Classroom Views: Common Core Comes to Tampa

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

For all of the policy talk about education that happens in communities across America, it's actual learning that takes place in real schools like the ones in your neighborhood. (Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock)

For all of the policy talk about education that happens in communities across America, it's actual learning—the imparting of essential knowledge to young people to make them citizens—that takes place in real schools like the ones in your neighborhood.

All this week, The Takeaway is getting a close-up look at classrooms around the United States. We'll be examining the work of education reporters who are embedding themselves inside schools around the country. These reporters are seeing, hearing and experiencing what students themselves encounter at school each day.

Today, we head to Monroe Middle School in Tampa, FL. It's a school that is experimenting with new classroom techniques, and educators are shaking up curriculum standards.

Like many schools around the country, Monroe Middle School is adopting the curriculum called Common Core—a shift to a more structured, discussion, and logic-oriented approach to teaching writing and math.

On the surface, Monroe Middle School is just the sort of school that stands to benefit from a highly focused concentration on the most modern curriculum standards.

Located just outside MacDill Air Force Base, 80 percent of its 530 students qualify for reduced lunch. Not only are many Monroe students low-income, they also move frequently. One in four Monroe Middle School students transfer in or out of the school during a typical year.  

Monroe Middle School has been trying out a new curriculum for two years already and its teachers and administrators have already noticed a change.

John O’Connor covers education for StateImpact Florida and WUSF in Tampa. He says that the Common Core seems to be a good fit for Monroe.

Teacher Dawn Norris sitting talking with her students

Teacher Christina Phillips in her classroom.

A chart explaining the Three Cs – Claim, Claim Evidence and Commentary – which are the building blocks of a written argument.


John O'Connor

Produced by:

Jen Poyant, Mythili Rao and Abbie Ruzicka


T.J. Raphael

Comments [8]


So a host and a reporter who have no independent knowledge of the field of education -- haven't reviewed the literature, etc. -- and give no indication that they're aware that U.S. public schools in upper middle income areas are competitive with any in the world, see fit to report, breathlessly, on Common Core.

Of course, there are no critics heard. And no questions as to who benefits financially from Common Core.

And this is supposed to be reporting?

Mar. 19 2014 04:34 PM
Jenna from san francisco

In 8th grade my teacher, Mr. O'Brien, did a fun activity on Fridays that he called "coffee shop" where we would all get a chance to give speeches, tell stories, or do any kind of performance we could think of. One of the assignment he came up with during this time was for us to write a "hate speech." After a few failed attempts of us going up and rambling on about hating homework, our siblings, and being grounded Mr. O'Brien decided to show us an example of what he was actually looking for. He gave a speech about how much he hated telemarketers. He told us he hated that telemarketers called him right when he was trying to sit down and have dinner with his family and how they would make it difficult for him to get off the phone politely. He ended the speech by saying that the reason he most hated the phone calls is because he had once been a telemarketer and knew how hard it was, to spend all day talking to people who are mostly rude to you. This story has always reminded me to be respectful to others and when feeling frustrated with someone to try and out myself in their shoes.

Mar. 19 2014 04:19 PM
Larry Fisher from Hollywood, Cali.

My kids go to school in Ft. Greene Brooklyn at Arts & Letters. The teachers are great, , the parents are great. the program is great. I can't believe I am happy with a public school in New York, but I am
The Hitch: The Board Of Education is requiring kids to take an exam which will determine if they should advance to the next grade. I am talking about third graders!

Is that necessary? I don't think so. Come on. Teachers, parents have always been able to determine if a kid should advance to the next grade. It seems ridiculous to put a standardized test on an 8 year old. There are many years before he or she needs to be crammed into a sardine tin and made to conform in the way they test.

I will be sending the Takeaway some more information about the test that and the situation a little today or tomorrow. I am in L.A. for two weeks but am desperate to expose the insanity of this state testing. If you already have done the report on New York, I have been missing for two days (my luggage arrived, but I havent yet) at Universal and was not able to listen to the Takeaway.

