Concessions: More voices invited to critique CCLS implementation

Are the Common Core Learning Standards -CCLS finally giving way to public pressure? Not merely public at large but a collective voice from educators, education policy makers, parents and activists? The American Federation of Teachers is disbursing $30,000  grant for a teacher-led task force in NY & Connecticut to review the  standards.  How often does that happen in ed policy?

The task force is charged with:

  • critiquing the ELA & Math curricular resources that accompany the rollout of the standards
  • evaluating the state’s process for developing standardized tests
  • assessing how the efficacy of professional development and other supports for teachers as they implement the standards for special populations ( ELLs, IEPs etc.)

“Teachers have not had enough time to fully understand the standards and develop curriculum, and it’s been especially difficult for teachers with special education students and English language learners,” says AFT Connecticut President Melodie Peters.

The question is to what extent will the voices of the task force be addressed?  Is this but an appeasement strategy so it can be said ” Sure, teachers and practitioners were involved in the implementation, their opinions were substantially incorporated into what the process looks like today.” At the close of the six-month grant, the reviews will be shared with policymakers, state legislature and parent -led advocacy groups.

 

See the AFT Press Release for more details.

 

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Children of the Common Core

Children of the Common Core

Image by Nick the Rat

The interview day was fast approaching, I haven’t interviewed in a while so this was a good opportunity to reflect on where I came from and where I wanted to go.

I was scatter brained in the days leading up to the interview, with poor time management I wasted post work hours searching for a new suit.
After trying on 3 suits each with its own shortcoming a.too cheap looking, b. too tight c. damaged zipper on the pants that slid open at the slightest movement. I almost had a panic attack and was upset with myself that I wasted time. I went home to meditate.

That night I prepped a smoothie for the following morning, my smoothie kick has been going well. Preparing 13 zip loc baggies in one shot makes it so much easier to make.The next morning I was pretty chilled out as I got onto the train and listened to the wheels screech below as the Q train made the infamous sharp turn over Coney Island Ave and ran down Brighton 11th street. The sun was rising and I felt the butterflies settle as I reviewed my talking points on a one pager. Soon the interview from hell would reveal itself.

“Screechhh! “… moments later a muffled announcement unapologetically declared a slew of train delays. If you live in NYC you know the announcements are seldom comprehensible, most times they resemble the muffled cacophonous sounds of the adult characters on Charlie Brown. I bounced from the B to the Q a few times to try my luck. Inevitably, I arrive 45 minutes late, drenched in sweat underneath all those winter layers, I freshen up and swap my comfy walking shoes for my patent leather interview heels.

As I enter, 3 other candidates are feverishly  clicking away at laptops around a small conference table. I jump in to complete a realistic “prioritization task” quite similar to what my day to day “firefighting” often looks like. Obviously I would ensure an absent teacher has coverage for his/her class before embarking on some philosophical discussion about the school dress code for a student whose precious do-rag was confiscated. We all must appease parents sometimes.

After completing the tasks, I chatted with the other candidates. Upon inquiring what school they had previously worked in they turned out to be Seniors in college. I naturally felt out of place, either this role was not for me or – I should not be applying to entry level positions with candidates more junior than me. I felt like the old maid in the candidate pool.

I brushed it off and got ready for the mini “tour” where the guide, the office manager- a bright eyed millenial boasted how the “graduation rate” was 100%. Yes, cherry picking and expelling those who can’t keep up can result in that.  OH lord. I couldn’t take any more, I wandered off on my own for a bit  in the “no excuses” zone and was uncomfortable with what I saw. While the environment seemed rigorous and not a single detail was overlooked I did not feel the joy from these students. Second graders walked silently down the hallway in a straight line , not even a single murmur nor a smile for that matter ! I won’t be completely biased here, I did observe a strong student teacher relationship where a student smiled and quietly hugged a teacher on the way into a classroom.

The schedule was scrupulously planned and the “data driven” ideology was evident via daily attendance rate posters plastered  all along the hallway. Laminated posters praising the most recent “Word Wizards”  who were on track to meeting the “reading goal” held a prominent spot on a bulletin board. The quantitative measure tallied the amount of books and individual words a grade level had read in total.One poster read ” 6th graders have read 460 books and 17,745,103 words.” Cultivating the love of reading in the K-8 years is wonderful, I have no qualm with that, but I don’t recall excessive quantifiers vis a vis my reading when I was in elementary school.  Are the students’ reading experiences enjoyable or a source of anxiety are they thinking”This is the 100th word I have read!”

My exploration continued into a 1st grade classroom where the teacher repeated verbatim from the corresponding part in a highly structured lesson plan. Students learned shapes and the ones that got something wrong had a towering figure above them draw a giant “X” in red. I remember learning about proximity as a teaching fellow and getting down to the same level as the child to show respect and relay empathy and understanding.

A towering figure, if you are 5 years old, that has got to be stressful! I just don’t know how else to say it , it seems like it goes against social emotional teaching and the concept of the whole child. Was I in a corporate reform outfit churning out middle managers who would only ever ask “How high?” students who memorized the right things but could not produce independent thought nor evaluate and think critically at the end of the day? Sure, they may have ready all those books that were on the list of approved curricula by Bill and Melinda and Arne but what kind of adults would they become? Children of the Corn, children of the common core.

I’ll wrap up this overdue rant – I did not feel the joy of learning and realized that the grass is not always greener. I need to develop and change gears sooner or later in my career but for now I know that I am at a school that I would send my own child to with no hesitation. These kids are joyful and learning at the same time, what more can we ask for ?

 

 

 

College & career ready- so show me the money!

A recent NYT article highlights the pockets of  Common Core opposition while framing the CCLS in a positive light

“The standards, which were written by a panel of experts convened by governors and state superintendents, focus on critical thinking and analysis rather than memorization and formulas.The idea is to help ensure that students generally learn the same things in public schools across the country.”

    In an absolute vacuum of a country where access to healthcare , prenatal care, parenting practices and funding of school districts is equally distributed, yes it would be a positive ideological position to take. But in an increasingly segregated country, pressuring states to hop on the bandwagon leaving them alone to play the  implementation and the resourcing game is another story. Teachers expressed to me in Newark Public Schools that they cannot possibly go through a certain unit in the alloted time when many of their students are 3-4 years below grade level.

It’s like manufacturing a size small t-shirt, branding it as a “one-size fits all” design and expecting all the people in between to fit- join or die?

    Not only does this not set a foundation for a sustainable model its seems like a slippery loopholed slope, afterall the federal government may not regulate curriculum, but influencing states decision through RTTT funds doesn’t violate this law and is perfectly constitutional. The General Education Provisions Act- GEPA” bans federal departments and agencies from directing, supervising, or controlling elementary and secondary school curriculum, programs of instruction, and instructional materials.1 ” Hopefully, national policy can push back against CCLS, in the Road to a National Curriculum, Engage Volume 13, Eitel & Talbert eloquently profess :

   “Left unchallenged by Congress, these standards and assessments will ultimately direct the course of elementary and secondary study in most states across the nation, running the risk that states will become little more than administrative agents for a nationalized K-12 program of instruction and raising a fundamental question about whether the Department is exceeding its statutory boundaries. This road to a national curriculum has been winding and highly nuanced—and, as we will see below, full of irony.”

Related Links:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/16/education/new-education-standards-face-growing-opposition.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://www.fed-soc.org/publications/detail/the-road-to-a-national-curriculum-the-legal-aspects-of-the-common-core-standards-race-to-the-top-and-conditional-waivers