. This is a standard that we have to teach and we’re going to make it applicable to our students so it’s meaningful. How can we make it best for kids’ learning? The bigger things that are coming out of Common Core are that the thinking required will benefit these kids.

Bakersville Elementary (K-5), Manchester

Principal Judy Adams says,

Common Core will be challenging because of the depth of understanding required – especially for children who are language deficient – the ability to explain and show evidence of your thinking and be able to go to the argument level with something.  It’s much deeper than what we’ve done in the past.

White Mountains Regional School District, Whitefield

Superintendent Harry Fensom:

Educators see the value in the Common Core.  It’s going to close the gap [between slower and faster learners].  It’s going to reduce the need for remediation.  It’s going to make kids better prepared for college.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction, Melissa Keenan:

“Our teachers are now fully implementing the Common Core.  We’ll be fully implemented this year.  We’re ahead of schedule.  And the teachers are loving it.  We’ve developed standards based report cards.  We’ve developed some common assessments.  We’re working in increments across the grade levels.  We’re really pushing teachers to get to know those standards, to identify which ones they don’t understand.

We also have math and reading specialists who work with our teachers on a weekly basis to help them work through the standards and understand them better.

Teacher Coach:

Are the standards high?  Absolutely.  But have we scaffholded it so they can get here and have we had our expectations raised to meet that standard?  Yes.  And they’re doing it.

We raised the teachers’ expectations first and let them know what’s coming and then you can move on to raising the kids expectations.  The teachers say, “This is what we’ve gotta do, so let’s get them there.”  For veteran teachers, this is a no-brainer.  They are the most willing to say this [implementing the Common Core] is possible.

Many of our math teachers, when they first looked at the standards, they were scared and skeptical about their ability to meet those standards.  But then the realized that a hands-on approach might make those students learn quicker than an academic approach.  I’ve seen them having children experience the math with hands-on things as opposed to, “here are some equations you need to learn.” They’re saying, “We need to be sure we’re providing enough experiences to kids so that they’re internalizing these things.”  They are modifying their instructional practices to meet the standards.  So I do seem them working hard at that.

We can have lessons.  We can have activities.  But let’s make sure that they’re tied to the standard.  What is your goal for that activity and does it tie to what the standard is.

Melissa Keenan again:

The Common Core advocates for a much more integrated view of learning.  In order to get a handle on the Common Core, we had to start at a literal level.  What are the bits of knowledge that we wanted the kids to learn and teachers had to wrap their heads around that.  And now that they’re doing that, they’re beginning to see, “Oh, I can teach a text of this genre and be writing about it and addressing multiple standards at the same time.

From the Laconia Sun:

Richard Kirby, sixth grade English and mathematics teacher at Alton Central School, told the Alton School Board that the Alton Teachers Association welcomes Common Core, saying “It offers new challenges to students to become problem solvers, critical thinker and technologically literate,” he said. “It raises the bar for grade levels and individuals.”

From Con Val, Mickey Johnson says:

I have been working with the CCSS in both math and English Language Arts for two full years. This is my third year. I am very comfortable with the CCSS and think they are a vast improvement on state standards we had before. There are fewer and they probe deeper. To my mind this is an important distinction as we move forward in school reform. We should always be working toward mastery in subject areas and causing our students to really think (metacognition).  CCSS go a long way toward this goal.

We have been in an inch deep mode for too long. The rigor provided by CCSS is good for kids and good for teachers because it allows for deeper, longer learning. We will no longer be teaching to the lowest common denominator, but rather, allowing kids to soar and providing them with curriculum that makes them think and question.  They need to be able to assess the information they come across and the CCSS will provide that practice in a setting that supports the learning.

From Richard Baker, Linwood High School:

Students and educators both will benefit when either move to another district/state. It should be the exact same curriculum everywhere; no more piecing together work for a student who has moved into the district but their prior work just doesn’t seem to fit with the curriculum we teach. With CCSS, every student in the country should have the exact same education and thus the same opportunities beyond high school. With the research that went into the development of the CCSS, it should make every student more competitive in a global work force.

Debbie Villiard, 4th grade, Northwest Elementary School, Manchester

Common Core standards don’t limit what I do in the classroom – they open doors.

So I love it. It’s exciting, it’s rich. The kids love it, too, because they get to talk about it and explain their thinking, and it’s challenging.

One of the biggest concerns many teachers have is that change happens too often.  But this is different. It’s a new set of skills rather than just a new curriculum….saying, “Use this book.” It’s, “Use any book and make sure they can do this – rising to this level.”

We don’t need a company coming in and saying, “Okay, we have this full program that covers all the standards.”  We’re doing it ourselves.

We used to read maybe 60 or 70% literature but…50% informational text is fine….You’re not going to be reading Mark Twain at work.  Anyway, am I going to take the time to measure?  Absolutely not!  I’m going to make sure my students can read and interpret both.

