Common Core State Standards Initiative: What Does It Mean to Boarding Schools?

CommonCoreTree1With the Common Core taking root and producing a bit of the inevitable upheaval that comes with change in America’s public schools, I wondered —

‘Is the Common Core having any affect on boarding school curricula?’

So I reached out to colleagues and asked.

First a little background.

I’ve always been a proponent of a national common curriculum or set of understandings, even when I was teaching high school English in a boarding school.

My own thinking grows out of my distaste for the SAT and ACT. The tests wield too much power and drive too much family and student anxiety given their limitations.

It seems to me that if we could agree, nationally, on what students need to know/understand by the time they’ve reached certain milestones (high school graduation), we’d have a much better picture of each student’s college readiness and a better understanding of how our schools are doing.

I flat out tell anyone that will listen: ‘Look, I understand you loath the power and influence of the SAT and ACT. Me too. I think they assess very narrowly and reward a students of a narrow band. But, until we agree on a national curriculum, or a national set of understandings to bind education from Bellvue, WA, to Key West FL, to Honolulu, HI, to Presque Isle, ME, to Brownsville, TX, we have only the standardized college admission tests to create a common thread and measure through our students and their learning histories.’

We may have become smarter. With the Common Core State Standards Initiative, America’s governors have set the US on the path of some national consistency in K-12 education.

Is the adoption and implementation going perfectly? No.

Are the standards and measures, perfect? No.

But it’s a start.

So, what influence/affect is the Common Core having on boarding school curricula?

From my entirely unscientific sampling, I found three prevalant boarding response strains to the Common Core.

International Baccalaureate schools use the IB framework and approach to build curricula and assess student. A competing approach (Common Core) provides no benefit. The IB provides clear curricula and assessment frameworks and these schools believe they’re well positioned in relation to the Common Core. The IB is simply a different road/angle to academic preparation.

Let’s wait and see. Most boarding schools adhere to classical liberal arts principals and curricula having watched countless fads swirls and dissipate around them. The Hun School in Princeton, NJ falls into this category. I call it the “we’ll wait and see if this approach produces some lasting ideas.” If there are some good Common Core pieces that we can use we might absorb them. For now, we’ll stick with our curriculum that works.

Ryan Hews, upper school head at the Hun, spoke with me about the Hun’s wait and see thinking:

Is the adoption of Common Core Standards shaping your thinking/having any affect on your curriculum and academic program?

“…The Hun School is [working] to ensure that our current curriculum standards exceed those of the Common Core, particularly in the math and English areas and to anticipate the inevitable adjustments to standardized testing that will result from the implementation of the Common Core.”

Is The Hun responding/adopting parts of/simply going in a different direction in regard to the Common Core standards?  Or, in true independent school fashion, choosing its own direction?

“…we generally exceed [Common Core] standards. Should we find gaps in our curriculum, the Academic Leadership Team would assess the needs in conjunction with our own independent school mission to determine how any adjustments would best serve our students.”

Our students do well on a Common Core assessment. Morgan Scoville at the Asheville School tells me that their students already take the CWRA+ (College and Work Readiness Assessment) as III formers (9th graders) and again as VI formers (12th graders).

Scoville explains, “Asheville feels like we are already addressing what the Common Core aims to do. We have our students take the CWRA as III formers and then as VI formers to measure our success/added-value as we prepare our students for life and beyond. We discovered that we have been doing very well…”

A few themes emerge:

  • The Common Core at its root seems traditional.
  • Boarding schools by their nature already execute much of the Common Core.
  • Independence gives boarding schools time to look at the Common Core and see what works.
  • Being independent, effective, traditional, and free from educational fads frees each boarding school to commit to practices and approaches that best fit its mission and students.

*Interviews edited for brevity and clarity.

Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

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