Inside NYU Steinhardt: Susan Neuman on Common Core Intentions and Challenges

On Friday, Feb. 22, NYU Steinhardt will host the next installment of its three-part education policy breakfast focusing on the New York State P-12 Common Core Standards. Professor Susan Neuman, chair of the department of teaching and learning, will moderate the session that will focus on how these standards will be evaluated, and the challenges that will be faced. Neuman talks with At-A-Glance about the curricula changes and what these changes might mean for students and teachers. 

1). First and foremost, what are the NYS P-12 Common Core Learning Standards and what are they intended to achieve?

Common Core standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics are designed to define what students need to know and be able to do to become career or college ready.  In fact, some governors are describing them as ‘career and college ready standards.’ These standards are far more rigorous than previous state standards, and have been adopted by 45 states as well as DC. Forty-six states have adopted them in ELA with 45 in mathematics.

2). As a teacher educator, have you had a chance to speak with teachers about the adoption process? What has been the attitude thus far?

There are a few things to point out as it relates to teacher attitudes toward Common Core and their implications for student learning.

First, teachers are concerned that they lack the resources and the professional development necessary to be successful.   They are confronting a sea-change in teaching children how to read and to compute. For example, in these new standards there is a new focus on reading challenging text at grade level; a shift to more information text reading, and a greater emphasis on argumentation and providing evidence through text.

Additionally, there is a focus on ‘learning progressions,’ meaning that teachers will need to understand the full progression of teaching reading, from preschool through grade 12, as well as teaching reading through the disciplines of science, social studies, and math.

Lastly, in the next year or so, there will be new rigorous assessments that measure student performance. This means that while there is considerable enthusiasm for this challenge, at the same time, anxiety is high.  States are likely to see a dramatic drop in the percent of proficient readers due to the difficulty and greater complexity of these standards and assessments.

3). These standards emphasize English Language Arts, where students will gain the “necessary fluency, comprehension, analytic and communication skills necessary to be on track for college- and career-readiness.” In your new book, “Give Children a Fighting Chance” you discuss the urgent need to expose low-income children to reading and literacy programs. Do the Common Core Standards address this population? Do Common Core Standards give Children a Fighting Chance?

This is a tricky question.

Children of poverty too often lack resources that can help them begin the important process of learning to read. They come to school behind, and often stay behind. What this means is that they will be at a disadvantage in developing the rich academic vocabulary and background knowledge they’ll need to acquire knowledge through text–an essential feature in these new standards

“Giving Children a Fighting Chance” is about providing print resources and adult supports early on, and giving children living in isolated communities of poverty intensive support so they can work toward attaining these rigorous standards.

4). As host of Steinhardt’s upcoming policy breakfast, what are you hoping educators, policy makers, aspiring teachers, and our students take away from the discussion?

We hope they’ll come away from the session with greater knowledge of the potential of these standards to improve student achievement, as well as a better understanding of the challenges that lie ahead, particularly for students who are English Language Learners, or who come from economically disadvantaged communities.

To be successful, we will need to provide many of our children with intensive early intervention and additional supports to enable them to meet these standards.  The message here is that we need to tap all children’s potential, knowing that some students will need a bit more support along the way.