Musings on Common Core…

I’ll be very honest.  When Common Core came around a few years ago (2009-2010 school year) I was enthusiastic.  The original Ohio Standards that I had used for years seemed clumsy and cumbersome, mostly due to the overwhelming amount of them along with the ever confusing benchmarks and indicators.  I always felt as if they were not clear and not simple to read nor interpret. While working on my master’s degree, I read many books and articles by Robert Marzano, who focused on “Power Standards”.  The premise was there were too many standards to realistically teach in one academic year, so teachers should pull out those standards which they feel most important and teach them with depth, rather than simply trying to “cover” all the standards in a very shallow and superficial way.  So, I used that approach and felt more comfortable teaching the standards, although I still never truly understood those benchmarks and indicators.  The green standards book would lay on my desk collecting a layer of dust, mocking my ignorance of those damn things while I turned my back on it and happily taught my “Power Standards”.

Then I explored Common Core State Standards and immediately jumped on board.  I appreciated how they seemed to be more simplified:  Reading Literature, Reading Informational Text, Writing, Speaking/Listening and Language.  These were essentially the “Power Standards”, the standards which were most important for students to know in an English Language Arts classroom.  We, as a department, spent much time exploring the CCSS, becoming familiar with them, and slowly incorporated them into our lessons.  Everything seemed fine, then the whirlwind of negativity began to surround CCSS and anything even remotely related to them.  

I’m not sure when it started but I believe I know why the attack against CCSS started; once the standards were connected to high-stakes testing and new teacher evaluations (OTES) is when educators, schools, administrators and even some parents began to look at them a little more closely and did not like what they learned.  Even teacher unions like the NEA, who once advocated for CCSS in an effort to raise standards for students all across the country, saw how debilitating the high stakes testing environment was for teachers and students and they backed away from their support as well.  Now states are slowing pulling out of the consortium, Louisiana is the latest state whose governor is asking to do so, and parents, schools and educators are up in arms and want their states to do so as well.  It’s funny, most of the publicity came to a head in the last few months when comedian Louie C.K. took potshots at the Common Core when he tweeted his dislike in the following tweets, taken from this Huffington Post article written by Diane Ravitch: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-ravitch/louis-ck-common-core_b_5250982.html

My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!— Louis C.K. (@louisck) April 28, 2014

Everything important is worth doing carefully. None of this feels careful to me.— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014

Teachers are underpaid. They teach for the love of it. Let them find the good in cc without the testing guns to their and our kids heads.— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014

I trust a teacher over Pearson or bill hates any day of the week. Don’t all be so  defensive and don’t be such bullies.— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014

Unfortunately, as is the case most of the time in our country, once a famous actor, singer or comedian begins to talk about a specific topic is the moment when the public begins to take more notice.  Regardless, once people heard more about CCSS, the more they did not like what they were learning.  Hence, the beginning of the War Against Common Core.

Here’s what I honestly think now about the entire CCSS, PARCC, OTES, SLO environment (“The Era of Acronyms”?) in which teachers and students are living and working.  We all entered the field of education in order to work with, motivate, teach, support and positively influence students.  We all entered the field of education to share our passion for our subject.  We all want the best for our students and their education, however, I feel all this negativity and focus on testing is not what is best for our students; it’s what is best for politicians vying for votes, it’s what is best for big business corporations like Pearson who want deeper pockets, it’s what is best for for-profit charter schools (who do not run under the same mandates as public schools) to swoop in as the savior of the “evil” public school system in order to turn a profit.  I feel there are too many hands in the pot of education, all trying to make as much money as they possibly can and kids are being left out of the equation.  It’s all a political game and I feel it’s heading for disastrous consequences unless parents, teachers, educators, and schools all begin to really educate themselves and pay attention to what is going on in education

