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Models of excellence can help elevate conversation around Common Core and student potential

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In a column for Education Week, Rob Berger, Chief Academic Officer for Expeditionary Learning, argues that in order to have an open and honest conversation about Common Core and higher standards, policymakers and educational leaders need models of student work that demonstrate academic excellence and student potential. Without examples of student potential, it is easy for Common Core critics to use the familiar lines–the standards are not age appropriate, they are too difficult, etc. Berger says models transform the conversation:

Every state, whether a Common Core adopter or not, agrees that for college, career, and life readiness, educational standards need to be elevated. We need to prioritize higher order thinking, problem solving, independence, and creativity by engaging students with more challenging tasks. But what does this mean? What does “higher order thinking” look like? Without clear images to inspire and guide us, we spend our time arguing about mandates and accountability, instead of focusing on the goal for all of this change–giving students the vision and skills to do excellent work.

What is missing is clear: models. When young athletes work hard at their sport, they watch older students, Olympians, and professionals and imprint that vision in their hearts and minds. Unfortunately, when young students are engaged in academic work in school–creating a scientific report, persuasive essay, geometric proof, or architectural design–they typically have no idea of what would constitute excellence.

Whether working with students, teachers, educational leaders, or policy makers, one thing has been consistent and striking: the quality of conversation is totally different when student work is in front of us. For example, educators may discuss, theoretically, what high quality writing could look like for a first grade student or high school junior, and debate the meaning of the written standards for each. But everything changes when we look at brilliant writing from a first grader or an eleventh grader. Our understanding of the standards change, and our understanding of the dimensions of excellence is transformed. It’s an entirely new and more powerful conversation.

Berger’s collections of student work can be found at The Center for Student Work’s website. The full Ed Week article can be found here.

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