Jane Ellwood, 2nd grade, Northwest Elementary School, Manchester

The Common Core can be really an exciting thing to see in action in the classroom. You’re seeing 2nd graders who are learning how to persevere when they solve a problem. That’s not easy for them….But it’s amazing to watch it happen.

The basic math skills we teach under the Common Core standards are not that dissimilar from what we did before. They are entirely grade appropriate….The difference is that there are fewer topics and we’re going much deeper into the knowledge.

That’s where it’s exciting – every student is learning something about addition and about problem solving and writing equations, but they’re doing it with the skills they have at that point. So you’re challenging students and they are challenging themselves.

It’s no longer, “How do you know the number 832 is even? – Because I know.’” No, you have to be able to tell me with an example or a drawing or something that really proves it.

It’s exciting to get 2nd graders together and have them work on a problem and teach them how to collaborate and communicate. It’s an important life skill…a lot of them don’t know how to solve a problem together. This new approach gives them more practice doing that.

They get that sense of, “Hey, I did it”…It’s a different kind of learning and they’re more engaged.

Robin Galeaz, 7th grade math teacher, McLaughlin middle school, Manchester

My classroom has taken on a new more active vibe and I am looking forward to seeing what my classroom looks like at the end of the year. There is a learning curve for everyone: I need to be more a facilitator and the students need to learn how to communicate their understanding. But I believe that these changes will make all of us stronger members of the classroom and education community.

From the Portsmouth Herald:

Mary Lyons, assistant superintendent of SAU 50, the district covering Rye, Greenland, Newington and New Castle, said any criticism of the Common Core she has seen from the public is due a lack of understanding or the spread of misinformation. Teachers will still have the autonomy to be creative when it comes to running their classrooms and won’t be constrained by the standards, she said.

“It’s not like it’s a new idea to be responsible for standards,” she said.


Portsmouth Middle School English teacher Melissa Provost said she worries the emphasis will come at the expense of classic literature.

“The Common Core has forced me to rethink my curriculum lessons while maintaining a grasp on my personal reasons for teaching this subject matter — to inspire students to become lifelong readers, writers and thinkers,” she said.


Provost said it takes time to inspire middle schoolers and immerse them in a novel, and she often reads books aloud, asking students to make connections to the text, problem solve, take notes and write across different genres.

“Most importantly, I dramatize while modeling the craft of reading and they listen and learn,” she said. “My job is to open their minds via reading and writing. I’m not insinuating Common Core does not support this, but with the push for us to focus 70 percent of our studies (across the grade) on informational text, it greatly reduces the amount of time I have to let creativity and inspiration happen organically.”

Portsmouth Middle School math teacher Christine Kwesell had a different perspective. She said she is excited that the Common Core is striving to build deeper meaning when it comes to math concepts. She said the shifts have already been happening, but become more intentional with the implementation of the standards.

“There’s a model for excellent teaching. The Common Core supports that model,” she said. “It changes what we do in the classrooms with the kids, in a good way.”


“It’s definitely a difference. I think the difference really is around, in many cases, shifting some content from one grade level to another,” said Portsmouth Assistant Superintendent Steve Zadravec.


The adage among educators is that lesson plans used to be “a mile wide and an inch deep,” covering many topics but lacking the depth for students to achieve true mastery of the concepts.

Lyons said the Common Core establishes high standards, but focuses on a smaller number of standards to encourage a greater depth of learning.

“The standards are very clear (compared to the old standards),” she said. “I feel that our teachers are happy with that. They find them easier to read and understand. … We’re excited about the challenge.”


The standards are promoting a transition from the “sage on the stage” who lectures students from the front of the classroom to the “coach on the side” who works with students on strategies to meet the challenge ahead, Hopkins said.

“What I see it doing is refining us,” she said. “Good teaching always asks kids to think on their own. This moves us one step closer to shooting toward that goal. I see it as a positive thing.”

The Exchange on NHPR

Nicole Heimarck:

[Common Core] is about more rigor – more rigor…in what students need to know and, equally important, its about rigor in what students can do, skills.  So we have spent a lot of time in our district discussing “habits of mind”…the notion of students being able to persevere, whether it’s in mathematics or reading – is very significant in these standards and its significant in our culture, in our communities….One of the big shifts we’re finding is that instead of students doing 35 or 40 math problems, they’re digging deep into one or two math problems – and challenging problems, problems that require them to think critically, to come up with multiple solutions…You need to have high expectations…and students feel a great deal of success when they recognize that they have accomplished something truly difficult.

Debra Armsfield:

We’re spending a great deal of time on creating teacher capacity, because there are great differences in what we’re asking teachers to do now.

We anticipate that there will be a period in which we won’t be able to meet [the standards] necessarily, right out of the gate, but I think if you get the ultimate goal, which is college and career readiness, when we look ahead at what this might look like 5, 6,7 years down the road, it will be worth it in the end and I think that’s the general consensus from folks.

How big a change is the Common Core?

It’s a complete overhaul.  The way we’re doing business is very different.  There are others things in our State that are linked…We are looking at teachers setting student learning objectives…the way we’re looking at assessments and shifting into standards-based assessments…so there’s an awful lot that’s inherent in some of these shifts.