I really could use a report on the situation because of the absurdity of it. I'd rather not have to teach my daughter and her class how to cheat on exams until she gets to High School.

Mar. 19 2014 03:13 PM
Cyndi from Jax FL

One of the most important lessons I remember from school (altho, I have been blessed with many different awesome teachers along the way) was the first day of World History in 10th grade. We had a new teacher and he had scrawled 476AD across the chalkboard.

We sat down, he introduced himself and then he started in and said, "This date is the most important date you will ever learn in history! It was the year of the fall of the Roman Empire!"

We all rolled our eyes, but by golly, when we got thru all that ancient history and were about to hit this time in history, he walked into class and yelled, "When did the Roman Empire fall?" and a handful of us remembered that first day and yelled out, "476!!!!" and he was so thrilled with us and then showed us how the fall of the Roman Empire had lead to so much of our most recent history.

I never again rolled my eyes at the statement, "Those who don't remember history are doomed to repeat it". I understood!

He left our school to return to teaching ex-pats in Indonesia a few years later and I'll forever be indebted to him.

Mar. 19 2014 02:58 PM
Naseem Rakha from Illinois

My best lesson came in 7th grade when the language arts teacher burst into my Social Studies class and shot my social studies teacher.

My teacher fell behind his desk and the language arts teacher fled the room. We students sat at our desks, silent and motionless, our teacher lying behind his own desk presumably bleeding to death. It took us a while, I have no idea how long, maybe a minute before we began to tentatively push back from our desks, and make moves toward the teacher. But we were stopped. The teacher's hand reached up to his desk and he pulled himself up, seemingly unharmed. He told us to remain silent and sit down. Then he told us to pull out a piece of paper and write down exactly what we heard and saw.

There are many reasons I remember this event, which occurred nearly 41 years ago. But the main and most lasting memory is just how different each student's story was. We differed on the amount to bullets that were shot. We different on what was shouted by the language arts teacher prior to his pulling the trigger. We differed on what hand he held the gun in and what he wore. A few of us didn't even agree on what teacher entered our room.

That shocking lesson taught me all I need to know about the unreliability of memory and the power of perception.

Mar. 19 2014 02:41 PM
Mick Shea from Neptune Beach, FL

My American History teacher told us to register to vote with the party that was dominate where we lived, so that we could vote in their primary, and have a better bet of having someone who matches our personal beliefs elected (since the winner of the dominate party's primary will likely win the election). As a regular primary voter, I have always registered with the dominant party at the various places I've lived.

Mar. 19 2014 02:33 PM
Pamela Chipman from Media PA

I was 8 years old in 1965, My third grade teacher brought us into a room where artifacts from WWII were laid out on a table, the guest presenter told us these were items her family had back from Poland. She pointed out one artifact in particular, a lampshade, a human skin lampshade. Sharing these items was her attempt to educate us to the atrocities of war in hopes that this knowledge would prevent something like this from happening again. I will never forget the impact of seeing this lampshade and will always remember her message.

Mar. 19 2014 12:57 PM
Michele McCann from Newark, DE

"Most important lesson I ever learned in school"
This came from my favorite English Teacher, Mr. Lloyd King. He taught composition and was excellent. The lesson? I was, and currently am, a National Award Winning Resume Writer. The lesson happened years later, when I was deep in resume writing mode. Thinking to myself: "Mr. King would have a fit if he read the style of writing I do now, to effectively advocate for my clients. I DO know grammar, but resumes often break those grammar rules." Not more than 15 minutes later, he walked into my office with no previous appointment scheduled, sat down and said: "I come to you because I can only write proper grammar according to the Chicago Manual of Style. I need you to author my resume, because I simply cannot." After a short conversation, he remembered me from many years ago, and the significant impact he had on me in the classroom. The result? I am a writer with 24 years of professional experience, and Lloyd King landed his new job.
Michele McCann, Newark, DE 302-893-1156

Mar. 19 2014 12:49 PM

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