Bruce Mims: More Thoughts on Common Core
Sometimes articulating the thoughts of other people, in terms of issues related to Common Core State Standards, makes it a whole lot easier to create context for my own concerns. Indeed, as much as I believe Common Core State Standards is an earnest attempt to revamp content area standards that are long overdue for an overhaul, the related implementation plans have been anything but smooth. Sadly, many folks in the profession are feeling increasingly bewildered and/or overwhelmed with it all especially when it comes to assessment cycles that are also being implemented simultaneously as well.
I was having coffee with a colleague in my Professional Learning Network recently, as I was gathering information to prepare for an upcoming interview, and I asked him “how goes it?” as far as the implementation cycles related to Common Core. He was quite candid in terms of voicing his concerns and dismay over what he thought was the wholesale disintegration of public education and overwhelming obsession on testing. He shared his concerns that the Professional Development pertaining to Common Core has somewhat marginalized certain subject areas, such as Social Studies, Fine Arts, Physical Education, and the Humanities; hence, many teachers in those areas feel increasingly alienated because the training and related materials do not directly correlate to their content matter. He shared stories of entire Professional Development days at the school site, where training centered on designs related to English Language Arts and Math; while Science folks ponder Next Generation Science Standards. In many cases, Social Studies and Fine Arts folks are repeatedly either “lumped-in” with English Language Arts folks, while being told that the training has immediate relevance to their subject area.
To make a long story short, sadly for my friend, his mounting frustration with it all led him to a decision to leave public education in exchange for a teaching position in a private school. He says that his moment of clarity came as he and his site-based colleagues gave Smarter Balanced Assessments a dry run: as they engaged in the demo, the administrator on hand suggested they take note of the language used in the assessment cycles and consider incorporating such vocabulary into their instructional designs to make sure students are familiar with the language they may see on the assessment. As expected, the much of the reactionary questions centered on whether or not they were supposed to teach kids the subject matter or teach them to prepare for a test. For my friend, it was profoundly clear to him that after 10 years in public education it was time for a change. Indeed, he is only one person in the mix, but I wonder how many others are feeling the same way about it all.
As the debate surrounding Common Core State Standards rages on, one clear profound thing is certain: we need to get this one right; and the right pathway forward in terms of teaching and learning starts with what’s best for students—not the politics, politicians, non-profits, philanthropists, or policy. And true, many folks who have a stake in this have good intentions, but as the cliché goes, “the pathway to hell is paved with good intentions”. Given the vitriolic tone of the rancor over Common Core State Standards themselves and the related assessment practices, I really don’t think we’ve learned enough from our past mistakes.
Indeed, what IS troubling about the forward momentum pertaining to Common Core State Standards is voices of discontent and concern are being drowned out and/or silenced by inertia, institutional and governmental pressures, and/or an undercurrent of sustained monetary pressures by seemingly well-intentioned (and heavily funded) non-profit or philanthropic entities whose interests or ulterior motives have never been flushed out or vetted in a public forum. There’s a lot of Common Core push and systematic implementation of its components, and no dialogue about the concerns—some more legitimate than others, but concerns nonetheless. It is the systematic “squashing” of the debate and the apparent lack of transparency that is generated by the dealings of non-profit and philanthropic entities that has generated and sustained an climate of distrust; the nexus of “top-down” push seems to conveniently forget the push (down everyone’s throat) is how we ended up with the unfunded mandates and high stakes melee that was “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB).
To make matters worse, recent information has come to light that may suggest the “grand collaboration” between teachers and experts that created Common Core State Standards might have been an exaggeration as it were: in reality, there were no active elementary or secondary teaching personnel who were part of the original design or articulation of it—so much for the thought of unprecedented or representative input from stakeholders in the process. Sadly, it’s all starting to look like road we’ve all traveled down before. Frankly, for all Common Core’s good intents and purposes, the initiative is quickly unraveling. Indeed, the issues regarding the quality, depth and rigor of the standards; coupled with the technological issues related to capacity, infrastructure, and the digital or technological literacy of many teaching staff leaves a lot of uncertainty in the air.
The unabated “push” as it were seems to be increasingly curious—especially when we think of things in terms of the companies tied to the (SBA and PARCC) assessment component. Again, as stated previously, there has been some “cart pulling the horse” vetting as of late; and, support for Common Core has quickly eroded as a result of all this. Now we are left with the feeling we are still dealing with a broken public education system, and there are no wholesale fixes within sight or reach.
Moreover, we as a people must grapple with the profoundly inept reality of our public education system, bound by a “common” thread: there’s got to be a better way to do these things for the sake of our children—how quickly we forget it’s not our future we’re messing with; it’s theirs…