Sunday, April 20, 2014

Common Core ... Keep Calm and Carry On

One of the biggest challenges to education is overcoming popular opinion from people who are not fully educated about education, but insist on weighing in. You rarely find this in health, law or automotive repair but education is one field that everyone feels qualified to judge.

The latest example of this is people who are very misguided about exactly what the Common Core is, and how educators are using it.

It is normal to fight change but it is especially dangerous to do so in education when change takes so very long to achieve in the first place.

So several years ago it was decided that having a "Common Language" and set of standards across our country for our students would be a good idea on the way to improving education for all. Educators were involved in the process of setting up these standards and before anyone can comment I believe it is imperative to read these specific expectations.


They make sense. They ask students to back themselves up with thought process and proof rather than stressing memorization. They are not a subversive national curriculum (Glenn Beck) It doesn't mean you have to know less, you also have to know WHY. There are not specifically correct answers in those cases, so it can be frustrating for people. But helping students learn how to think deeper and more critically is not something that it is a good idea to stop doing. Students need it now more than ever, as the 21st century unfolds careers that don't even exist today.

And most of us have yet to see the National Assessments that will be used to assess how students are meeting the benchmarks. But these tests PARCC and Smarter Balance have been field testing and making sure they are fair.

Is it fair to hold teachers accountable for their students performance ? Does this put too much pressure on students and teachers? Not if it is done correctly. Parents over emphasizing the testing by boycotting it doesn't help make it a valuable useful part of education.

NJACHIEVE laws use comparison of student growth. It is not a direct score based on performance. There is actually an advantage to teaching lower level students who have more room for growth. And you are judged by an average of all of your students  on a scale between 1 (low) and 4 (high) .  There is no way mathematically you are likely to get below a 2.5 and the evaluations that get flagged for improvements are below a 2.0 . Teachers have to have non existent growth by a majority of students AND get poor evaluations from your observers to get put on warning for dismissal of tenure. I know unions want to protect their paying members. I don't think it is wrong to expect teachers to do their jobs. You don't have to be perfect, just effective.

Once we get the facts straight and get rid of the pressure, the new standards and assessments actually provide a great way for teachers and administrators everywhere to say. Where are our students now?, where would we like them to be ? and how are we going to get them there...

Part of the problem is naming the new movement... anything that you have identified as a new and different concept gets met instantly with disapproval. Anyone remember the "Whole Language" fights of the early 90s .

As a personal story I started last year with specific "Common Core" initiatives in Social Studies classes.  I gave students specific Math and Language Arts  tasks to see how they are meeting the benchmarks and how I could help them then learn more about these concepts as they relate to Social Studies . The tasks are not easy or obvious, but after they are presented we broke them down gave lots of examples and had them keep trying. Some students were frustrated at being asked to do something they had not already been taught. (I wasn't grading these, just keeping track of effort as classwork)

I got complaints from parents.. why are they doing math in Social studies ? What is this "Common Core" (I made the mistake of using the name) I don't know... area, perimeter, graphs, charts, all useful no ?

So this year I stopped calling it Common Core but kept doing it.... no complaints, and they are getting much better at thinking critically all the time.

My suggestion is maybe we should keep asking students to think, maybe parents who haven't been trained as educators could be a little more trusting of those of us that have. Maybe we should abandon  the name too. Some recent criticisms actually implied that we are making the goals "Common" and lower for students.  If you actually read the standards they are anything but low.

I do understand states that are on the lower end nationally panicking and pulling out of testing. But Northeast States and especially New Jersey should not be afraid at all of these new initiatives. We should Keep Calm and Carry On !