School Library Monthly/Volume XXVIII, Number 1/September-October
Common Core and School Librarians: An Interview with Joyce Karon
by Pamela K. Kramer
Pamela K. Kramer is a former school librarian, Deputy Executive Director of AASL, Director of the DuPage Library System in Geneva, IL, and is a consultant with Pamela K. Kramer & Associates, Inc. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Common Core Standards (CCS) are at hand! They are often referred to as National Standards and they carry impact for student learning, teaching, and school librarians. But how? What is the real story?
I asked Joyce Karon, a former school librarian, district coordinator, former member of the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Board of Higher Education, to discuss these standards with me. She is currently a member of the Illinois P-20 Council and has always been a passionate advocate for school libraries. Joyce and I have worked together on many Illinois library projects and have seen many changes in the school library world. Our discussion of the CCS is the result of two conversations.
Q: What are the Common Core Standards?
A: The simple answer is that they are academic standards for K-12 education designed to prepare students for college and career readiness. Their genesis was in people reacting to the impending renewal of NLCB [No Child Left Behind legislation]. In a preemptive move, before NCLB/ESEA reauthorization, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center (NGA Center) led the effort to develop a common core of state standards. The states-led initiative was a collaborative effort of teachers, administrators, and other education experts including school librarians. Much of the common core was the result of the business community saying, "We don’t have a trained workforce." Their goal was to have standards that emphasize demonstration and application of student learning—especially higher order thinking skills.
Q:How are the CCS similar to or different from other standards?
A: To begin with they are clearer. They are the big picture of what people agree students are expected to learn. They are the essential skills that everyone agrees on. They are broad and designed so that states can tweak them. In Illinois, for instance, we took a look at our 1997 standards and did a gap analysis to identify which of our standards matched CCS. For those that were not matched we asked if the standard was an essential one. If it was not essential, we looked at whether or not it was something that should be taught. If it was not essential and not something we thought should be taught, we dropped it. The CCS are not the only things that we teach, but they are the essential things we need to teach. Most states have taken the option of adapting fifteen percent of the CCS for their state.
Q: What do the standards mean for students, for teachers?
A: We all agree that students have a right to a good education. With these standards, students will be given clear criteria for advancing to the next grade. As they make progress, they can expect to graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college credit courses or in the workforce. Again using an Illinois example, Illinois has a Student Information System (SIS) that we use to collect data on student progress using a unique identification number for each student. We can collect more data for reporting and accountability. In fact, all states are required to have a Longitudinal Data System. Illinois has received two federal grants to help in the development of the Longitudinal Data System Project. Among the things we will be able to do when it is operational is track progress of students from Pre-K through post secondary and possibly into the workforce. We will be able to make better decisions on the use of resources and link students to college and career information. That will enable us to look at individual growth for students instead of a single annual test score for categories of students. In addition, every state has the equivalent of a P-20 Council like the one I serve on. We track students and services from birth to the workforce and deal with public policy issues.
For teachers there are interesting implications. No one is telling teachers what to teach or how to teach it. Rather the CCS standards give them targets. For example, "CC.6.W.7 Research to Build and Present Knowledge: Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate" can be used at any grade level in a developmentally appropriate learning situation (AASL 2007). Basically a teacher can’t teach "songbirds of the world" just because they like the unit. They can teach it, if it can meet the appropriate CCS goal. Schools and teachers know how best to teach their students and CCS leave room for that to happen. There will be more frequent assessments to use for diagnostic purposes; however, these assessments will take place in different forms and not be of the high-stakes testing variety we have had in the past. There likely will still be a single annual assessment that will be used to measure the achievement of the standards statewide.
Another implication for teachers is that it will now be possible for administrators to identify and measure what successful teaching looks like. They will be able to look at student test scores of teachers A, B, and C and see which students were doing OK and which might be shaky to marginal. Successful teachers can become mentors and model for teachers having difficulty. In addition, on a broader level, we could identify where the successful teachers got their training and professional degrees. This should also help inform administrators about the quality of teacher preparation programs since we only want the best and the brightest teaching our children. This may ultimately have an effect on the quality of programs at academic institutions.
Q: What do school librarians need to understand about the standards?
A: Reading is at the core of the CCS. Librarians have always valued reading. We build collections of books for students to read for pleasure; we give awards to books for excellence, and we do story times and read with and to children. However, what we may not have done so well is help students read well in the content areas. Classroom teachers will now be required to help students read and understand increasingly complex text in order to be ready for college and career experiences. Who better than librarians to collaborate with teachers to identify literature and text for students to read in the content areas? For example, the math teacher is teaching pie charts. The librarian could identify several paragraphs that could be made into pie charts. Given a pie chart, the students would read the paragraphs and identify the one that describes the given pie chart-reading connected to math. The standards do not prescribe a list of specific readings or pieces of literature, but they will have a list of exemplars. They do mandate certain categories of content such as myths from around the world and foundational U.S. documents.
