Q: At a workshop on Common Core State Standards at our son's high school, I was surprised that collaboration was mentioned. Aren't the standards about reading, writing and math?
A: They are, but they also include key skills required to succeed in today's world. Recently, at a career day at a local school, I heard the chief technology officer of a global company tell students, "Our teams work across many time zones in three states and five nations. When we hire, we assess whether you can communicate and collaborate with others."
One goal of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is to ensure "college and career readiness," so you'll find these skills included. An English Language Arts anchor standard, for example, states that students should be able to "prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively."
Collaborative communication drives creativity, invention, productivity and problem solving, says Ardith Davis Cole, teacher and national literacy consultant.
"Students need these skills for success in college, work and civic life," she says. "Our Founding Fathers understood collaboration -- they argued and refined their ideas, persuaded others, communicated and compromised to create the Constitution."
The Common Core initiative was launched by state governors to improve the college and career readiness of U.S. students. Business and civic leaders across the political spectrum joined chief state school officers, parents, teachers, researchers and subject-area specialists to create voluntary learning standards and assessments.
Why common standards? One, there are wide disparities in student outcomes across states. Third-graders in one state might be several months ahead of fourth-graders in another. CCSS offers some assurance that, if a family moves, the kids can be enrolled in a school that is teaching the same thing at the same grade as the school they left.
Two, CCSS can help measure student, school and district performance across the states on a credible, common metric. For example, "reading on second-grade level" would mean the same level of proficiency in every state and district.
Three, U.S. students are falling behind the rest of the world, putting them at a disadvantage upon entering college and finding jobs in an increasingly global workforce.
"When students graduate, they will be expected to work across great distances and collaborate with colleagues via complex technologies. A globally connected workplace will be the norm for them, not the exception," says Ben Curran, a Michigan instructional coach and co-author of "Learning in the 21st Century: How to Connect, Collaborate, and Create" (GHF Press, 2013).
Curran teaches such collaborative skills as brainstorming, decision-making and determining accountability. He demonstrates how to use such digital collaboration tools as Google Drive, Wikis and Edmodo, a secure social network that allows students to work with classes across town or across the ocean.
For tips on how to promote collaboration skills, see California literacy specialist Rebecca Alber's post, "Common Core in Action: Why Collaboration and Communication Matter," at edutopia.org.
For more on CCSS, go to www.achieve.org. To read the Common Core State Standards, go to www.corestandards.org/the-standards.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)