Common Core Standards: Part II

Last week we looked at the history and intentions of the Common Core State Standards initiative.  Here’s a summary of that big picture:

Common Core is a set of K-12 academic standards in math and English/language arts that are intended to provide clear, consistent expectations for public schools across the country.  The standards are not a national curriculum and do not mandate particular instructional methods.  The Common Core program also includes assessments, data collection, and accountability measures.  The initiative has been led by the states, but with significant help and influence from the Gates Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education.

I support the idea of common academic standards for core subjects in American public schools.   It makes sense to me to have a clear, consistent framework of expectations for public education.  The hodge-podge of state standards makes it difficult for students to receive a coherent public education if they move from state to state.  This has been particularly true for military kids.  There are also quality issues in public education that are addressed, at least in part, by a set of common academic standards.

I have concerns about the restricted process by which the CCSS were designed and adopted.
Those who actually understand how children grow, develop, and learn (e.g. teachers, principals, school psychologists, child development specialists) were not included in writing the standards.  Those with expertise in teaching young children, children with special needs, and English language learners were not included.  The few CCSS team members with a previous background in teaching were all teachers at the high school level.  The standards were not even field-tested to see how they would actually work in real schools with real kids!  As a result, schools across the country have struggled with developmentally inappropriate standards.  And it’s as if the standards were written in stone.  There is no process in place for revising and improving them.

I also have concerns about the lack of preparation for implementation of Common Core at the school level.  Teachers in many school systems have not been adequately trained.  Existing textbooks and other instructional resources do not reflect the new standards and do not assist teachers in transitioning to the Common Core, so schools either do without or spend limited financial resources on the new materials.  The online testing program requires bandwidth and equipment that many schools just don’t have – and can’t afford.

Parents have been most concerned about the data collection and assessment programs.  Common Core has presented the opportunity for data collection on students across the country, and many parents and politicians have been uncomfortable with the amount and kinds of information that will be available to companies and governmental agencies.  The assessment program has set the curve so high that large numbers of students fail the tests – and their schools and teachers are considered failures as well.  There is no responsible, educationally sound reason to label children as failures.  It is unfair to hold children, teachers, and schools accountable for performance on a controversial set of standards that is still in the implementation process.

In summary, the Common Core standards were written by a small group of folks, none of whom had any teaching experience with elementary or middle school kids, children with special needs, or English language learners.  As a result, the standards are developmentally inappropriate for many students.  The standards were not field-tested, and there is not a process in place for revising them.  Although the initiative has been led by the states, the federal government and the Gates Foundation have been instrumental in funding it and guiding it.  Teacher training for the implementation of the Common Core has been spotty and inadequate in many school systems.  The push for higher, more rigorous academic standards has not resulted in more educational resources for teachers and students.  The online testing program requires infrastructure and equipment that many school systems simply do not have.  The bar for passing the tests has been arbitrarily set at a level that ensures a high percentage of students will fail.

What can be done?  For starters, we all need to take a deep breath, stop the frenzy, and think about how to best salvage what’s good in the Common Core.  Review and revise the standards with input from classroom teachers and other appropriate experts.  Provide a thorough professional development program to teachers and other school personnel.  Ask parents for input and listen to their concerns.  Provide teachers with the instructional resources necessary for success.  Delay any assessments until all teachers are trained and have the instructional materials they need.  Perform an audit of the infrastructure and equipment currently available in school buildings and work to bring these up to speed in every American public school.

Then and only then is it appropriate to hold schools, teachers, and students accountable for their performance.  Until then, those who have designed and led the Common Core initiative should be held accountable for their mismanagement of the process.

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