Librarians need to be the gurus of CCS. They need to know the CCS inside out. These standards are interdisciplinary, and it is school librarians who can help teachers make connections among courses. It seems to me that the role of school librarians, more than ever, is one of leader, designer, and educator. They will need to insert themselves on curriculum committees, department meetings, grade level, and team meetings with the focus being how the library can connect all of the disciplines. With the CCS, school librarians can have new power.
School librarians have moved from the Information Literacy Standards to the Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has created AASL Cross Walk of the Common Core Standards which puts the CCS next to the 21st-Century Learning Standards. It is easy to see that many of the standards we called “information literacy” are at the heart of the CCS. What some of us used to call a "library curriculum" is now embedded in CCS. Seven key points describe what it takes for a student to be college and career ready under the CCS: students demonstrate independence; build strong content knowledge; respond to demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline; comprehend as well as critique; value evidence; use technology and digital media strategically and capably; and come to understand other perspectives and cultures. This describes the heart of what school librarians do on a daily basis.
Q: Do school librarians have something to be afraid of?
A: Yes, if they do not embrace CCS they are likely to be left out and behind. As I said above, they have to take the leadership role in their schools and districts and show that what they do is embedded in the CCS and that they can provide information, connections, and instruction to make the interdisciplinary aspects of learning meaningful for students. The days of the school librarian being an "isolationist" are over. It's time for school librarians to stop whining about being left out and step up to the new plate and hit a homerun.
Q: What should school librarians be doing to be a part of the conversation?
A: School librarians have to know and understand CCS and not stay back and wait to be asked to help or participate. They have to be assertive and let teachers and administrators know what they can do to help teachers work through the standards. They need to make sure that they are seen as teachers and educators not just book purveyors.
Q: Does that mean that professional development for school librarians needs to emphasize collaboration and strategic planning for student learning?
A: Yes, if you mean that school librarians have to speak the same language and have the same learning goals as classroom teachers. Everyone in the school must focus their energy on the achievement of the CCS. More than ever school librarians have to work with teachers on their standards, not separate library standards. Remember, the CCS embed the traditional library learning goals into the subject areas. They can brush-up on their collaboration strategies and review the classroom curricula. There are tools that school librarians can use to make connections. In Illinois, they can consult I-SAIL, an Illinois-specific website that links the Illinois CCS to the National Educational Technology Standards for Students and AASL's Standards for 21st-Century Learner. They can use the AASL Cross Walk of the Common Core Standards that compares AASL's Standards for the 21st-Century Learner to the CCS.
Finally, librarians need to learn the new vocabulary: College and Career Readiness—in; Lifelong Learning—out. The CCS—in; (State) Learning Standards—out. I really believe these standards offer school librarians a golden opportunity to become integrated into the educational landscape of the school.
American Association of School Librarians. Crosswalk of the Common Core Standards. ALA. http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/guidelinesandstandards/commoncorecrosswalk/index.cfm (accessed June 22, 2011).
American Association of School Librarians. Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. American Library Association, 2007. (Downloadable for free at: http://www.ala.org/aasl/standards). (accessed June 22, 2011).
Additional Resources for CCS:
Common Core State Standards Initiative (The official CCS website). http://www.corestandards.org
I-SAIL. "Illinois Standards Aligned Instruction for Libraries—Technology Specific." http://isail.wdfiles.com/local--files/home/technology%20pdf. Note: This document currently links AASL standards and NETS. In the fall of 2011 a newer document will be available that aligns AASL standards, NETS, and CCS.
I-SAIL. "Navigating Between Library and Classroom. List All Pages." http://isail.wikidot.com/system:list-all-pages
Illinois State Board of Education. "The New Illinois Learning Standards Incorporating the Common Core." http://www.isbe.state.il.us/common_core/default.htm. This section is devoted to CCS and provides webinars and powerpoints.
Illinois P21 Council. http://www2.illinois.gov/gov/P20/Pages/default.aspx. Part of the IL Governor’s website, this section provides an overview of activities related to CCS in IL.
International Society for Technology in Education. Standards. http://www.iste.org/standards.aspx
Also, see "Nudging Toward Inquiry: Common Core Standards," School Library Monthly 28, no. 1 (September-October 2011): 49-50.