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Why I almost drove off the road: The hullabaloo around the Common Core

I almost drove off the road this morning on the way to work. That’s right. Why? Not a deer crossing, not texting a grocery list to my honey, not updating my Facebook status. The culprit was a piece on National Public Radio.

I was listening to a report on Florida and the shenanigans, I mean discussions, circulating around the Common Core State Standards. Sounds like easy listening, right? It was anything but. It centered on public hearings that Florida facilitated last week and captured snippets from many of the speakers. Below are a few phrases that stood out, leading to my sporadic driving, the scratching of my noggin, and the bubbling of my redheaded blood:

  • The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) should be called the Communism core. (Really?!)
  • It borders on Marxism.
  • The standards will lead to brainwashing, Lenin-style.
  • And we can’t confuse our children with multiple pathways to problem-solving.

And I left out some of the more cockamamie comments.

So after I righted my vehicle and got my head on straight, I began brainstorming why there seems to be such craziness following the CCSS in the style of a Charlie Brown rain cloud (see Politifact's debunking of some of that craziness here).

I’ll start by being upfront: I do strongly support the CCSS. That does not mean that I think it’s perfect--I am concerned about the implementation and the mismanagement of said implementation, but I love what it potentially can do for practice, collaboration, and learning. So my mind first landed on possible motivation for the nay-saying.  It seems that there is a myriad of confusion: possibly from misinformation, media and sensationalism, a fear of change, or simply ideological differences that have percolated through politics and landed in the realm of education (which happens more frequently than it should).

I then thought about conversations and writing from some of the best educators I know. I thought about why I believe in these standards based on that continuing dialogue with my peers. The following erupted.

Here is why I support the CCSS:

  • We are thinking about learning differently. There is a shift in teacher learning, which then is leveraging student learning. The standards seem to be a catalyst for this change, highlighting the necessity for teachers to have time and space to collaboratively develop curriculum and lessons around the CCSS. I experienced this last year, working with over 50 teachers from California to Florida on sharing best practices and lessons...see the multi-media product with resources, webinar audioclips, and ideas galore here.
  • We are thinking about our students differently. My colleague Michael Flynn stated this so succinctly. Our job as educators is to develop problem-solvers, not students who can perform rote computation. The CCSS, especially the Standards for Mathematical Practice, help shine a spotlight on this shift. We are thinking about our learners as problem-solvers, not answer-getters. We are focusing on the process of learning and thinking, not just the end result.
  • We can hopefully think about assessment differently.  This is the where I get heart palpitations. I know Florida has recently pulled out of the PARCC consortium (gasp), tasked with developing effective summative assessments for the CCSS (Read Governor Scott's letter to Commissioner of Education Arne Duncan here). If we are looking at learning differently, we must also shift our thinking about assessment. This kind of real world problem-solving cannot be measured by bubbling in one of four letters, nor should it. Tests unfortunately end up being the tail that wags the dog, so we MUST get them right. Think performance assessment, portfolio…anything but a computer and those four little letters (A,B,C, or D for those who were thinking something else).

So let's cut through the confusion in the hullabaloo, focus on finding solutions, and give our teachers the time and space to implement the CCSS effectively. 

4 Comments

Lalla Pierce commented on October 24, 2013 at 8:29pm:

LOVE this post, Megan!

I am so disappionted about the HULLABALOO (great word!) in Florida. I think we are making a big mistake to pull away from the majority of the nation in regard to the CCSS. Thanks for sharing...

 

emily peterson commented on October 24, 2013 at 9:04pm:

Thank you !

Great piece Megan.  I'm so glad @theresagray tweeted it.

Renee Moore commented on October 24, 2013 at 10:53pm:

Don't Be Dismissive...

...of those criticisms of Common Core. The people making those statements are entirely serious and truly believe what they have heard. Many are frightened parents, and some are teachers.

What's really astounding is to see how the far right and left have become bedfellows in their opposition to the CCSS. Those two groups can generate enough political power to stop, or at least seriously stall the CCSS in many states.

