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CCSS & IEFA Open Program


"The CCSS & IEFA" Open Institute

Skyview High School, Billings

June 3rd - June 10th

Program Fees TBA

Since their approval by the Montana Board of Education in May of 2011, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have become the primary focus of educators and curriculum designers throughout the state. The CCSS were created as the result of an initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). As of September 2012, forty-five states and three United States territories have adopted the Common Core as their standard of student achievement. Montana's own timeline for each school district's alignment, implementation and integration of the CCSS culminates in a new generation of student assessment in the 2014-2015 school year. Prior to its adoption though, the CCSS underwent a series of reviews by Montana educators during workshop retreats facilitated by the Montana Office of Public Instruction in late 2010 and early 2011. During one of these reviews late in the process, a multicultural group of K-16 educators worked to ensure that Montana's version of the CCSS would reflect Montana's state constitution in regard to Indian Education for All (IEFA). To preserve the CCSS's integrity, the group could not remove any language from the original standards document, but language could be added in order to genuinely reflect Montana's constitution. The group's recommendations were presented to the Montana Board of Education later that spring, and the approved additions are included in Montana's official version of the Common Core State Standards. In comparison to other states in the CCSS fold then, Montana's Common Core Standards (MCCS) are unique in their content and complexity and deserve genuine engagement from the state's educational community along those unique lines.

Despite these profound additions to the standards, IEFA has been largely absent from MCCS discussions and professional development at the district level throughout the state in the one and a half years since, at least in terms of genuine engagement, and its inclusion has been largely limited to official professional development presentations from the Office of Public Instruction. As districts have now spent the entirety of their “one-time only” monies, there is a palpable feeling among Indian Education for All professional development providers that IEFA is once again sliding to the back-burner of administrators' consciousness in Montana as they shift their attentions toward the Common Core State Standards. While the Common Core is an important topic of discussion and attention for Montana administrators and teachers, it is equally important to recognize that Montana's version of the Common Core standards has been revised to reflect the Montana State Constitution and Montana law (MCA 20-1-501).

To honor MCA 20-1-501 and to address teachers’ concern about how to make adjustments given the shifting paradigms required by the MCCS,  the MWP Open Institute: Common Core State Standards proposes to provide teachers in all content areas with strategies for understanding the CCSS and for moving standards to embrace Indian Education for All (IEFA) curriculum.  Careful reading and thoughtful interpretation of the CCSS will avoid predictable misunderstandings, and building curriculum from worthy tasks like those afforded by Indian Education for All offers the pathway to performance envisioned by the Common Core.

The new distinctions in the CCSS have important implications for teaching practice because they invite an inquiry approach, with a focus on the questions students might ask in order for them to make meaning from what they are learning and to deepen their learning. Evidence-based practices and the CCSS are asking teachers to abandon the traditional call-and-response structure in favor of more meaningful discourse with students.  Essentially, the inquiry process encourages learners to pose questions or “wonderings,” collect data to gain insights into their wonderings, analyze the data along with reading relevant literature, make changes in thinking/behavior based on new understandings developed during inquiry, evaluate those changes, and share findings with others.  According to teacher-researcher Jeffrey Wilhelm, “Inquiry-oriented classrooms cultivate motivation and engagement, deepen conceptual and strategic understanding, produce higher-level thinking, develop productive habits of mind, and engender positive attitudes toward future learning.”  In this inquiry-based environment, students are expected to reason, to think critically, and to apply their knowledge in meaningful ways so as to make connections between content and their lived experiences.  Ultimately, the CCSS are about autonomous transfer—students solving complex problems outside of school independent of teacher- provided scaffolds.

IEFA curriculum lends itself so well to inquiry because it invites critical thinking.  In general, American culture lacks acknowledgment of the Indian holocaust.  Periods in Indian history from the European invasion/colonialism, war/Indian extermination, Indian subjugation, policy to confirm Indians, reservations, and boarding schools all bear witness to historical trauma.  An IEFA curriculum provides the opportunity to read, to write, and to argue about these issues in a modern context.  With such material, we bring to light the multi-generational historical trauma of Native Americans and offer opportunities to grapple with issues like hope and forgiveness as a possible way out of suffering and grief.  We also expose students to multiple perspectives and to situations that encourage a critical stance so as to inspire wisdom that might lead to an improved way of living in the world.
The Montana Office of Public Instruction has mapped out the timeline for the MCCS as follows: “(1) 2011-2012, Planning and Awareness; (2) 2012-2013, School/District Alignment; (3) 2013-2014, School/District Implementation; and (4) 2014-2015, School/District Full Implementation and Integration of Assessment" (OPI 2011). In other words, IEFA is no longer just a constitutional mandate or a state law (though those designations are of great weight and importance and should suffice); Indian Education for All is now infused into the standards by which Montana students and schools will be assessed in the near future. Teachers and administrators cannot afford to lose focus when it comes to IEFA and instruction, regardless of available funding. The authors of Pathways to the Common Core note that the “adoption of the Common Core suggests that America's image of what it means to be educated will change” (Calkins, Ehrenworth & Lehman 2012). The inclusion of Indian Education for All in Montana's version of the CCSS suggests that to be considered “educated” in Montana means, among other worthy tenets, to be knowledgeable of Native American tribes, cultures and understandings connected to the area. The CCSS empowers teachers as professionals to make the ultimate decisions as to how the students will be prepared to meet the standards, and students will find empowerment in a curriculum designed with their college and career readiness in mind. And in the state of Montana, the MCCS empowers people and cultures that have been marginalized throughout the state's history.