This is my first post on trying to make sense of the debate on Common Core.
Perhaps because I live and teach in Florida, I saw the Common Core as rather refreshing. Our former standards changed almost yearly, rarely aligned with the standardized tests, and were way too vague in nature. The new common core included a lot more emphasis on writing—something I was definitely thrilled to see—and had an emphasis on many smaller research projects as opposed to one longer one. I saw, and still do, the standards as standards and NOT curriculum and assessment.
It should be noted that I am only speaking for English/Language Arts here since that is my area of expertise. This is perhaps the only subject area where we have that much flexibility. Our subject is skill based whereas others are content-based. A necessary distinction.
It also made sense to me for a national standard, and assessment, since it seems Florida all too often creates their own set of rules for what is passing and this varies not only in important election years, but even before and after the testing in a single year. The bar is constantly moving up and down.
Florida tends to set a goal, place a mark as passing, but then too many don’t make it, we have to remediate by state law, that will cost money, school grades will drop too much, bad press, let’s change the passing level and claim that it is because we have increased the expectations too quickly.
I have always been frustrated by motives that are anything but for the good of the kids. And I have increasingly become aware and disgusted at the for-profit market coming into schools and earning millions on the backs of teachers, schools, and our students.
But I also feel—still working through this—that the core on their own are strong, that the interpretation, implementation and the testing associated, the accountability for them, is what is flawed. I want the push to be a separation of these. I am learning and leaning toward the idea that this is simply impossible.
There are a few people I follow and read regularly because they provide diligent research and support in their posts. They have opened my eyes in many ways to the connections associated with the Common Core standards and the implementation/assessment connection. Deutsch29 is Mercedes Schneider’s blog and just today she sent out another well-researched report on Pearson and their “charitable” organization which is basically a filter for their testing market. Mercedes is convincing and supports her work with links to plenty of reports and documents that most teachers would never know about.
I also read Diane Ravitch’s blog and believe her. For those who do not know Diane’s story, she once served as the US assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush and she believed in and pressed for standardized testing and accountability. But she also saw the flaws in the policies and practices she reversed roles. As a real insider her voice had become the loudest in opposition. I appreciate people who have the courage to say they were wrong, and then work to make it right. I don’t think there is anyone else working as hard as she is right now to right these wrongs. I suggest reading her new book Reign of Error. It’s on my Christmas wish list so hopefully in the new year I can post a review .
Of course the other side of the coin is everywhere. Schools are overwhelmingly focused on Common Core and the assessments associated. NEA is surprisingly a big supporter.
I believe Diane and Mercedes because I think about their motivation. I am still questioning the NEA motivation. It’s not hard to see the motivation of Pearson and other testing and curriculum companies.
That’s the thing with for-profit companies. Their goal is to make money and although plenty of companies can do that with a moral guide, I don’t see how for-profit companies in education today can rake in billions with a clear conscience. How are you NOT taking advantage of our youth?
But I also recognize—from what I see as I work in dozens of districts across Florida—each with varying “programs” and “curriculums” to help them succeed with Common Core, it is most often the district and/or school level making the purchasing and demanding the implementation.
When I visit a school to do a workshop, the teachers are always interested in how to find the time to write with their students, how to motivate them, how to grade essays in a way that makes the most sense, how to work in grammar and vocabulary. They want their students’ papers to have voice. Most often, but certainly not always, the administrators are most concerned about scores. How do we improve the scores? Certainly both needs can be met, but the teacher’s needs must come first. That is the main goal–to support the teachers to help the kids.
Developing real writers, critical thinkers, readers takes an enormous amount of time. With all the pre, mid, mid-post, post mid, end-of-the year assessments, teachers feel they have to show progress each and every step of the way. More time is spent on assessment and data collection than on instruction. If one model results in lower scores—nevermind that the test might be terribly flawed, or that real learning takes time–another “solution” is sought after.
I don’t think I have seen a single “program” or curriculum in English/Language Arts that has not been developed already by teachers. Textbooks alone are just anthologies with ancillaries–the same sort of acillaries that teachers create all the time on their own. Why are we spending billions on them?
All this leads me to question whether people are looking at the right target for their frustration. I get being angry with the for-profit companies, but they are really doing what they are designed to do—make money. I wonder if we should not be looking more towards our educational leaders, our administrators, our superintendents, our school boards, to make better decisions with their money and be a louder voice in opposition.
I know A LOT of administrators put their neck on the line in opposition, but they are most definitely in the minority.
Love to hear your thoughts.