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ho do you think of when you think of historical leaders who changed this country for the better? Martin Luther King, Jr.? Cesar Chavez? Rosa Parks? Ok, what about the students in your classroom? What about you? Every great change in this country, from the civil rights movements in the 60’s to the immigrant rights movements of today, had one thing in common – the leadership of young people. And today, there is a historic change in how schools operate that may make you and your classmates thought of as the generation that forever improved education in America. They call the change “Common Core State Standards.” It’s a new national standard that puts emphasis on students becoming critical thinkers and problemsolvers. The change is in response to a crisis – the failure of our school system. The U.S. is falling behind when comparing education to other countries. Colleges are saying new students aren’t prepared. Employers are saying students out of high school aren’t equipped to work their jobs. Common Core, which would do away with the old standardized tests, would require a new way of testing students, to make sure schools are properly preparing students for their futures. No more just filling guessing answers and filling in the middle bubble on tests. Students won’t be memorization robots; they will be thinkers, problem-solvers, innovators. Actually in the new tests, you can’t even fill in bubbles. It will all be on computers called Smarter Balance tests, and students will have to show they really know the information they are tested on. But raising the bar doesn’t mean students will automatically reach higher. New testing also means new teaching,

new material, practically new schools. Classrooms will have to be more interactive; teachers and their material will have to keep your interest and challenge you in new ways. So this is where you come in, and the reason why we titled this guide “We Have the Power to Raise This Up or Shut it Down.” It’s a quote from Angel, one of the authors. The most important factor in determining whether this shift works or not won’t be based on teachers, principals, or how many new computers you got – it will be based on you and your classmates. You are not the receivers of this change, you are the controllers of this change. That’s why we have asked high school students from all over Santa Clara County to come plan, brainstorm, and plot with us at De-Bug. What’s really going on at school that needs to be changed if the goals of Common Core are to be met? What role can students play to ensure that their schools becomes places where every student gets a chance to achieve their potential? Bottomline -- how can students make Common Core successful and meaningful? This guide is a conversation starter. You will read student perspectives on these questions in hopes that you all expand the conversation. There is even a survey included that can help get this student led movement started. And even though Core is happening all over the country, this is the only place students are adding their voice to this change. One day, when students in the future are asked about the historical leaders who changed education, they may very well think of you and your generation, just as we think of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks for the civil rights movement. Looking forward to watching you make history.

It will require all schools to be technologically equipped for the proper testing.

It will not give everyone unlimited itunes and let you watch Youtube and Worldstar all day. It will make students critical thinkers and include more interactive work and class discussions.

It will not let you talk all day about Beyonce’s new video and ask questions about what she was wearing. It will focus more on speaking and listening, and how to become a better communicator.

It will not turn your English class into a giant rap battle. It will create an environment to prepare students for college and the employment world.

It will not guarantee you a job as a judge on American Idol. It will create more word problems in your math classes.

It will not help you win the lottery. It will be applied to every school in the country.

It will not inspire a national tour to bring your favorite rapper to your classroom but it’s a possible dream. It will create a common standard for all students.

It will not make your extraordinary selves common.


hen we talked about making the goals of Common Core a reality, students said there are changes that need to be made in the entire way school operates, not just in the curriculum. In fact, many students said the conversation around improving education can’t even start until certain issues on campus are addressed. Here are some pieces that example the larger issues. School administrators should pay attention to them, ‘cause as Angel writes, when it comes to Common Core, “Students have the power to shut it down or raise it up.” School Should Be About Real Life Situations by Angel

Start By Not Taping Students to Desk by Arturo



or Core to work, our education has to include real-world situations/problems. There are so many actual situations that we will have to face that can be used to make lessons around – like how to manage a budget, how to live on your own, how to get to a level where you can buy a home and car. A class or lesson on real life scary situations, like buying a home or car, or balancing an account should also be taught. Students themselves hold all the power as we are the ones these policies are about. Students can easily shut it down or raise it up. Core Doesn’t Work If Teachers Don’t Know Us by Juan


chool right now feels like an eight hour prison that we have to attend five days a week. And it’s because teachers have no idea of what I have to go through. Teachers don’t know if I’m okay; they don’t know if I have eaten anything. They just assume everything is perfect. They don’t know the struggles at my house. They don’t know what I have been through. Teachers don’t know that I don’t have a dad. Teachers don’t know that the reason I don’t do my homework is because my mom is out working to support her two kids. Teachers don’t know that my family struggles with money. Teacher’s don’t know, cause they don’t ask.

