I was hesitant at first about posting this on a public forum. My boss will read it. My friends and colleagues will read it. My family will read it. Parents of my students may even read it. But it has been on my mind since Friday and my thoughts about it have whirled round and round until they must be expressed.
As a preface for those who have not yet heard…Common Core Standards, to be adopted by every school in every state (40+ so far), were created to provide a consistent set of educational expectations that are focused on improving student performance and skills in language arts and mathematics. The goal of their implementation is to prepare every child in America for college and a career in a global economy. As an added benefit, transitional students, who sometimes move as many as three times during a school year, will be less likely to fall behind since the schools they attend will be teaching the same core content and skills. Teachers will have a clearer understanding of what their students need to know to pass state assessments. Parents will be made aware of the higher educational expectations and what they need to do to help their children succeed. Teachers from all parts of the country will be able to collaborate on developing and refining lesson plans and teaching strategies. Teacher training and performance will improve. Teacher and school accountability will be more rigorous. And we’ll all live happily ever after…
Honestly…we put some of the best minds in the country to work on solving our educational problems and this is what we get- another set of false promises backed up with vague indications of political and financial support?
My first reaction was consternation over the name. Common Core? Not Excellent Expectations or Gifted Global Guidelines? “Common” is the best word we could find for a program designed to prepare our children to excel in life? Believe me, there is nothing common about the children we are teaching and there never will be. They are unique, diverse, and challenging. The idea of using one educational plan immediately overlooks the cultural makeup of our country. Our students come from widely varying backgrounds and environments. They speak different languages and have different religions. Children from the city are not the same as children from the country. Children raised in poverty are not the same as children raised with money and food and healthcare. Children come to school with varying degrees of intelligence and ability. In my own kindergarten classroom I have had five year olds who could read at a third grade level, and eight year olds who could not recite the days of the week. I can “expect” anything I want from my class, but the reality is that the genetics, intelligence, experience, environment, health, and attitude of each student is going to determine their actual success in life. I’m only one small part of the process.
And certainly the differences in politics, religion, culture, attitude, economy, and even weather between different states guarantees that our education system will never reach the lock-step commonality proposed by this initiative. Trust me…not possible…will never happen. The students in my classroom today will live to see the collapse of Common Core. We have “set standards” in this country for everything from food production to medical care to education and the only thing “standard” about any of it is that we continually fail to meet the standards and that they change about every ten years.
I could ramble here for about ten pages on the flaws in Common Core, but I think five key points need to be made and then I’ll shut up, jump on the band wagon, and do my part. Yes, yes, I plan to be a team player. You know that. Having an opinion is my right. Doing my job is my responsibility. Teaching is a privilege I take very seriously.
So…points to ponder:
- The purpose of education has traditionally been to give our children a body of knowledge and an arsenal of skills that would enable them to be responsible and productive citizens. It has been so since Biblical times. Our ancestors wanted their children and grandchildren to have a “good life”. My parents wanted all of their children to get a good education and be successful. But wanting does not make it so. I think that should be a major consideration when we contemplate all of our rigorous expectations for the next generation. Some of my classmates- even some of those with more money, a stable home (I attended 17 schools), and higher intelligence- did not complete high school or go on to college. Some were successful in other ways. Some went on to a life of poverty and problems. Education plays a part in one’s ultimate lifestyle and success, but only a part.
- Low achieving students are often from low-income families, are non-English speaking, or have disabilities, yet we are not providing these students with all of the resources and support they need. Many districts are not able to provide them with the individual instruction they require or to staff their schools with the assistants and tutors needed for their success. Many of these are the transitional students mentioned in the mission statement of Common Core, but the idea that simply providing the same curriculum at every school will address their complex problems is naïve at best.
- If student test scores become the primary basis for teacher, administration, and school accountability then we setting ourselves up for failure. Tests of any kind are fraught with pitfalls. And using them as anything more than a general indication of student knowledge and ability encourages “teaching to the test” in order to meet unrealistic expectations of perfect scores. And while tests of the most basic skills might be viewed objectively and universally accepted, any test that attempts to assess higher order thinking and problem solving skills, as proposed by Common Core, is open to subjective cultural interpretation. Studies have already shown that many questions are simply not understood by ESL children or those with some specific learning disabilities. Some test questions have even been shown to have an urban bias.
- Most parents already know what their children need for success. They don’t need Common Core or any other program to tell them. Many can’t provide it. Some simply won’t. And sometimes all the care and concern and cooperation in the world cannot compensate for the personality and intelligence level of the child. “Raising the bar” or creating higher expectations or making curriculum more rigorous or requiring higher test scores will not change that. I’ve had parents who worked with their child each and every day and could not make them smarter or more motivated. I’ve had other students who could read and write and solve math problems with ease, despite the fact that their parents were totally uncaring and uninvolved in their education. Does that mean we should all stop trying? No. It just means we have to face the fact that making a list of requirements doesn’t mean that everyone will magically meet them.
- Money matters. And we are already wasting it. Even though Common Core will not be fully implemented until 2014, there are already books, classes, workshops, speakers, programs, and plans that will help you succeed as a student, parent, teacher, administrator or school. Businesses and quasi-educational groups have already figured out ways to profit from the confusion that always arises with any major change in curriculum. Teachers and districts have already started spending money on training. I’m sure teachers and even parents will pay for a little help with the process. I saw an online Common Core class just this morning for only $249.What if we spent that money on students? What if we spent that money on computers and books and supplies? What if we spent that money on more assistants and tutors? And that’s just the “training and development” aspect of this. Rest assured that the actual budget restrictions of Common Core will be a nightmare for school districts. Here is just a tiny, tiny sample of advice from the U.S. Education Delivery Institute: “The goal of the CCSS is to improve a state’s core instructional programs to prepare students to meet increasingly rigorous expectations; as such, implementation efforts should be supported primarily with state and local revenue. Federal education grant funds can provide supplemental support to help states, districts and schools leverage reforms, but each federal funding source has its own rules that govern how the grant may be used.”
As usual I have more questions than answers. However,
I will do my best to meet the expectations of my administration.
I will do my best to encourage and support my colleagues.
I will do my best to continue to prepare my students for the challenges ahead of them, not only in first grade, but beyond.
Still…I can’t help but wonder why I feel like the big bad wolf is waiting in the woods…