The Common Core State Standards were hailed as the next game changer in education. Unfortunately, the way it is going, they may ruin the game, not just change it.
Students, especially in urban areas, are extremely mobile – and certainly educated adults are – so what is wrong with having a common set of standards whether you are in South Kingstown, RI or Tacoma, Washington? Set realistic standards, let local educators decide the best way to meet those standards, and trust teachers to be creative and motivational in helping students reach them.
Instead of widespread support, opposition grows over concerns, and rightly so. Parents across the country, including Rhode Island, are pushing back, in the belief we are dumbing down education. (A description I very much dislike but understand their meaning.) The goal now is to teach to a future test, PARCC, and the concern is growing that creative teaching and learning will disappear.
We have already seen cuts in programs across the country as the test becomes more important than anything else. It is supposed to guarantee that students are college and work ready. Obviously these are worthwhile ultimate goals, but what about the entire education experience: arts, music, sports, history, etc.? Parents have a reason to be nervous.
Educators are angry, not necessarily about the standards but about how they are being implemented much too quickly. Anecdotal evidence abounds about the confusion and wasted hours preparing for Common Core and PARCC. Teachers recently spent three months working on lessons and tests to only be given a new set of rules which required them to do much of the work over.
There is a constant stream here and around the country of “clarifying” documents changing what teachers had already spent hours developing. Confusion abounds. Elementary educators are preparing lesson plans the night before to teach to a new curriculum the next day because of rapid changes and lack of advance information.
Some states have started to slow down and put off implementation and testing until the change is complete and everyone is on the same page. This cannot be about testing companies making millions and corporations trying to control curriculum and education. It should be about high expectations where resources are available to reach them, and an education system that provides every student with the preparation to be what he/she wants, whether doctor, teacher, firefighter or poet.
Narrowing curriculum for a test and doing only half a job of it welcomes failure. If students and teachers are going to be evaluated with this system, it needs to be done correctly. Conservatives and local politicians are opposed as well, although I might disagree with some of their motives. The bottom line is that local control and decision-making have been removed
I started off by saying that we should set standards but trust our teachers to develop how we get there. To prove my point, all the so-called experts (most who have never taught) point to the success of Finland. Its secret? Teachers are trusted to do their jobs – and guess what, it works! Common Core and PARCC are edicts from on high and the truth is local educators are left scrambling without support and resources.
The cost to implement PARCC will be staggering. The commissioner says we will be ready, but local school officials tell me a different story. Think about this: Los Angeles intends to spend $1 billion on iPads for the Common Core Technology Project, to help prepare for the standards. The tests will be online so I assume they will be used for that as well. Where is this money coming from and at the expense of what other programs? I am all for students using technology but with all this profit at stake you can easily see why the technology industry is behind this movement.
Supporters of quick implementation say it is just the usual suspects who are complaining, but they shouldn’t ignore parents, teachers and administrators who voice serious issues and concerns.
“The Common Core standards emphasize critical thinking and reasoning. It is time for public officials to demonstrate critical thinking and stop the rush to implementation and do some serious field-testing. It is time to fix the standards that don’t work in real classrooms with real students.” (From CNN Opinion by Diane Ravitch, 11/25/2013.)
Calling something a game changer is just one of the many phrases the ed reformers like to throw around. It sounds hip and important, but if you really want to be a game changer you would set high attainable standards and give educators the resources and trust needed to get there, not rush through something half-baked because corporations and test companies want it.
This is not a game – these are real classrooms with real students, and when parents, teachers and administrators, i.e. those directly involved, say there are problems, it might be time to listen, learn and act.
Then and only then will Common Core have a chance, and not be just another fad for which we spent billions and did nothing to close the achievement gap. It seems an easy choice. For once, let us as a society act on the side of students and educators and not the side of power and money.