Thursday, May 24, 2012

Common Core ... and more

I stumbled upon an education quote today (on Pinterest, of all places).  It was about the new Common Core curriculum, and embracing all the change and how educators have fire in their hearts and oh, if only we’d see the potential, it’s truly an amazing time to be an educator!

Here is the quote in its entirety, typos and all:

As we move to the Common Core standards, we will continue to see changes in what and how we monitor and asses student learning. The use of technology in the classroom as an means of delivering content and also as a means for formative and summative assessment will continue to develop over time., It is indeed a magical time to be an educator, if only we embrace the possibilities before us.*

And I about threw up in my mouth, to be a little crass.

Thing was, it wasn’t because I necessarily disagreed with the gist of her saying:  I happen to think that on many levels, the Common Core is fine (not all levels, but we’ll talk about that later), but I don’t drink the “rah rah all is well” Kool Aid.  And I don’t mean to attack the author personally, because I really do believe her heart is in the right place and she fights for what she believes in.  (And I believe that even more now that I've been to her blog and read more of what she has to say.)

But it’s not a great time to be a teacher.  And let’s get something straight, we’re "teachers;" we don’t need some fifty-cent ego-boosting word of “educators,” and quite frankly, I find it off-putting and pretentious. 

Pick up any newspaper or major new magazine, and you’ll see just how bad it is, actually, to be a teacher.  There are relentless pressures from all sorts of sources about test scores.  There are helicopter parents who rule the schools through bullying and intimidation, and spineless administrators who refuse to stand up to them.  There is a complete lack of discipline.  There are frozen – and cut, if you count furlough days – salaries, and paying for your classroom supplies from your own pocket.  There are increased class sizes and ridiculous pushing-down of content to grade levels where kids are not physiologically developed to do it, but we need to say we “teach Algebra” in grade six or what-have-you.  There are countless “Experts” passing legislation and top-down mandates that make no sense and cause unnecessary and burdensome paperwork for teachers and in many cases, create so much “procedure” that teachers can’t even timely help the kids who need it most.  There is a whole culture of blaming the teachers for everything and saying we need better teachers … but demonizing our current teachers at the same time. 

So, really?  It’s a great time to be a teacher?  I can’t even begin to count how many former teachers I know who say over an over again how glad they are they got out, or got out when they did.  It is most definitely not a good time to be a teacher. 

Now, I am of two minds on the Common Core.  On the one hand, I think it is good for us to have some sort of common curriculum so that a kid who moves from Alabama to Alaska can say what class he or she was in, and that translates.  But that’s only in theory.  We’re (I’m going to use “we’re,” even though I am not teaching anymore) all using different books and have different students in our classrooms; we all necessarily move at different paces and make different accommodations.  That’s kind-of the point, right?  Meeting your audience?  And the Common Core creates a slippery slope to a national curriculum that takes a state power and brings it over to the federal government.  I don’t like that, and I don’t trust it, and I do not believe we need educrats who’ve studied theory or public policy telling us what to do and how and when to do it. 

(The same, by the way, holds true for content-area experts.  I understand that you’re a math major, or an English major, or a chemist; that means you are, and have typically been, good at it. You don’t know what it’s like in a classroom with 30 kids of different abilities, or where they will make their mistakes, or how to teach factoring a seventeenth way because the first sixteen didn't click for two kids. You have a false sense of what school is like, because you only ever went to school and sat in class – for the most part, forgive me my generalizations – with the good kids.  You don’t know why or where this stuff is hard, and – dare I say much like many first-year teachers, you have a very naïve perspective on what can be accomplished and how “easy” it will be to accomplish it.  That's okay.  We still love you. But we don't need you making education policy or having final say on curricula.)

And on the other hand, I don’t think too many people would argue that as a nation, and from state to state, we already had a somewhat de facto national curriculum.  So in that sense, I think the Common Core is a bit redundant, if you will.  It purports to eliminate the nuanced differences between what constitutes Algebra 1 in Miami, Florida and Miami, Ohio, but as I said earlier, it just doesn’t account for the countless other factors that led to the differences to begin with.

Which brings me to my next point:  the tendency of the government – all the way down to local school systems – to rule by blanket policy, taking what might have been good and rendering it worse:  either broken completely, or not as efficient or effective, or almost to feel like punishment. 

But that’s my next post.  Stay tuned. I’ve got a lot to say.


P.S.  By the way, the full post from which I found the quote actually talked about student assessment and the need to change what we’re currently doing.  I agree completely, and I’ll write more about that, too.

*Janie Andrich, from pinterest, which linked to

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