Our local paper contained a comment by Amanda M. this past month disparaging the Common Core. After numerous inquiries as to if I was the author, I went and read the comment. The comment was anti-CCSS with other similar comments accompanying it. The comment made me smile not because I agree or disagree, but because it demonstrates people, outside of education, are paying attention to what is happening in our schools. Freedom works when citizens participate, debate, disagree, find solutions, and remain vigilant about the issues.
In the summer of 1996 I participated in the National Writing Project at Louisiana State University, which led me to international research and a new vision for my classroom. I stumbled upon research by Jim Stigler from UCLA and was intrigued by his work. When he was featured on 20/20 a few months later, I wrote to him. He replied! Our correspondence, though infrequent, was exciting and opened my eyes to new ideas such as Japanese lesson design, Singapore math models, and problem solving research. I used all of this to develop my own supplemental curriculum, which I taught for the next several years in conjunction with our mandated curriculum. A 90-minute daily block allowed me some freedom to implement math fluency activities, model drawing, and critical writing. I used international standards and teaching models to improve my instruction. My students were more successful than they had been in the past, because I taught based on the international ideals I had discovered.
For the past several years I have been researching the education structures of high-performing countries with a focus on teachers. High performing countries hire very highly motivated individuals with a great sense of compassion for children, pay them well, and treat them as professionals, which means teacher make most of the decisions in classrooms. The teachers often police their own ranks without unions. The critical element to improving schools systems has not been the focus on standards or testing, but on highly effective teachers.
There is a great debate occurring concerning the Common Core Standards. For the most part the standards are rigorous and strong. Standards give us a vision and help us find our way to the expectation, which is easy to loose sight of in the midst of students. My friend Amy Crain explains the importance and the power of the CCSS in her blog http://mitchnamy.blogspot.com/2013/09/thank-teacher.html?spref=fb She is a wonderful teacher and friend.
Standards are critical to a functioning system, however, standards are only a piece of the puzzle. My concern with the comments I am reading is the wide brush with which CCSS is being painted. The standards as stand alone expectations are solid. The issues will develop from the implementation.
I have been in education long enough to suggest often good things can become a fire-breathing monster fueled by the love of money and power rather than the concern for children. I strongly support the CCSS. I believe pieces of the education puzzle being placed under the umbrella of the CCSS should be debated.
Be prepared as the national discussion becomes even more focused on terrible teachers. Yes, there are terrible teachers, but there are also amazing teachers. If you are one, find your voice! Speak out! Speak positively about our profession. Expect more from your peers. Admit there are a few teachers who are loose canons teaching something completely crazy and treating children like dirt. Stop protecting them!
Public perception is not our strong suit! Look like a professional, speak like a professional, and act like a profession. When speaking about school in the grocery story, stop being a martyr. Stop posting negative stuff about your job on social media. If you don’t like it, quit. If you do, stay the course.
Examine the number of educators on the various panels connected to CCSS and the other elements being created. Demand to be part of the process. READ! READ! READ!
Be aware of data mining. I do not like the government in my business or my child’s business. I love data, but I love privacy and freedom more. Be aware. Don’t take someone’s word for it, go and find out for yourself what is fact and fiction.
Private companies have control testing and have access to the data. These groups have strong political lobbying power. In some cases a single company may be in control. Monopolies seldom benefit the consumer. Powerful companies will make a ton of money from the enterprise of educating children. Note top ranking countries secret of hiring, recruiting, and maintaining great teachers makes little money for said companies. Um… Find out what is being bought in your district. Offer to be part of parent panels for the adoption materials. Ask to be part of the curriculum and assessment teams. Create strong parent organizations and be part of the discussions.
The US Department of Education is not a Constitutional entity. Really. No part of me likes the feds in my business regardless of the majority party. I support the U.S. Constitution and not much else. Therefore, support your state government by asking questions, being part of the discussion, reading policy, calling your representative and senators, and voting.
Other companies will and are jumping on this bandwagon to create “easy” CCSS lessons by simply reformatting their old materials and putting CCSS on the front of old materials. Go compare some old testing materials to new materials. This is a cash cow. Be aware. Again, ask to see what your school is using. Read the budget report from your school district. Ask questions professionally and be informed.
Someone will attempt to create lock-step lessons. Someone will attempt to make “suggested” texts mandated texts. These texts may or may not teach our children the ideas and precepts for which our country was founded. I want my child to read widely and to think beyond her borders, however I am against my child being taught a mandated one-sided, political agenda, which runs counter to the US Constitution and the moral code of my faith. Home is a place of education also. Know what is being taught and teach your child your beliefs.
My greatest fear is students will increasingly become a number or a label rather than a person. I do not like when I hear the many students I work with give me their label “basic” as some sort of character flaw or when others gives me a high label as if they are better than someone else. I am not against testing, but I am against labeling and the idea of the label is all a child is. Push for broader evaluations of children’s performances. Push back when someone labels your child and seek help. You are the parent. Rather than “fight” for your child, work with the teacher and the school.
We must all be involved in our education system. The standards are fine, but leave the implementation to local entities. Increase teacher quality by recruiting, training, and compensating the best. The discussion is needed as the results will be our future.