n 6th grade, my teacher’s assistant taped me up to the chair and taped my mouth shut. I felt embarrassed because everyone was laughing at me. The teacher didn’t care about what she did. She was right next to me, laughing with the rest of the students. Just because I was talkative didn’t mean she could do that. I never told my parents about what happened that day. That’s why I started to begin slacking off at school because I felt like no teacher cared. You can’t expect students to be motivated if they get made fun of by the people who they are supposed to be learning from. I have a teacher now that changed my life and how I am doing in school, this time for the better – Mr. Fowler. I didn’t have good grades because I didn’t have motivation. Now with the motivation Mr. Fowler gives me, I have all A’s and a B. Are We the Guinea Pigs? by Kira


believe that the new Common Core standards have the potential to revolutionize how we think and process our education. The one question I have that concerns me is what happens to us “guinea pigs” in the middle? We have been taught this systematic method of bubbling in and “make the best guess” sort of way. There is the potential that a lot of students may have extreme drops in test scores when we make this switch, but isn’t the point of this to increase test

scores and become an exemplar public school system in (maybe) the world? But now, we are starting over, thinking of the kids who are in elementary school and haven’t had their brains molded to the specific kinds of tests that we, as juniors and seniors, have done our whole lives. So the question remains. What can we do as students to make this change a successful one? First, I think they need to stop putting so much pressure on tests themselves. The unspoken message for us students has always been, “You have to do good on this test because everything depends on it.” But if the test is presented to us as a “we are testing your learning to see how well you do in the subject areas that you struggle or excel in,” then the pressure is taken off. It’s not a punishment to not understand something. And really, for Core to work, students have to be open to this idea. What if students start to get scared at being challenged, give up, and just quit? We need to be informed as much as teachers and administrators, if these changes are to work for us. Cops and Cameras Can Kill Core by Angela


aving cameras on campus goes against the “student learning environment” Core is supposed to change our schools into because it just gives the students the feeling of being uncomfortable. If we don’t feel comfortable at our own schools, don’t expect our performance in the classroom to improve. With all the cameras and security, schools are making it seem as if they don’ t feel comfortable around us. How are we supposed to learn knowing our own school doesn’t trust us and feels the need to watch our every move? Cops on campus is another thing that makes us feel unsafe because many of us have our own issues with police already. Just knowing that at any time the cops can

stop and harass you impacts how you feel in class. Can’t Do Core With Overfilled Classrooms by Anonymous


hat would make the school better to learn is if the teacher gave us more attention. Yeah, I know that it’s hard to help like 35 students at once. Some teachers think they help us, but in reality the student doesn’t understand and he/she won’t ask anymore for help ‘cause they’ll feel like a bug. Hard to Learn When the School Thinks You’re Bangin’ for Wearing J’s by Alexandria


ne issue I’ve had in school that needs to change was when I brought and wore my new Jordans to school and they forced me to sharpie out the bottom of my shoes because they were red on the bottom. I think it was pretty uncalled for because they knew I was nowhere close to a being a gang member. The problem impacts my ability to learn because it just ruined my whole day, and how the school thinks of me impacts how I think of school. It does not help my ability to be self-motivated because it discouraged me to want to be at school in general. School Needs to be a Means to An End by Anna


y teachers think that I am a huge perfectionist, but it’s only to mask the mess inside. No one bothers you when they think you have it all together. But it’s hard for me to think of my future, when I don’t see good things ahead for myself because of what people have told me or called me. I don’t want to reach if there’s nothing to grasp at the end of the struggle.

We asked high school students what were some distractions on campus that affected their learning, and they responded...

Bathrooms - “These bathrooms are so dirty and gross. I don’t feel comfortable using them.”

Gates - “These gates make me feel like my school is a prison.”