Having said all this, I am still a strong advocate of CCSS; I believe the focus of the attack has been misguided. I feel students rise to the standards in which we give to them and they deserve to have the expectation of high standards.  It shows we have faith in them as students and as future contributors to society.  Students have to be challenged intellectually and academically, otherwise they will not grow and will remain stagnant; a well run society is an educated society.  The United States has a very transient population, so having common standards as students move state to state is important for those students to stay on track and not fall behind or fall “into the cracks” where they can possibly be lost forever.  Again, I appreciate the simplicity of the standards and how streamlined and user-friendly they are for both teachers and students.  There are many, many aspects of CCSS which I really like and as a result, I consider myself a supporter of them and hope we, as a state, continue to implement them.  However, having said that, I can adamantly state that I am not a fan of PARCC and the high stakes testing environment into which we are throwing our kids and teachers; this is where people need to pay attention and educate themselves regarding these tests.  As a teacher, I find it scary and disheartening that my 15 years in education could come to an end simply because my students do not test well, or because of a lack of computer proficiency and confidence which cause students to fail a test.  As a parent, I do not want my two girls to only receive 106 days of an education only to endure over 20 days of standardized testing.  They should be reading, discussing, analyzing, writing, researching, presenting, creating and interacting in the classroom with their classmates and teachers, not spending 20+ days in front of a computer screen completing a “one size fits all” standardized test, while frustrated and bored and resenting school as a result.

Obviously, early supporters of CCSS are now realizing how a good thing has turned ugly and they are now backtracking a bit to save face (I’m thinking specifically of Bill Gates and his director of education, Vicki Phillips, as they have called for a moratorium on high stakes testing.  The letter is here: http://collegeready.gatesfoundation.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=wPhuLSxJgV4%3D&portalid=0).  I do believe that some sort of assessment is necessary to ensure CCSS are truly working; assessment is the backbone of solid educational foundations.  However, a standardized test written by a for-profit “educational” business such as Pearson, whose test is not even truly aligned with CCSS, simply one interpretation of the CCSS, is not the answer to this problem.  I’m hoping politicians, educational leaders, administrators, parents and the general public will pay attention and listen to teachers as we can come up with alternative assessments to show proficiency in our students.  Afterall, education and assessment are our fields of expertise and we need to be trusted to do right by our students.  

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OTES

This week, I completed training for the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System. Why? If this is how I am to be evaluated in the near future, I feel I need to know exactly how it works. Truthfully, I was not happy about giving up three precious days in my summer to learn about this-even my husband called me a crab the morning of the first day. If it were a workshop on curriculum or writing strategies or how to incorporate tech in my classroom, I know my attitude would have been very different and I would have been excited to go. No, this did not excite me in the very least; heading out the door that first day, a root canal would have been more enticing. But, I went, knowing it was one of those experiences in life in which I would dread going, but would appreciate that I did it once it was over.

Well, I survived the three days of training and am glad it is over, but also thankful I went. Overall, there are aspects of OTES which I like and those with which I do not agree. But because I want to stay positive, I will focus on what I feel are the two most important benefits to the system:

*It encourages much conversation between teacher and admin. Anyone who is in education knows how crazy a school day can be, so taking the time to sit down and having a discussion about what you are doing in your classroom can definitely be moved to the back burner on most days. This system requires that the communication is happening on a consistent basis. This is so important to keeping lines of communication open between teachers and admin; it fosters positive and professional working relationships, which only benefits the students (and is the true reason we are in education, a sentiment that sometimes gets forgotten with the politics and firestorms constantly surrounding the field of education these days).

*OTES allows teachers to get true and authentic feedback. I’ve been teaching in some capacity for over fifteen years and would never begin to call myself an expert; I am always changing and trying to improve as a teacher. I personally feel like I constantly need someone to observe my practice and give me suggestions and feedback so I can become a better educator. OTES requires that this happens with two 30-minute formal evals and walk-throughs throughout the school year. I really appreciate this! Because of time constraints, admin usually have to focus much of their time and energy with teachers who need more help, many times not worrying about the effective teachers because they are doing a ‘good’ job without any help. I get it, because that is something I see happening in classrooms as well; teachers spend the majority of their time with the kids who are struggling, assuming the other students are doing well on their own. It’s a matter of a lack of time in the school day and trying to prioritize what is most important to tackle first. But OTES fosters this feedback, encouragement and constructive criticism for all teachers, regardless of their strengths and weaknesses. That is truly a positive.

Again, there are portions of the evaluation system I do not like, nor with which I agree. But, overall, I’m glad that I completed the training and would encourage other educators to do the same if able. I feel more informed and ready for OTES once it comes into play and will not have to rely on others’ interpretation of it to understand all of its elements.

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