The Not So Common Core Standards: Potential Implications and Meaning For Us All

We live in a country that was founded on differences.  As I write this, I recall images of Felix Baumgartner free falling out of a hot air balloon from space.  We value this ingenuity, this creativity, this originality, this risk-taking. We live in the land of the free and yet everywhere you look, particularly in public education, it would seem we have collectively handed over our freedom in the name of compliance, consistency and the oh so not “common”, known as The Common Core.

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The powerful noblemen have doled out their marching orders to us, the commoners and we had better comply or beware.  David Coleman and Susan Pimenthal, co-authors of the Common Core Standards, are not educators.  They have not spent time in classrooms on the front lines and yet they have determined the core, the central, innermost, or most essential part of education.  So the question is…what does this mean for the public education of our students, your kids, my kids and those of the future?

The Common Core Standards document initially reads as somewhat benign.  Who would argue the idea that there “should” be a core of standards that all students in this great nation strive for?  (Although I tend to avoid “shoulding”on myself at all costs)  How could one oppose standards, ensuring success for all students?  (I mean if over 40 states adopted this then it must be great.)   Who would dare even oppose such a notion?  (And if you do oppose then what is wrong with you to be such a “curmudgeon” or a “whiner”.)  At the risk of being both I will go on.

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Read this kindergarten standard keeping in mind many 5 year olds show up to school and they do not even know their letters and they are beginning to lose their baby teeth.   For some they have never even attended preschool and this is their first school experience.  They are filled with wonder, curiosity, creativity and a natural desire to learn.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.K.1 Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book (e.g., My favorite book is…).

I would argue that this is a more realistic standard for our 1st or 2nd graders.  Do we want our students to succeed or do we want to set standards that are so out of their range of normal development that they fail even before they begin?

And while I realize there ARE 5 year olds all over the nation who are more than capable of performing this standard, there are just as many who are not.  There is nothing magical about being 5 that means you are as developed as the other 5 year olds sitting next to you, not to mention that our boys are typically at least 6 months behind our girls.  And if this standard was something to look at in terms of a goal to work towards, I would have no problem with it, but it will not.  It will be seen as what is expected as “common” for all students.  We are starting out leaving over half of our kids behind.

There is no such thing as kindergarten anymore with these standards.  Sorry kids, no time to learn your letters, learn through play and be 5 years old as the standards expect you to show up to school reading informational texts closely and writing persuasive essays already.  Put away the sand tables and the blocks and the dramatic play areas there is work to be done.  And this begs the question, why are we so concerned with the academic side of the child without including the social and emotional sides?  They all work in connection with each other and without each given it’s due the scales are tipped toward disaster.

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The Common Core standards alone are not  bad.  In fact, in my work with schools there are great conversations that are happening as a result of this document as it asks us to look at where we are and what we are doing and what areas we need to improve on.  This is all good reflective practice and if it started and ended there…we would be able to say to ourselves, “This too shall pass”.  But will it?  Never before in public education has there been such a broad sweeping, nationally accepted document.  And while states all over the nation are adopting this document, two groups are being paid millions of dollars to come up with the best assessments (See PARCC (http://www.parcconline.org/achieving-common-core) and Smarter Balanced at (http://www.smarterbalanced.org/)).

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And therein lies the rub.  The high stakes testing piece to this latest “one size fits all” movement will come out in the year 2014 and I am predicting that at this point everything will change.  Schools all over the nation will be failing these tests and large publishing companies will be at their doors with the next magic bullet that will “solve” all testing deficiencies.  Have we learned nothing from No Child Left Behind?  The idea of “teaching to the test” will take on more power and energy than ever.

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This is not about good education.  This is not about educating our kids.  This is about making money and in order for that to happen we must first create an enormous problem.  Failure is the best reason for anyone to buy anything!  Overweight?  Buy this pill or that diet.  Failing schools?  Don’t leave it up the professionals within the schools to figure out what they need, because publishers know so much more. Students?  Who are they?

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We need to return to conversations about our students and what is or is not developmentally appropriate, what our students need for instruction in the moment based on their thinking, their questions and how they see the world.  Would you ever take an infant and force them to “walk” down the stairs?  NO!  But physical development is something concrete.  Cognitive development, on the other hand, is harder to understand and yet we forge ahead with the idea that if we place unrealistic expectations on our students then they will just rise.

They will not rise unless they are ready to rise!!  Those who are not ready will fall and hurdle  to the bottom of the stairs with nobody with be there to pick them up as there is a test to teach to and quite frankly, “I don’t give a  sh!t what you think or feel.”  This is a quote from David Coleman, one of 2 co-authors of the Common Core.   He has also taken on the position as head of The College Board 2 months ago.  This organization has more power over the future of all of our students and now this man will also align the SAT’s and test preps with ‘HIS” common core.  There is even talk of test scores being attached to kids GPA’s.  Can you say conflict of interest?

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Why and how, I must ask, have we allowed one elitist man from Harvard to have so much power over our entire system?    A man, who only cares about what he thinks.  Watch him as he demonstrates his version of a close reading on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTCiQVCpdQc) with A Letter From Birmingham Jail.  Or don’t, unless you really need a nap!  THIS is the future model for good teaching?  He is completely in his own head and unaware of his audience.  This demonstration both scares and depresses me.

And yet, why is it that those of us in education are the first ones to jump on to any wagon that happens to be going by, regardless of what band is playing?  Where has our responsibility to question gone?  Why are we not asking about what band is playing?   Why are we blindly following the pack? Let’s question what is happening here before it is too late.  Let’s take a risk, jump out of that balloon and take the plunge toward thinking and questioning what this means for our kids, our teachers and the future of our entire public educational system.

PS In my next post I will discuss some ways we can become actively involved as I discuss opting out of testing and events we can attend to show our support.