For a 3rd grade student, one of the things that you’re going to note would be a greater focus on math fluency and “habits of mind” and just thinking about mathematics…You’re going to see a greater emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving…You’ll see fewer concepts but taught as greater depth and higher levels of understanding…

You’re not going to leave anything by the wayside but you’re going shift the point at which things are introduced…the “progression of learning”…when is it most appropriate for certain concepts to be introduced…If we know that we want students entering algebra, what are the skills that students need to acquire?  And then [the standards] have just shifted where those skills are acquired.

What do you mean by “habits of mind?”

When we refer to habits of mind, we’re talking about how students think and problem solve.  We’re talking about a variety of things – how they communicate their thinking…understanding as a human being what your process is, as opposed to that rote learning and memorization.

Amy Parsons (5th grade teacher):

How far along are you in teaching the Common Core?

Our kids at the 5th grade level are feeling very comfortable with the language of the Common Core.  Our district has been working toward full implementation this year….The teachers have had a lot of professional development and experience in using them. 

I really am enjoying the Common Core in the fact that I can integrate especially the language arts piece of it across my content areas…I have the benefit of being able to look at a lot of that nonfiction during my social studies time…and I think it lends itself really nicely to integration with science and social studies.



  1. geauxteacher says:

    Why weren’t these teachers doing these wonderful things before? Were their hands tied? Does it have to be tied to a high stakes test that threatens their livelihood for them to create “deeper thinking?” Or was it just that teaching to the previous test was preventing them from doing what they know to be educationally sound? Next question – do they really believe this new test will reflect their students’ learning? I guess we won’t know because no one will SE the test before or after grading. It’s all so ethereal.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      I guess we’re going to disagree on this one, Lee. The standards teachers use are not a matter of individual classroom choice but are system-wide or state-wide policy. They now have improved standards to work to and are rising to the challenge.

      I consider testing another matter, though many disagree with me. I understand the “testing-industrial complex” argument but I think testing hegemony is avoidable.

      And, btw, testing does not threaten the livelihood of NH teachers. Under our NCLB waiver, whether and how to use student growth in teacher evaluation is a local option, though in Title I schools, student growth (measured by more than testing) must comprise 20% of the evaluation.

      It’s not that New Hampshire is doing everything right, but it is a different educational environment from Louisiana and a lot of other states.

  2. wgersen says:

    If you read Diane Ravitch you’d think the sky was falling… but you’d also read that it might BE falling in some parts of the world where the common core tests were administered before teachers even knew what the common core was (see NYState) and even those districts who thought they were prepared found themselves coming up short (you can see NYState for that, too). It will be interesting to see how the common core is perceived once the new tests kick in.

    Diane Ravitch will also persuade you that the sky is falling by showing you what happens when you to you follow the money: the folks who underwrote the common core initiative are the same folks who are making $$$ from privatization of education. I’m sure Diane Ravitch will explain the downside of the common core when she gives her talk at Dartmouth on October 23. It’s a good idea that has been expropriated by some folks whose primary motive is to make public education a profit center… and who use low test scores to “prove” that public schools are “failing”…

    I think the main reason STATE politicians are concerned with the common core is this: it is a de facto federal mandate while the state pays 90%+ of the bill for schooling. The states have to pick up the bill for: increased testing, the new technology required to implement the new testing; and (though not in NH) the additional State Department of Education costs to oversee the implementation of the program… and don’t think the USDOE waiver provides nearly enough $$$ to cover these additional costs. In a perfect world the State Department of Education would have the financial wherewithal to provide local districts with training and support for a major overhaul like the common core. As you know, through no fault of Ginny Barry that is not the case in NH.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      I follow Diane closely, as you do, Wayne, but, though I hate to say it, I’m seeing more heat than light. I do understand who’s behind this and that but I emphasize the teachers’ experience because it cuts through all the circumstantial evidence and political analysis about who is trying to push who around.

      The standards seem to be working educationally for our teachers. For me, that needs to be the starting point in the debate. We could still do the testing and other stuff wrong and should debate that. But the data from the field does not support the proposition that we should throw the standards out.

  3. George Manos says:

    As long as the common core curriculum allows teaches to assert their own individuality and creativity to the process, it will be fine.

  4. Scott Marion says:

    Bill, I agree with your points. Great job portraying the voices of our great NH teachers and leaders. Yes Diane Ravitch has suddenly “seen the light,” in the same way as a reformed smoker becomes the loudest anti-smoking voice, as long as her grandchildren attend expensive private schools. Yes conflating the standards with the testing is a mistake. I still come back to the same argument, why would anyone having our students learn richer content and skills? When doing a project in Australia a few years ago, I was stunned to see that the level of expectations for their students was at least 2-3 grade levels beyond what we expected of our students. How can Americans be satisfied with this? I just ask people to look at the standards and tell me what you don’t want your children to learn?

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