Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Compulsion of Common Core

I started teaching in 1997, just as California's pre-Common Core standards were being published.  I remember being given the standards and being told to teach to the standards, and that students would be tested to the standards.

That's a lot different from how Common Core is being pushed.  How it's being presented to this teacher isn't so different from how it's being presented at my school:
My first meeting during our three beginning-of-year teacher days was a meeting on CCSS. It reminded me of a time-share sales pitch. I was told that I had freedom in my classroom. I was told that my classroom was my “car” and that I “have the keys to my car.” I was told that CCSS would not require extra time or preparation. I was told numerous times that if students did not excel, it was that I was failing the student.

I was also told more than once, “We are going to do this,” the unspoken message being, “Don’t even think of objecting.”

I was told that students would learn if only I would provide the opportunity.
I thought of the numerous students last year who told me, “I’ll just take the zero” on the periodic grading of their semester-long research project until they reached the point that they had to complete the work in order to earn a C or D.

I was told that I need to challenge students by bringing them to their “frustration level”– that doing so would challenge them to work and that they would rise to the occasion.

I envisioned students throwing up their hands in resignation and transforming into behavior problems.

I have been told that CCSS will make students “college and career ready.”

I remembered that CCSS had not been pilot tested.

In a second meeting on CCSS, I was told that we would focus on literacy across the subject areas. In order to do so, we were expected to regularly do an activity called a “close read.” In the two-hour meeting, I learned that the close read activity had a number of components and that it would take hours of class time to complete.

The activity was not suggested. It was decided, and I was “told.”

I imagined my classroom “car” to which I “had the keys” as being without wheels, on blocks.
I was also told that we would be regularly be expected to write ”text-dependent” assignments using a template provided by a company called Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC). I was told that PARCC has a lot of text-dependent questions, so I needed to use this template to create a text-dependent writing assignment for students as often as (the unofficial expectation) once a week...

I understand that this is the nature of top-down “leadership.” The only one with the freedom is the one at the very top. All others have some consequence, the outcome of which they seek to determine by controlling the actions of those lower than them in the chain. So I understand why my district is so prescriptive in telling me as an English teacher the specific literature I am to use and why my school administration is telling me not only what to teach but how to teach it, down to the exact lesson template. They are grasping for control.
At my school it's not as bad as that last paragraph--yet--but it's coming.  There is an effort to get us to use our math books as nothing more than problem sets, ignoring the sequential presentation in the book (which we chose, in theory, because it presented good material in an orderdly, logical, and sound way) and skipping around to present material in a different order.

To quote that underrated 70's musician Boz Scaggs, "Danger, there's a breakdown dead ahead."

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