In-House Suspension - “When my teachers don’t like me, they send me to In-House Suspension. So why go to school?”


Cameras - “These cameras make

me ask, why are they always watching me?”

- “Police on campus make me feel like I’m doing something wrong, like I can get in trouble at any moment for being me.”

This generation of students who will be the first to attend school under Core are more than just spectators. They are the generation that will influence the future of public education based on how they respond to this moment. Rather than waiting on the sidelines, students – as leaders, organizers, movement-makers – identified what key issues need to be addressed during this stage of Common Core, what campaigns and activities could be solutions to these issues, and what roles students can play in the activities.

Off top, the students came up with the concept of a “Campus Core Advisory Board.” This would be a body made up of students who would work with teachers, administrators, and district officials to represent student voice in discussions around Common Core implementation and progress. As the saying goes, “It’s not just about having a seat at the table; it’s about helping to set the menu.” That means students need to be able to play a lead role in shaping how Core is playing out in their schools. Here’s their breakdown of some of the other things that need to happen, and how.

Problem or Issue That Needs to be Addressed

No One Knows What Core Is: We can’t make Core a success when we don’t even know it’s happening. Campaign or Activity

Specific Roles of Students & First Steps

Use the media:

Students themselves can produce the videos and radio commercials. First identify which channels, shows, or stations you think would have the most impact and reach out to them. A lot of outlets will allow Public Service Announcements for free, and can assist in the production.

School Assembly:

Work with administrators and teachers to set up an assembly. Build in something fun too – a performance, music, interactive opportunities.

Not all students may be paying attention in class, but they are listening to the radio and watching tv. Getting messages out in the stations and channels students are paying attention to could be a powerful way to get the word out.

It’s a kind of tired approach, but no need for it to be boring. The bottomline is, getting everyone in the same room, making sure everyone gets a chance to hear what Core is, and asking their questions may be a useful start.

Lack Of Teacher-Student Relationships: Core doesn’t mean ish if teachers don’t want to reach these goals and believe in their students. Campaign or Activity

Specific Roles of Students & First Steps

Rookie Teacher Training:

Form the rookie teacher group that is representative of your student body and develop a process with the administration to add this layer of training into their hiring.

Teacher’s Oath:

Print out what you think is needed for a “Teacher’s Oath” and have your teachers sign it and have it posted on the wall. Even the initial discussions of what students expect out of teachers can be an important first step.

Teacher Oversight Committee:

This could be a subcommittee of the Core Advisory Board, or separate. The important part is to create a committee that is serious, responsible, and respected by both students and teachers. And it is important for teachers to know it is about improving relations, not just putting people on blast.

A group of students are responsible for meeting with newly hired teachers to let them know what they need to know about the school, the students, and the community. Have teachers sign their name to their commitments to teaching new standards. Literally. “Contracts” are clear ways those giving a service and those getting a service can have a common understanding of expectations. On every campus, it could be a group where students come to talk about situations they have in the classroom. Students can either be chosen for it or volunteer. We can have a form for students to fill out and it can even be anonymous. The committee can talk to the students, administrators, teachers involved, and attempt to change or solve the problem. We can keep records of these situations and showcase these reports to anyone who wants to see them.

Lack Of Student Interest In School Material: Ok, if students aren’t into the material, it doesn’t matter how new your Ipads are, or how big your classroom flatscreen is. Campaign or Activity

We Want to Learn About Us:

Teach culturally relevant material about our peoples. Students want to discuss, learn, and share the stories of who they are. When we asked what book student would want included in curriculum, the most popular book was “Always Running” by Luis Rodriguez.

Specific Roles of Students & First Steps

Common Core allows for an expansion of what literature is used. Students here can advocate for what type of books or subject matter they are interested in. Start making your list now.

New Expectations, But Old School Discipline System: Everyone agrees having higher hopes for education is a good thing, but if school is going to get an upgrade, we also have to upgrade how our schools discipline. Campaign or Activity

Specific Roles of Students & First Steps

Get Rid of In-House, & Keep Us in Class:

Start discussions with teachers and administrators on how to reduce suspensions, class kick-outs, detentions – all that. If they are serious about the goals of Core, then they gotta keep students in the classroom.

