Blaming the Common Core?

This morning’s Washington Post carried an Op-Ed piece by Deborah Kenney, founder of Harlem Village Academies. Unlike many charter schools run by large (overseas) conglomerates trying to turn education into cash cows, this charter appears to have pedagogy and students at the center.

The question Ms. Kenny poses? Is the Common Core causing school experiences to become rigid, developmentally inappropriate, prison-like experiences? Or is it poor pedagogy? Or is it something else?

I started examining the Core when it first came out – partially because of my interest in mathematics curriculum development.  I do believe having the road map for instruction that comes out of the Core is beneficial. I know I may be lulled into subtly lowering expectations for my students because the topic is difficult or because there is some roadblock to students’ learning. Checking adherence to the rigor that is expected of most students at grade level serves as a reminder of the goal and expectations.

The contrasting examples Ms. Kenny cites – a Kindergarten class learning about verbs through interactive and directed play and the class where students didn’t speak except for a rote response to a drill activity on the same topic – point to what I believe is the giant release the core gives teachers. Or at least what it should give us: we are free to address the standards in whatever way our students need. This is the aspect of the Common Core that excites me, the potential to address the curriculum as creatively as I want.

Instead of relying on a textbook, series, or program, what if we plan collaboratively with our colleagues for the students we have in front of us without fear of reprimand for not using some mandated materials? Instead of using a textbook as a Bible, use it as a resource — go to it when necessary? Unpack those standards, understand what happens vertically as well as in our own grade level.

Raise your hand if you’ve seen large textbook publishers “correlations” to state or Common Core standards. Did they make sense to you? Well, most of the time they didn’t to me either.  It seems as if those correlations are marketing materials aimed at purchasing agents within districts. The connections to what we are teaching seem truly fuzzy. Okay, I’ll say it….. they are bogus. A lot of the time.

As one of a team of teachers aligning our available materials to Common Core math standards, I frequently hear teachers complain that they have to go looking for materials. That’s a fact, but it is a fact by design. There are many inventive teachers out there who relish the chance to tap into their creativity and deliver meaningful and memorable lessons.

Our students deserve a rigorous education. They deserve one that is not stifling, or rigid, or devoid of the joy of learning. What we need is time to collaborate, time to research best practice, time to unpack standards.



What do you want?

A friend of ours posted this article from the Washington Post yesterday. The Post article largely relies on a piece by Arthur H. Camins, and in my opinion rightly so.  Mr. Camins explores two essential questions that should be driving the dialogue about education and teaching: when do you persist to do your best and what kind of experience do you want for children in school?

It’s that second question that has been on my mind. And the experiences that my students – “my” children – have today is nothing even close to what I’d want them to experience.  In the last 10 days, 17 of the 23 have endured 2 days of standardized English Language Learner (ELL) ACCESS testing in reading, listening, and writing PLUS an additional one-to-one test session to assess their speaking skills. When we finished up last Thursday, even the native speaking kids applauded!

We’ve also had to test all of our students using Scholastic Math Inventory, District Benchmark, Unit post-testing, next unit pre-testing, and Scholastic Reading Inventory.

Lately it seems that if we’re not actually taking a test, we’re getting ready for one.  This is definitely NOT what I’d like my students to experience. Can we put the No. 2 pencils down now?

What would I like?

More time to play at recess. Social skills and executive function notwithstanding, such little time at recess means kids don’t have a chance to blow off some of that pent-up energy.

Opportunities to teach inquiry based science and social studies.  With all due respect to a former superintendent of schools, no, children do not learn science by reading a textbook.  They need to discover it.

A chance for a do-over when it is needed. Not every one “gets” a concept the first or even second time around. Lock-step learning is dumb on so many levels. When the children have a natural curiosity about exploring a topic we are in the midst of, we should be able to continue down that path without fear of falling behind.

Accountability is here to stay. I get that. But between the constant assessing, distrust of teachers as professionals who know how to do their job and the climate of privatization of education, have we allowed the bean counters to take all the joy out of learning?

I want my students to learn love learning and to question. That is what I want for “my” students.