Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Applying criticism to reality

Okay, it is time for an other common core post. Why today? Well, I just scrolled through the NPR page and found the typical common core news bit. If you've read as many common core news articles as I have you will find a theme. They all start by saying a majority of Americans in the know support the CC. Teachers, parents, business leaders, politicians, the majority of them support it. Each article acknowledges that right up front, but then the entire article goes on to give the critics -- the far right pundits and the far left nut-brains -- all the attention. It has gotten so frustrating!

Take a deep breath, count to four.

Okay, with that wild introduction I can now calmly shed some new light on the Common Core debate.

One common complaint is that the Common Core teaches all kids the same thing. This is true, and it was true before the CC. Teachers have a set of standards that are used to guide their lesson planning and their instruction. Those standards are taught to all kids, special ed kids, English language learners, advanced kids, average kids, all kids are to learn those standards. This is how Education worked before CC and it is how it works after CC. The differentiation comes through the instruction. Special ed kids have IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) that modify their classroom experience. English language learners receive altered schedules that give them the time they need to learn their new language. Advanced kids are given extra credit opportunities, honors classes, AP schedules, extra curricular activities, etc that are designed to challenge them. None of this changes with CC. Classrooms have always been driven by standards, CC doesn't change that. Defeating CC won't change that.

Another complaint is that money will be a driving force. This is true, and it was true before the CC. Big businesses make millions of dollars designing curriculum -- text books, work books, exams, intervention strategies, etc. Big businesses make millions of dollars designing classroom management models -- discipline plans, security teams (remember, I taught inner city, security teams are a thing), professional development meetings, etc. I can think of absolutely no way to make this problem go away. No level of reform will stop people from trying to make money off our schools. If anyone reading this has a brilliant idea feel free to share it in the comments, but the problem existed before CC, and defeating CC won't eliminate it.

What if we are pushing our kids too hard, too soon? Haven't we taken away enough recess time? Yes! and Yes! Kids need three recesses a day. They need art and music and PE classes. High Schools should have tech classes available -- home ec, shop, drama; they all need to be part of our children's public school experience. But ... these programs were getting cut long before CC came around, and they aren't going to magically reappear if CC is defeated. The funds are gone. Local school boards and local voters are choosing to defund Education. Instead we are choosing to supplement the kinds of businesses mentioned in the above paragraph. Our society has its priorities all mixed up. Fighting common core because we want more recess isn't going to help anything.

People are battling the wrong beast. People don't understand what common core actually is.

Classrooms need to be standards based. Classrooms need to be driven by data. The best way to guarantee your child has a quality education is to make sure your child's teachers are following a set of learning standards. Otherwise the classroom learning experience is a free for all. Kids show up and the teacher gives them any assignment they want. They teach them whatever strikes their mood for the day. Standards guarantee there is an end goal, an achievable learning outcome. Data is the only way to find out if the standards are being taught and learned.

Teachers don't love spending a lot of time defending standards and analyzing data. We are in it for the teaching. We want to enrich our student's lives. We are performers, therapists, artists, explorers, moderators, guides, and so much more. Most of us have accidentally been called mom a time or two. We know how to differentiate our instruction. We know how to infuse our lessons with a balance of teachable life skills. We know how to plow through a consumer built textbook and find the pieces of literature (or math equations or hypothesis, or ...) that are worth studying.

Stop giving the critics voices! Start thinking critically about their criticism. Is Common Core really the root of all their complaints.

Glenn Beck (previously featured weenie) said, Common Core will "destroy America and the system of freedom as we know it." Take one moment and think critically about that statement.

And then pick which side of the common core battle you want to stand on. 

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