As I became aware of the Common Core Standards movement, it first seemed like a way to justify the very real learning that took place in my classroom. It promised to focus on the things we wanted students to do instead of scripted curricula, and most of the standards seemed to make sense to me. It gained my ACCEPTANCE.
Then I became aware of the publishers criteria for the Common Core and some of the philosophical under-pinnings that came with it, and I moved into a stage of DEPRESSION.
To escape feeling depressed, I began BARGAINING, figuring that since the teaching I was doing was, by and large "Common Corey" anyway, everything could be okay. The bargain: the Common Core doesn't bother me, and I won't bother it.
But then I realized that hiding out in my classroom and doing what was right for kids was only a short term solution. In the meantime, the standards and philosophies behind them would take hold with a new group of teachers, most of whom wouldn't stay in the profession very long. I realized that we as career teachers need to take the long view and think of our students more than we think of our own job security. (Ever notice how the reformers want us to put "Students First," but only appeal to our fear of losing our jobs, or our greed, in their reforms?)
And so I entered a new stage:
I'm running through a list of what makes me angry about the Common Core pretty quickly here, and I will probably go back and look at some of these topics in more depth in later posts. And I want you to note, I am not just angry about Common Core because it will eventually take away the autonomy of teachers everywhere (despite promises to the contrary). I am angry about what it will do to our children.
Our daughter is a high school junior next year. We're glad she's almost out of the system. Our son just graduated high school less than a month ago; some time this spring he said that he felt he had moved through the system just ahead of a whole wave of terrible reforms coming down the pike. He survived the era of FCAT and high stakes testing, but feels that what comes next is worse.
So let's look at what's worth getting angry about.
Here in Florida we got word that they were changing the way the FCAT Writing was graded, to make it more "rigorous" and bring us closer in line with the coming Common Core assessments. Did they change the rubric? No. They took the same rubric we've been using for nearly 20 years and applied it to anchor papers a new way. They sent us a few samples of the new anchor papers and left it to us to figure out what this new "rigor" meant for instruction.
Here's what preparing for Common Core assessments meant for our scores. They plummeted. They didn't match up to what I knew my students could do as writers. Lower writers scored the same as higher writers. I had never put a whole lot of stock in the scores, but they usually represented a ballpark idea of what my students did on their real writing in class. No more. I realized I should never have been happy about our high scores in the first place. Being unhappy about the new scores was my payout for my buying in to the madness.
Then our district tried to their best to create PARCC-like assessments based on the sample questions released by the PARCC organization. They actually weren't so bad in terms of what they asked students to do. I'm willing to give things a try. But then I attended a meeting. We were told that a company (I forget its name) had offered to score some of our papers for free and give us feedback on how our 6th grade students were doing in meeting the "demands" of the Common Core as measured by PARCC. We heard a student paper about fog. The student was supposed to reflect on fog as a positive and negative phenomenon and support their points using information from some texts they had just read. Not exactly a scintillating topic. This was really a fairly difficult task for a 6th grader, but the student wrote at length about fog (fog!) and cited sources. It did what the prompt asked for and had a fairly graceful use of language and good use of details. On a four point scale (what PARCC is using) with 4 being the highest, most of us gave it a 3 or 4, especially considering it was a 6th grader.
The company gave it a 2. A low score.
Anger. They are setting the bar inappropriately high. And you can see why. Low scores create a problem, and where there's a problem, there's money to made on the solution. Low scores make teachers look bad, and when teachers look bad, you can rate them lower, pay them less, and even get rid of them eventually. Why would they not set the bar too high? I began to realize that nothing we ever did for our students would ever, ever be good enough. They'll just keep raising the bar until they expect Kindergartners to be reading War and Peace. Possibly in Russian.
I had actually started to have my doubts about the "demands" of the Common Core earlier in the year. Our Language Arts PLC (a term I'm not really fond of) had put together a mini-research paper about fairy tales and whether they are good or appropriate for young children. Even with my Gifted students, getting them to write it was a real struggle. It was too much abstract reasoning, too young. It wasn't developmentally age inappropriate.The fairy tales themselves were age appropriate, the research paper about them was not. Younger writers need to have fun writing and learn the basics with assignments that allow them to use their personal experiences and creativity. Writing to sources turns them off.
I then read articles about the PARCC computer based tests taking up to 10 hours to administer-- just in Language Arts. I watched as our computer labs, all 5 of them, were closed for weeks on end (months actually) so that the testing could be completed. I had to alter my lesson plans and change the way I taught to adapt to having no computer availability. Education reform demandeth that you use technology, but then it taketh away your ability to use it.
I also began to notice some other little things in the standards themselves. For instance, 6th graders should be able to sit and type 3 pages in a class period. Well, that's kind of unrealistic-- especially when the computer lab isn't available half the time! And when did I become a typing teacher?
