I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for some time while the school year winded down, my schedule filled with SLO conversations, and I tried to have everything in place before teachers were away for the summer and somewhat unreachable.
I’ve been mulling around a response to all this common core uproar for awhile, but I kept feeling like the opposition had more data than I, more random articles and hyperlinks supporting their “facts,” more anger and vitriol than I could combat. So I didn’t respond….until today. Now, I still don’t have the “data” the opposition has, the hyperlinks to often obscure articles based primarily in political one-sidedness, or the anger and vitriol, but what I do have is some good old fashioned common sense paired with a somewhat intimate view of how the common core is actually impacting classrooms and district curriculum.
A teacher (a high school teacher, classroom teacher, on the frontlines with students, who is actually teaching the common core standards and finds them so much better for students) recently sent me this article, and it certainly merits a common sense response.
First, I have to start with the URL: http://educationfreedomohio.org/2013/04/17/ohio-calls-are-working-to-give-obamacore-pause/
I am not sure at what point the Common Core Standards became “Obamacore,” particularly as when these standards were in their infancy in 2007, President Obama was not even in office. Is this set of standards a “federal overreach” by the Obama administration into issues of local control? I think that takes a little more explaining through the perspective of curriculum-land:
For the layman, there are several layers of what is taught in a school system. The umbrella layer would be state standards. In the case of Common Core, the state of Ohio has adopted these standards. (Side argument: Were states coerced into adoption CCSS under the threat of having Race to the Top federal funds withheld? In one answer: no. The stipulation for RTTT funds was to adopt a more common set of standards, but it did not dictate CCSS. Why would the government care about which sets of standards states were using and whether or not a state used its own unilateral set? Because standards that individual states created to fulfill No Child Left Behind mandates were inequitable across state lines.) Given my experiences as both a teacher, ELA content specialist, and current curriculum coordinator who works directly with teachers in our school district to implement and meet the CCSS, I feel highly qualified to say these standards far supersede the expectations of Ohio’s previous standards. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a teacher who has similar intimate knowledge of the standards themselves who would say that are not far better.
In school districts, we take these state-level standards and we build on them. The standards do not dictate how to teach, when to teach, or really, even what to teach. Instead, they go in our books as our “written curriculum,” and we then design our students’ entire learning experiences with them as a foundation. We don’t stop at the standard, because who in the world could develop a whole child given a very broad statement about a skill expectation in language arts (CCSS), for example. We can’t. The standards provide us with a foundation of equity among buildings within our own district, buildings within neighboring districts or those throughout Ohio, and equity with districts in other states. These standards do not hinder us from local input or designing lessons/units/educational structures that support our local communities, they simply give us a platform on which to erect our own educational designs.
Regardless of how Ohio came to be a CCSS state, I can speak from first-hand knowledge that teachers in Ohio support the standards.
In another oppositional article I received via email, the opposer decried the cost to implement CCSS, which she claimed would be $15.8mill, referencing this article. Interestingly, the article (in opposition to the CCSS), uses data from the Fordham Institute, which supports the common core.
What this brief article does not detail is the actual net costs of the differences between what states currently pay in curriculum and instruction each year versus how those purchases might change to meet new standards. You can, however, locate this information on page 34 of the document referenced in the article:
The Fordham report identifies three methods states/districts may use to prepare curricula for CCSS implementation. For the layman, school districts have cycles of curriculum adoption, which means a subject, such as language arts, may get new materials (textbooks, supplements, programs, purchased interventions) every 6 or 7 years, depending on that district’s cycle. Items may or may not be purchased, but there is a cyclical approach to these “adoptions” of materials. What the Fordham report shows is that if schools use a “business as usual” approach, which may mean an adoption is 100% new hardcover textbooks, they could see increased costs of $338.7/student. If a district take a “bare bones” approach and switches to 100% online and/or free content, they could see a net savings of $42.4/student. And if the district uses a “balanced” approach including some traditional and some free content, they may see costs increase $46.0/student. So, to purport the new standards will cost $15.8million is a misrepresentation of high-end data only.
A comment in one of the oppositional articles is from a teacher saying her district in California has purchased a prescriptive “Common Core-Aligned” curriculum that dictates what/how teachers are to teach each day. If this is where districts are moving, they are running perpendicular to the intent of CCSS, which is to give teachers back their power and expertise. There is nothing prescriptive about the standards or the general guidance offered in their associated appendices. Again, as a curriculum specialist, I find those methods of designing curriculum intensely wrong–no one knows children in a school like the teachers; no one can design a more appropriate curriculum based on standards than those teachers.
From a district perspective, I don’t think we are doing anything out of the ordinary. If anything, I think the sheer volume of companies and products swearing to be “Common Core Aligned” and “test prep for CCSS assessments,” is driving teachers (and administrators) away from products and toward home-grown, do-it-ourselves because we can better reflect the needs of our students curricula.
And then, there’s the data mining argument…to even begin to address this argument, I had to dig through hyperlink after hyperlink to try and locate some non-biased information. What I did (finally) get to was an Education Week editorial that discussed the 10 features of data systems RTTT states are required to implement. The opposition sees this as a method of tracking students from cradle to college, a means to monitor a student’s every move with 400 data points. All the hyperlinked sites mentioned the requirement for these data systems to meet FERPA guideline (family privacy), even if it received only a brief mention. Here’s what I hate to have to tell these individuals……….this information already exists. Ohio already has significant student data systems that give administrators at the local level ability to see individual student performance on assessments over time. I’m not sure how this is anything new? Does the automation of the new computerized assessment not mirror the scanned bubble sheets and computerization of received data from the assessments of yore? Additionally, it should be made clear, that these efforts run tangential to the Common Core Standards and are not a part of those standards documents that we use as the platform for curricular decisions.
……Yes, I think it’s too much testing. There. I’ve said it.
The author summarizes his three main points, ending with:
3. After the budget, we must work with OHIO teacher and parents in all educational settings to develop the standards that best empower and inspire our children to succeed, then keep healthy competition within those environments to breed the innovation & best practice models necessary to set and attain high standards.
I almost hate to tell him (her? Sorry, there’s no author name) that s/he is missing that bandwagon. I firmly believe from my direct work with educators at all levels and throughout Ohio and beyond, that teachers support these standards. They are less restraining, more holistic, broad in scope, non-directive, and liberating, which is in strike contrast to the over-prescriptive, specific to the point of minutiae, narrow, explicit, and constraining standards Ohio had previously. Ohio’s teachers feel like they are able to improve their expectations and teach students how to construct and internalize concepts rather than memorize and regurgitate facts. Innovation and best practices are happening because these standards are allowing teachers to step back from test prep for low-level tests (OAA/OGT) and teach students how to think.
It’s good to be back :)