The Common Core and After School

Youth Today

Some out-of-school programs are trying to get a grasp on what the Common Core standards cover. Some are wondering how to align with the standards. Some may be wondering whether they should focus on them or not.

For an afterschool debate program in Baltimore, it’s almost a “no-brainer,” said executive director Pam Block Brier.

“The Common Core standards almost feel like they were written with us in mind,” she said. They focus on critical thinking skills, for one thing.

Her program, the Baltimore Urban Debate League, involves more than 300 students in 17 low-income, urban public schools. This year, the middle school students are debating whether solar panels should be installed in all the school buildings in Baltimore.

Program director Coleen Reyes said: “We’re hearing lots of scientific arguments and economic arguments [from the students]. Students are gathering information and arguments from parents, coaches and friends. ‘They’re building their content knowledge,” she said, pointing out that that is one of the Common Core habits of mind.

Kids learn to support argument with research and evidence, Brier said.

The debate program has even offered some professional training to teachers in using debate and argumentation techniques as “a toolkit of strategies” for implementing the Common Core.

“It helps make a case with school districts that our work does support their efforts,” she said.