Target the Stress:

Administrators need to understand the behaviors they see as problems have underlying issues. Work with the school to examine how stress from home, the streets, and school can impact class dynamics.

Let’s stop pretending we are lowering suspension rates, when all schools are doing are disciplining kids by kicking them out of class, and keeping them in a room to do nothing – no learning, no education, no dealing with underlying issues. Students should be offered a class that has nothing to do with academics, but rather focuses only on developing skills to deal with stress. This will be a life-long tool for well after school is done.

Lack Of Parental Involvement: For everyone’s sake -- parents need to know what’s up with school. Campaign or Activity

Equip parents so they can be involved:

Some parents are not involved in their kids’ school because they are not familiar with the material. Offer seminars to parents on subjects their kids are taking so they can get acquainted with the material.

Incentives for Involved Parents:

A lot of parents can’t get involved because they don’t have the time or the resources. What if parents got tax breaks for spending time with their kids education or school?

Specific Roles of Students & First Steps

Talk to parents about what subject matter they would be interested in learning more about.

Start coming up with a list of key ways parents can get involved, and create standards they can meet or strive for that could lead to some sort of incentives.


ast year, my freshman year, I really struggled. I was criticized, criminalized, and judged by teachers. I got kicked out of class for asking for a pencil. I had a teacher tell me that I was “stupid” and that I “wasn’t going to get anywhere in life.” I got put into in-house and just sat there all day and didn’t learn anything at all. In-house is like detention. You are basically sitting in a room all day quietly -- no phones, no talking, and most importantly, no education. I was accused by administrators of things I didn’t do. I tried reporting a teacher last year that had no respect for me and cussed at me, and they said they couldn’t do anything about it. And it wasn’t just me. I witnessed students get arrested and harassed by the cops we have on campus. We have about 20 cameras on campus, so we are basically being watched on a regular basis. To be watched all the time makes us feel like criminals, not students. Students here on campus get judged by their race, how they look, and how they dress. But the truth is none of these people know our backgrounds or who we are. Everyday on this campus I see students being expelled. I see students in the office picked up by the TABS and

by Christina Uribe being put into in-house, rather than the school putting effort into keeping them in the classroom. But regardless of how we are treated, our backgrounds or what school we go to – we as students have rights. And while some teachers and administrators wouldn’t want us to know our rights, there are some teachers who want us to express them. And really, if administrators want students to succeed, they should also want our rights to be respected. I made a list of students’ rights based on all the things I have seen students have to face in school. Really, students have more power than we know, and together even more power than a judgmental teacher. We can change the behavior of teachers and administrators who may be abusing their power and unfairly criticizing students. Ultimately, every student on this campus and in every school should have an education. And not just any education, but a successful, meaningful one. Students should know our rights so we can protect ourselves, our education, and our futures. If Core is going to work, it’s going to take students. teachers, and administrators all working together towards its goals. That only happens if all of our voices and rights are respected. Here is my list of a Students’ Bill Of Rights...

1. We have the right to freedom of speech and freedom to express ourselves without being criticized. For too long we have not been allowed to speak for what we believe in or speak what’s in our minds and be heard. 2. We have the right to be ourselves without feeling intimidated by the students, teachers, or administrators. We need to feel a sense of belonging in school and don’t need to be harassed by teachers, students, or administrators for expressing ourselves, whether it’s with our language, clothing style, or heritage. 3. We have the right to feel safe on campus. Safety is more than cops and cameras. It starts with relationships and caring about all young people’s well-being. 4. We have the right to learn and to receive help when we do not understand something. It’s essential we are given an engaging education and receive the help we need when we are struggling. 5. We have the right to know our grades and a right to have a conversation with our teachers when our grades are struggling.

We need to know how we are progressing in school and what to fix and to communicate with our teachers on what we need to be successful. 6. We have the right to eat good and healthy food from the school’s cafeteria. Students can’t be expected to learn when food on campus is nasty, unhealthy, and sometimes even expired. 7. We have the right to report teachers that do not teach or care for their students. When a teacher abuses their power, we should be able to report those teachers to administrators or another body which can handle these problems. 8. We have the right to stand up for our rights as a group without reprisals from teachers and administrators. Our voices have gone unheard for too long. We have a right to speak for ourselves without being penalized for voicing our concerns. 9. We have the human right to be respected by students, teachers, and administrators. Respect is demanded from us everyday. It’s time that respect is given back to us by administrators and staff.

