Get ready, folks. It's one of those days where I'm going to jump up on my soapbox and give my opinion about something. My opinion on a rather "hot" topic among the education world. What is happening to me this year?
Today's topic of discussion: The Common Core State Standards.
For anyone that has no idea what those are....they are the new standards that many states (Missouri being one of them) have decided to adopt to begin teaching in schools. The initiative started a couple of years ago, and have started making their way in to the early grades, and slowly moving up.
The main focus for Common Core is college and career readiness. Basically, standards that are designed to encourage deeper thinking rather than wider. Consolidating some of the standards that were in place before, and allowing more time for in-depth study of a few skills rather than brief knowledge of many. The whole plan is to better prepare students for life after school. Meaning better chances for college success and/or immediate job placement.
This is a K-12 initiative, and each set of standards starting in kindergarten working all the way up are basically the same, yet on a much deeper level as each year passes by. Adding on to what was learned the year before. Connecting it to what's been taught before. And asking for the students for much higher order of thinking. Rather than just giving them information and having them show us they understood what we told them, they are now asked to "discover" the information on their own with some guidance, and then applying that information to various situations and subjects.
It's all probably a bunch of goobledy goop unless you're in the education world or have spent time looking in to the Common Core standards.
This year was the first year that 4th grade (in my district) was to start implementing Common Core. It's basically a "transition year". We are completing our last MAP test, brought on by No Child Left Behind, which is written based on our old standards, and integrating aligned Common Core standards. Next year, we'll make the complete switch to the Common Core.
When I was in college, Common Core was just getting it's start. We had spent two years learning the "old" standards, and then found out that the schools would be adopting new standards. So, the last year two years of college were focused on the new standards. We learned how the standards were to be implemented, and why. We learned that the shift would be towards thematic units of study, integrating all subject levels to revolve around a specific set of standards or area of study. We learned how to create these units. We learned the types of skills that students were going to need in order to do what was asked of them, and how to best make the transition as easy as possible (because there would be gaps as the new standards were being put in to place).
Having the chance of spending time learning the old AND the new gave me a pretty fresh perspective on what was in store for our education system.
One thing that I KNEW would happen would be the resistance. Any time there is a major change in anything, there are going to be people that rally together and want to stop it. Change scares a lot of people. And, I knew that there would become a battle over keeping the old versus bringing in the new. There's always a battle about everything.
One side claims there's nothing wrong with the old system, there was just too much pressure placed on a standardized test that measured student progress. The other side claims Common Core is the fix-all system that will bring our country out of the educational slump it's in.
One side thinks that the old standards need to stay in place, but get rid of No Child Left Behind. The other side says give Common Core a chance and let it show what it can do for our kids.
And here's the part where I get to my opinion.
Wanna know what I think? What side I'm on?
That's right. Neither. Not one side or the other...because both sides of the argument have major flaws and are missing one EXTREMELY important part of the equation.
How many of you, when in school, remember the "standards" your teachers were following? How many of you remember a big test that you had to take at the end of the year? How many of you, if having an opinion on the subject, begin your sentences with "When I was in school, we didn't have any of this hooky...our teachers taught us how to read and do math. Period."?
Well, I can't answer those questions for all of you, but I can say that I don't remember what specific standards my teachers had to teach. That wasn't something they shared with us. They just told us the skills we were going to learn. I learned how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. I learned how to read. Can I explain to you how I learned to read? Nope. I can tell you that by the 4th grade, I was reading chapter books and could answer questions and give you a summary of what I read. I had started to understand which genres of books I preferred, how to use non-fiction text to find information, and by the 5th and 6th grades could write in-depth reports about the books I had to read.
I don't remember a big test that I had to take at the end of the year. I don't remember hearing the words "you need to know this for the Benchmark test". At the end of the year, our teachers knew if we'd learned what we needed to know, and the teachers we had the next year knew as well.