I've watched the process of the CCSS since they were first suggested; and I've watched how the various groups have shifted their positions around it. If I remember correctly, initially neither the Feds nor the unions were all that gung-ho about them. The early enthusiasts were governors, especially Repbulican ones, who wanted their states to look better in state-to-state achievement test comparisons. Nationally, teachers are divided over the quality and value of the standards themselves; some teachers are just this school year seeing the CCSS for the first time. The proprietary development and lack of meaningful teacher or parental involvement in the development of the Standards is still bothersome to me (and is largely why the CCSS are so susceptible to wild rumors).

But it's the insistence on jumping from standards to assesssments without regard for development of meaningful curriculum by teachers I find most disturbing. In many places the Standards are the de facto curriculum, to the point that items used in the standards as examples or models have been made mandatory. The horrific implementation stories here and other places around the nation are already too numerous to list.

Cynic alert: What could have been a great opportunity could easily become yet another ed reform debacle.

Diane Mattison-Nottage commented on October 25, 2013 at 1:32pm:

Common Ground

I too see the potential for truly remarkable and transformative change in education similar to what Megan wrote in her post.  However, as someone who works in a district that is just now beginning to focus on the CCSS I share many of the misgivings being expressed by educators, parents and politicians.   I don't believe this is a Communist plot or any of that hyperbole but I do have reservations about certain aspects of the development and implementation of the CCSS.  My concerns about the CCSS are many but the lack of parental, educator AND student involvement in their development and implementation is key for me.  I am also extremely concerned about the over-involvement of the publishing industry in this process.  Talk about the tail wagging the dog!!  Finally, it is true that most states were coerced into adopting the CCSS.  As I understand it those states requesting an NCLB waiver had to adopt the new standards as a condition for approval.  This is truly troubling.  My question is simple,  If the standards are as good as they claim then why the need to "encourage" states to adopt? 

The fact remains that my state, Oregon, has adopted the CCSS regardless of my personal feelings and misgivings.  My thinking is that we must take the positive aspects of the CCSS and implement them with fidelity and continue to be wary of the pitfalls and drawbacks of a publisher driven system.  This year I am working as the middle school Teacher On Special Assignment (TOSA) for ELA CCSS alignment so my job is to guide the implementation process in our 4 middle schools. Being in that role has allowed me time to research the CCSS and the implications they have for classroom practice.  I have read all the documents carefully and no where is it stipulated that teachers MUST use certain texts or strategies.  This is where I get excited because while the CCSS outline a strong foundation of skills, how we guide our students toward mastery of those skills is completely up to us!    

I love the emphasis on deeper reading, on analysis and critique and argument based on evidence but we must be wary of all the "CCSS aligned materials" that are now flooding the market (hence the worry about the involvement of the publishing industry).  After looking closely at several publishers efforts to rebrand old materials with the CCSS aligned label I am warning all my schools to keep their wallets closed and their checkbooks hidden until real teachers in real classrooms have a chance to create their own aligned materials.  My guess is that they will do a MUCH better job than publishers. I have also found through collaboration (sites like this!) that there are ample resources out there, many of them free, that teachers can use to bring that richness and depth into their classroom materials. 

The emphasis on literacy across all content areas is another area where I completely and wholeheartedly support the CCSS!  The CCSS emphasize the teaching of content area reading skills by experts in that content. Who better to teach a student how to read like a scientist than a scientist? Figuring out exactly what a story problem in math is asking is best left to the math experts.  In my role this year I am charged with supporting science, history and other content area teachers in their efforts to implement the CCSS.  I have had excellent responses from teachers across a wide range of content areas who see the value in teaching literacy skills specific to a discipline in those classes.  I think there is resistance from some because in most science, math and technical subject teacher prep programs there is little to no course work addressing literacy skills.  Offering teachers assistance in that area has given them the confidence and the tools to help their students become expert readers and thinkers in those disciplines.

All in all I support the CCSS while retaining my healthy skepticism.  Now is the time for teachers to become deeply involved in the process and provide the guidance and feedback that will make the CCSS into the tool for educational improvement that it has the potential to be.  A tool is only as powerful as those weilding it!  Given the right support and freedom to innovate I have no doubt that teachers will use the CCSS to further education reform for the benefit of our students.

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