Northwood Middle School (Kent, Wash.)
2014 Puget Sound Region Teacher of the Year
The mantra of Seahawks and Super Bowl champion quarterback Russell Wilson last season was simple and always the same: “Why not us?” He lived it, breathed it, made his teammates believers, and did the work necessary to achieve his goal.
Mind you that Wilson, a third-round draft pick, faced many obstacles. Being a short quarterback, he was told by most he wouldn't succeed in the NFL. His ability was doubted. But, it was a good thing for Seattle that John Schneider and Pete Carroll had the foresight to see beyond the critics and obstacles. Wilson made believers out of all of us and taught us that obstacles are opportunities. Maybe, in regard to education, we should strive to adopt a similar mindset. Common Core essentially poses the same question as Russell Wilson's phrase, “Why not us?”
Every NFL team has the same goal, regardless of zip code or fan base: they want to win, win some more, and earn a spot in the Super Bowl. Coaches will use a variety of methods, drills and philosophies to accomplish this objective. Their techniques and styles may be different (just look at the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh in comparison to Pete Carroll), but their end goal is the same: victory! Education is similar. Our “victory” is students graduating from high school ready for college and life.
The new standards will help level the playing field to make that happen. Whether you live in Manhattan, NY or Yakima, the expectations are identical. It’s the way teachers reinforce the standards that’s different. For example, Reading Literature Standard Two asks 8th graders to discover themes and their development throughout a text. Teachers in Manhattan may use "Kidnapped" by Stevenson as a model text, while teachers from Yakima may use Hinton’s "The Outsiders." The students reading "Kidnapped" will discover themes of loyalty, friendship, and diversity of ethics. Those reading "The Outsiders" will discover themes regarding the impact of social class and what it means to be an outsider. Some teachers will be like the 49ers coach Harbaugh and others the Seahawks' Carroll, and that’s OK. Teachers still have the freedom to choose what they’ll teach and how they’ll teach it; it’s the standard being reinforced that is the same.
The cost of the assessment associated with Common Core is worrisome for some states, but in Washington, it will actually cost less than our current system. It’s hard for parents, teachers and students to live the “Why not us?” mantra amidst the controversy and obstacles connected with the new higher standard. Once one looks beyond the controversy and genuinely examines the standards, it is easy to recognize the positive “game-changing” effect they have on students, education and ultimately society.
Yes, there are obstacles connected with the new higher standards, but these obstacles promote opportunity. Students have the opportunity to think critically, to engage in educated, text-based discussions, and know the “why”—not just the “what” and” how.” There is no sweeter victory than overcoming an obstacle. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman knows all about that. He was a late-round draft pick that got very little respect from his former coach. He heard the disparaging words of the doubters and used them as fuel to propel himself to greatness.
Sherman graduated from Stanford University and is currently the top cornerback in the NFL. He started the Blanket Coverage charity, whose goal is to “channel its resources to ensure that as many children as possible are provided with proper school supplies and adequate clothing.” Sherman took the doubters’ words of gloom and turned them into the Legion of Boom! He lives the “Why not us?” philosophy.
Carol Dweck, a world-renowned psychologist at Stanford University, also encourages us to live the “Why not us?” with her growth mindset theory. “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. . . . They’re wrong. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. . . . This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
Her theory is exactly what’s needed to fully understand and successfully implement the new higher standards. Yes, they are rigorous. Yes, they require a brain shift. And yes, they are transforming. According to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, by 2018, 67% of all jobs in Washington state will require some post-secondary training or education. In other words, more than two-thirds of all jobs will require additional education. Currently, 1.7 million college freshmen have to take remedial courses. These courses come with a $3.6 billion dollar price tag every year.
The bottom line is kids are not graduating from high school prepared for college. The fixed “just keep doing what we’re doing” mindset isn’t working. Something has to change. The college- and career-readiness standards provide that needed change. Committing to the rigor of these standards will help students to think critically, love learning, have the tenacity to bounce back after setbacks and be prepared for a post-secondary education. It will create a desire and drive that will have students asking, “Why not me?”
Amy Abrams is an 8th grade language arts teacher at Northwood Middle School in Kent, Wash. She was named the Puget Sound Region's 2014 Teacher of the Year.