2) A student disrupts class and has been warned multiple times already for talking in class. What would do you do?


k, so you think you got a dope teacher that is gonna make Common Core a reality huh? Well, what about those students who aren’t trying to cooperate with this great plan? We gave Charles Fowler – the teacher whose students swear is the best of the best – 3 real situations. We know these situations are coming, so we want some new ways to address them in positive ways. 1) A student walks in with red sneakers. There’s no tolerance for gang colors at the school. What do you do? Zero Tolerance discipline policies are hard to maneuver. Issues are almost never fully enforced or unevenly enforced. With this particular scenario, I’d provide space for students to analyze gangs long before this happened. Community violence is a easy topic to mention in any classroom from homicide statistics, studying gang life through books, even historical roots of violence in communities. Many times youth wearing colored clothing or posturing gang life have experienced multiple types of trauma. Youth are searching for a source of power and dignity. That search shouldn’t be used to judge them or mistreat them, but a sign for educators to invest more time/resources into them.

Many times, the disrupting in class is an expression of students feeling a lack of genuine care by the teacher or school system. I start every class I’ve taught with a biography of my life, including the drug addicts I had as parents, my own hatred and disengagement in school, and my strategies to survive in school. Students understand I was in their position. If I had a student disrupting consistently after we had agreements and after I had shared my story with the class, I would ask the student to talk to me one-on-one and ask him/her what I am doing to cause him to disrupt. Switching the blame to me may allow moments of clarity for students to realize I’m taking responsibility in making the class engaging. If we kick students out, we ignore the root problem students have with a dysfunctional relationship with schooling. 3) A student walks in class late, takes a seat at a seat in the back row, putting their head down. What do you do? Before the student enters, I would try my best to find out if any student has seen the student and information they might have about the student missing. Body language of students are a huge predictor of mood, and the head down usually indicates hunger, sickness, or unhappiness. I always have free water and snacks in my class, so I would meet the student at the desk while other students are working to not make them a target and ask them of their needs. The first being -- how do they feel, attempting for them to give me emotions instead of explanations to why they weren’t here. Secondly, are they sick or hungry or both, which usually can be remedied with something to eat or drink, and lastly invite them to participate in the activity or use the time to write down what’s wrong.

The best evaluators of how your school is implementing Common Core are students themselves. So is your school making all the right changes? Is your school, the teachers, the administrators, even the equipment prepared to make this shift? Fill out the score sheet below, and use it as a way to chronicle the current status of your school. Any discussion around improvement or change needs a starting point, and by surveying students, you will have something solid to start with. To help make improvements across the County, scan the QR code on this page, and fill out the survey there so we can include your opinions in our larger student lead effort. The following questions are based on the goals and objectives of Common Core.

1) How well is technology used in the classroom to enhance your education? 2) Does your school have universal internet access? 3) Does your school have a good student to computer ratio? 4) What is your level of understanding of Common Core based on what teachers and administrators have shared? 5) Are you being asked to be a more critical thinker? Meaning, are you being challenged to question and analyze information as opposed to just being spoon-fed information? 6) Are you finding yourself having more opportunities to collaborate more with classmates -- either in teams or just sharing information? 7) Are you being asked to take ownership over your education, including monitoring your progress? Meaning, are you being asked to look for and find your own resources (such as online) to respond to the classroom activities or curriculum?

8) Are you able to delve deeper into a few subjects or topics, rather than having to skim the surface on a whole bunch of topics? 9) Do you feel that what your learning has real world application? 10) Are your educational resources expanding beyond dusty textbooks that were used ten years ago? If so, how? 11) Is your school creating a learning environment where you feel both challenged and encouraged to be an independent thinker? 12) How well is your school engaging, involving, and introducing parents of students to the transition to Common Core? Out of a possible score of 60, what was your school’s total Core Score: Email your school’s score to:, or go to online survey:

score: _________

A Student's Guide to Common Core