I actually got to administer the FCAT online this year to a group of 7th graders. Administering a standardized test is stressful at the best of times these days. Administering it on a computer was twice as stressful. We had technical glitches both days. Our computers were old and somewhat slow. Some students complained that they really don't read on computer screens as well as they read in print. No matter, they had to stare at the that screen and take the test.
Of course the technology situation should get better now that President Obama has announced ConnectEd, his program to bring broadband capabilities up to speed at every school across the land, supposedly to improve learning. I don't buy it. They need better broadband in order to expand testing.
Speaking of presidents, in the midst of all this frantic preparation for the coming of Common Core and PARCC, David Coleman, "architect" of the CCSS, went off the become the president of College Board, the creators of the SAT, AP, and the workbook program SpringBoard. SpringBoard is now being re-written to "align" with Common Core, so that when the new version comes out, school systems across the land can hand out workbooks doled out by the organization headed by one of the masterminds of Common Core to every student. School systems will feel assured that if only every teacher will be obedient and follow the workbook with Fidelity, all will be well.
Scholastic, who published my own books for teachers, has its own program, Common Core X, to compete. (It advertises creating "measured" writers; are they aware of their own play on words? And do I want measured writers? Measured writing is dull! I want passionate, creative, articulate, insightful writers!) Actually, publishers everywhere are jumping on the Common Core bandwagon. Everything must be aligned!
Supposedly the Common Core doesn't articulate everything students must be able to do. Yet now everything must be aligned to Common Core. So Common Core isn't everything, but everything must be Common Core? How does that work?
When I first accepted Common Core, I thought it would save me from standardized programs. I would say I have come full circle, but this round of standardization is worse than the first. Now the workbook programs have the full force of the CCSS and its tests behind them. Teacher creativity and actually thinking about your kids and enjoying your job will be out the window.
The CCSS are also hypocritical. They say they want critical thinkers who can analyze what they read, yet they use propaganda to achieve their own ends.
We will all strive to the greater glory of the Common Core, to meet its "demands." Aren't demands for kidnappers?
And who created the Common Core? Teachers? No. Concerned parents? No. They were funded by the Gates Foundation and developed by private organizations.
The CCSS make me angry because they are, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, just one more nail in the coffin of public education and the teaching profession. They make me angry because they are already siphoning tax payer money away from classrooms and into the creation of expensive and destructive tests.
But aside from all of that, let's focus on what really matters-- the students.
The CCSS and its associated tests are age and developmentally inappropriate and will discourage many students and kill their love of learning.
The underlying philosophies of the creators of the CCSS, that story doesn't matter, only facts and information, that things need to be depersonalized and that no one cares how you feel, are destructive to students as readers and writers, and more importantly, as people.
The increased emphasis on testing and on difficult curriculum will not only make work frustrating, it will leave little time for play and creativity in schools (creativity is something else the CCSS undervalues). There is clear research that play is essential for younger children in developing the self-regulation necessary for learning, and that the arts are vitally important for motivating students and making them well-rounded individuals.
Even at the level of future "readiness" for college and careers, the CCSS gets it wrong. How does it know for sure what kinds of jobs our students will have? Teachers have been told for years that our students may have jobs that haven't been invented yet. Well, how can we be so sure that the Common Core will prepare them for these jobs that haven't been invented yet? As Sir Ken Robinson has said, we tend to educate people from the neck up and off to one side-- usually the left side.
The Common Core focuses more than ever on the logical, the sequential, and the analytical, to the detriment of the emotional, the intuitive, and the empathetic. But if Robinson, Daniel Pink, Seth Godin and others are right (and I think they are), the wave of the future may be the use of our more artistic sides working in tandem with our more logical sides.
The CCSS also seems to assume that our students will be workers, working for someone else. What if they plan to be entrepreneurs? Entrepreneurs, as a lot of my most recent reading has informed me, tend to artists.
The CCSS standards make me angry because they demand too much of the wrong kinds of skills from students, which will discourage and kill the joy of learning. The do not represent the kind of education I would have wanted for my own children. It is not the kind of education I will want for their children someday.
It is not enough to say, "Well, we'll just have it both ways in our own classrooms." In too many classrooms, too many teachers will just "follow orders." When tenure has been abolished and you want to keep your job, you do as your told. We need to be models for our students: models of questioning and standing up for what is right, not of blind obedience.
The stage of ANGER only goes so far. And so next time I will address the last stage of my Common Core experience. The Stages of Grief, which I have been going through in reverse, from ACCEPTANCE to DEPRESSION to BARGAINING to ANGER, end with DENIAL. I am going to alter that stage a bit.