And, I have used that very sentence MANY times. Except I go on to explain that I had teachers that were WONDERFUL and teachers that were not so wonderful. I can share stories about some of the projects I had, some of the ways that teachers helped us remember what we were learning, and what teachers really inspired me to be who I am today. I can share stories about some of the teachers I didn't care for, and that's because I hated going in to their classroom, reading a chapter in the text book, and answering the questions at the end. I couldn't tell you a darned thing I learned in those classes, and I resented the teacher for it. They were wasting my time. There was no actual teaching taking place. The bad left just a big a imprint as the good.
And both sides are what led me to be the teacher that I am, and hope to be. Definitely helping me know what I'm not and never want to be.
Which is really why I have the opinion I do about Common Core.
If you take a second to talk to a teacher who has been in the classroom ten, fifteen, twenty years or more, they'll tell you that there has been MANY changes to the educational system over that time. The changes weren't so public, because the news wasn't plastered all over Facebook and social media. It was something taken care of in-house. New standards were adopted, new text books were bought, and the teachers were told what they had to cover in the course of a year.
And then, they took that information and taught what they needed to. The way they wanted to teach it. Kids still learned how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. They still taught kids how to read. They taught science and social studies. And it was all done using whatever curriculum was the focus at the time.
They will share with you that they have seen the education system move through the same cycles. Starting out, they were to rely solely on text books as their main resource to teach. Then text books were bad. Then text books were good again. And now we're back to the mentality of text books being bad.
They will tell you that they were encouraged to teach with common themes, then themes were bad, and then back to themes again.
But at the end of the day NONE OF THAT MATTERS!!
If a teacher can teach everything he/she needs to teach and relies heavily on a text book is that any different from a teacher that can teach everything he/she needs to teach without ever picking up a text book? If a teacher can teach everything he/she needs to teach by creating their own cross-curricular units, is that any different from a teacher that uses units that are already prepared by someone else?
And the short answer is NO!! It's no different. Except for one important factor. The teacher.
A true teacher can and will teach students everything they need to know regardless of what fancy curriculum has been adopted. Not just teach, but make sure the student gets what they are teaching and requires proof that the student has an understanding of the skills they need to have.
I can honestly say I'm not a huge fan of text books. There's nothing wrong with them, I just like to create my own stuff, use my own materials. I still use them as a resource and a part of my teaching, though. But, I work with two teachers that can and do use text books, and their kids excel and learn everything they need to. Their kids enjoy what they're learning, because it's all about the WAY the teachers teach, not what they're using to do it.
That, my friends, is the side of the argument nobody really seems to chime in on. At the end of the day, a teacher will teach. How he/she wants to in order to get the job done. New set of standards? OK. New curriculum focus? OK.
They will adapt. They will tweek. But, the curriculum won't mold the teacher, the teacher molds the curriculum. They will do what they do to get the job done.
No, benchmark testing is not a valid way to test. There are too many variables that come in to play. A one size fits all test will NEVER measure the true learning that's taking place in the schools.
Because, I can say for one, that miracles are performed every single day in my school. Kids that come from so many backgrounds, so many challenges, so many hardships are able to learn what they need to learn in our classrooms. Those tests don't show the child that stepped foot in to a fourth grade classroom speaking hardly any English and definitely not reading a word of it, and leaving understanding how to read on a 2nd grade level and carry on a conversation as if they'd been in the country for years. They don't show the kids that walked in to the classroom not even being able to count, but are now able to add two digits by two digits.
Those test results are going to show the kids are behind, haven't learned what they need to learn. It doesn't matter if they've gained two or three years of knowledge in the 8 months they've been in a classroom....the country, even. If they aren't on point with the test, we're not doing our jobs correctly.
That's just stupid.
But, is Common Core the fix-all? Absolutely not. Not if there's a teacher behind it not doing what he/she needs to do.
So, that's my opinion. Common Core is just another name. It may change some of the skills our kids need to know, but it's not going to change how they learn them. The teacher, regardless of what new standards are put in front of him/her, will do what they need to do. They'll get the job done.