Sunday, July 14, 2013
Things That Worry Me About Common Core
The actual substance of Common Core was never important to Pastorek just as it is not really important to John White. That's why White fired or reassigned almost all the curriculum experts at the DOE and announced in recent education meetings that the Department was not going to tell teachers how to teach to the common core. Instead he was going to "empower" teachers to teach it any way they chose. Teachers will just need to be dammed sure students achieve a good VAM score if they want to keep their jobs. There will be no more GLEs, and no more lock step lesson plans that were supposed to demonstrate that the teacher had covered certain important concepts by certain dates. Now with the Common Core teachers will "be given" a form of "academic freedom". There will be no required curriculum at the elementary level, and maybe no specific amounts of teaching time for specific subjects. Subjects other than ELA and math won't matter very much. There will only be the PARCC. To teachers the simple message will be: "Do whatever is necessary to get as many of your students as possible over the bar."
Will the Common Core finally be the perfect standard for all our students? Is this list of standards (we are repeatedly told that it is not a curriculum) so miraculous that it will transform our schools into the world class learning institutions we want them to be? Will our frustrated teachers who have been beating their brains out trying to close the all important achievement gap finally have the illusive magic formula that will insure that all students will achieve at average or above levels? Will the fact that most states will be testing students and rating schools by the same set of standards finally bring excellence to our Louisiana public schools?
John White and Bridget Neiland of LABI (who recently wrote this op-ed in support of the Common Core) are promoting a really strange educational theory. That is: If you have a bunch of kids who are having trouble clearing a certain academic bar, somehow those kids will magically do better if we raise the bar higher than the one they couldn't clear in the first place. Kids who are doing poorly even with rote learning will somehow rise to the challenge when we require them to switch gears and do a lot more critical thinking. Also, their reading skills will improve when we challenge them to read serious technical manuals instead of entertaining fiction.
Here are the reasons I am very skeptical that the Common Core will be the panacea for our schools.
1. The developer of the common core, David Coleman never taught a day in a K-12 school! As a student, he attended a special public high school for gifted students in New York, then received his university education as a Rhodes scholar in English literature and classical philosophy. He was turned down when he applied to teach at the high school level, so he became a self proclaimed expert in curriculum. I understand he worked on some high visibility tutoring projects but I can't help but be a bit skeptical that he knows very much about teaching low performing K-12 students. At least he is not hindered by the "soft bigotry of low expectations". Education seems to be the only field where the professionals with the most experience in the field are ignored when new standards are developed and self proclaimed "experts" such as Coleman are preferred. College philosophy professors and lawyers apparently have special knowledge of child development and the educational needs of all children.
Just saw this post by Diane Ravitch about how David Coleman sold us the common core. Another case of creating an imagined need.
2. Experts in early childhood education have been complaining lately that some of the Common Core standards are inappropriate for very young students. There were practically no early childhood educators on the committee that reviewed the standards. Many educators wonder if it is appropriate to have first graders analyzing the meaning of a paragraph before they can even read the words.
3. The Common Core requires much more of our ELA instruction to be based on non-fiction reading. Reading classes will shift from what may have been interesting fiction stories to cryptic instruction manuals and other informative pieces. See what David Chura, a respected educator of at-risk youth has to say about this. He wonders how this will encourage our least motivated students to read more.
4. With Common Core, math instruction will progress to more difficult concepts in earlier grades and will push students rapidly into abstract math. I googled a guide for common core geometry on the Internet and found that the practice problems are loaded with mathematical jargon instead of practical everyday language. Just try googling Common Core geometry practice problems and see if you find many that are useful in everyday life.
5. The common core standards are basically college prep material. When questioned about this, the promoters of Common Core simply state their ideology that students going into skilled crafts and careers requiring associate degrees or entering service fields need exactly the same preparation from high school as do those who plan to go on to 4 year degrees. I believe that people who say this must have no concept of what math and English skills everyday people really use. When we increase the emphasis on "higher level math skills" we neglect teaching kids about the benefits of ordinary concepts like compound interest and the virtual slavery caused by payday loans. So much for equipping young people with real life skills.
Common Core has never been field tested to see if it works, and real classroom teachers were not consulted to see if it was appropriate before Louisiana adopted it. Would the medical profession adopt a new surgical procedure without asking real surgeons to test it? Would the highway department adopt a new bridge design developed by philosophy professors and lawyers? This is basically what we are doing with the Common Core in Louisiana. Guess who will be blamed if it does not work!
Posted by Michael Deshotels