Is it just me, or does the implementation of the Common Core standards nationwide seem like a great big trap for teachers and public education?
How could we possibly be catapulting from the age of scripted, teacher-proofed materials in which teachers’ expertise was characterized (by some) as irrelevant to a situation in which a set of common standards are provided to teachers who–magically–will embrace a “different approach to instruction,” which–at least from what I’m reading–doesn’t include any curriculum scaffolds, instructional materials, or authentic assessment. Here’s a paragraph to ponder:
“The standards describe what students must learn and in which grade spans learning must take place, but they do not dictate how teachers should teach or what instructional materials they will use. Our superintendents, principals and teachers will decide how best to help students achieve the standards. …By the 2012-2013 school year New Mexico, K-3 teachers will be responsible for teaching the new standards, and by the 2013-2014 school year, all New Mexico teachers will be teaching the new standards. NMPED as well as your districts are creating documents and plans to guide educators in making decisions about how to implement the standards” (http://newmexicocommoncore.org/pages/view/43/what-will-i-be-teaching/3/).
So let me see if I have this right.
For the past half-decade or more, teachers who worked in schools that did not make Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) were often required (by site administrators and /or district officials) to standardize their instruction (via commercial publishers’ pacing guides) to ensure that all students in the same grade would hear the same
script instruction at the same time. A striking characteristic of this very bleak period of American education is that teachers are regularly vilified by so-called education reformers (who also suggest that firing entire faculties would somehow change schools in a positive way), and few in the public sphere question the word of the well-funded. These teachers, whose professionalism the “reformers” publicly question, are now going to be free to decide how to best meet their students’ needs? Seriously?
I’m not a conspiracy theorist in general, but it strikes me as truly odd that the curricular pendulum has swung this far, this fast.
It’s not that I don’t believe that there are many, many excellent teachers out there, who are already helping their students succeed. I know those teachers. It’s not that I don’t believe that local school officials aren’t dedicated to ensuring that all students have access to a relevant and equitable education. I know those folks, too. My real concern is that despite the expertise, passion, and dedication at local levels, implementing national standards without first laying the groundwork poses a serious threat to public education. Implementing standards before measuring validity (or, providing a “scientifically-based” rationale) goes against every principle of good teaching.
Let me be clear here: I do not oppose having high expectations for students. (Ask my own students; they’ll tell you how demanding I am.) I do not oppose curriculum planning that provides a framework for developmentally-sequenced objectives. I do not even oppose state standards (although I have concerns about standardized approaches to education). I do, however, oppose over-simplified “solutions” to complex issues. And I really, really oppose policymakers who make promises they can’t possibly keep, and don’t take responsibility for failure.
Telling parents (and students) that the implementation of a set of national standards will change education is specious at best. Having common standards is not the same thing as ensuring that every teacher is an expert with theoretical, pedagogical, and practice-oriented knowledge AND the relationship skills required to inspire learning. Having common standards will do nothing to alleviate the fact that millions of students (22%, in fact) in the US live in crushing poverty, and that socioeconomic status is the most reliable predictor for future academic success. Having common standards without providing on-going professional development in which teachers, administrators, parents, and students engage critically in planning how to meet expectations for grade-level learning will lead nowhere (or worse).
So why are we even on this journey without a map or waypoints at which we can stop to reflect on where we are, where we are headed, and make informed decisions about how best to complete the trip?
Which leads me to another question: who will benefit if the implementation of national standards fails miserably (and by that, I mean when scores on the new computerized assessments don’t skyrocket)? For-profit educational “experts” pushing scripted, teacher-proofed materials (again)? For-profit charter schools? Publishers with quick-fixes?
More importantly, who will not benefit from this (almost) national experiment?
Can school districts really promise parents that students won’t suffer (which seems like a pretty low bar to set, if you ask me) if they don’t provide on-going, systematic, and collaborative professional development for teachers, instructional coaches, and paraprofessionals to ensure that the people closest to the students understand how to design curriculum to meet individual students’ needs and keep everyone moving forward?
Is it realistic to expect teachers–many of whom work second or third jobs to pay their bills–to adequately identify students’ needs; implement multiple assessment measures; plan instruction; reflect on their practice; provide intervention where needed; adequately identify students’ needs; implement multiple assessment measures; plan instruction; reflect on their practice; provide intervention where needed; adequately identify students’ needs; implement multiple assessment measures; plan instruction; reflect on their practice; provide intervention where needed; adequately identify students’ needs; implement multiple assessment measures; plan instruction; reflect on their practice; provide intervention where needed; AND successfully move students toward career- or college-readiness without providing them the time and resources?
I explained all of this to a friend, who said, “I don’t know a lot about education policy, but that seems really stupid.” Exactly.
I’m not a pessimist by nature, but I fear that we all will–at least those of us without financial stakes in the game–suffer unless states, districts, schools, parent-organizations, university faculty, community organizations, and other interested stakeholders get involved (right now!) in making sure that the implementation of the Common Core Standards does not fail because we linked our future to promises that can’t be kept.
I decided to read the implementation plan published by the state department of education, and make sure I hadn’t mischaracterized the lack of teacher development in advance of the roll-out. Also, I wanted to see what specific suggestions the planners included, in case I was too hasty in my judgments. Here’s a description a major “instructional shift” the CCSS will inspire:
“Through reading, discussing, and writing about appropriately complex texts at each grade level, students build the general academic vocabulary they will need to access a wide range of complex texts in college and careers. Students gather as much as they can about the meaning of these words from the context of how the words are being used in the text. Teachers offer support as needed when students are not able to figure out word meanings from the text alone and for students who are still developing high frequency vocabulary.”
Hmmm. I thought the standards were research-based. The authors of this implementation guide must have read different research than I have on what it takes to develop academic vocabulary. Relying on context and wide reading alone is not enough (or even remotely enough) to develop students’ ownership of academic vocabulary. The research is pretty darn clear on what effective vocabulary instruction actually looks like, and the paragraph above doesn’t match.