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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Are the Common Core State Standards Really THAT Bad?

By Peter DeWitt — October 24, 2013 5 min read
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Some of you will answer the question with a resounding “yes” while others will say “no.” Unfortunately, many teachers won’t speak up because they are afraid to give an honest opinion...for or against the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). And that’s a bit of a problem for me, because I would really like to know how teachers and school leaders are feeling about the Core. Unfortunately, I have a skewed perspective, but after reading this blog and a few others, I have not come to a final decision yet.

Congress isn’t the only thing that shutdown recently. In an effort to gain feedback NY State Commissioner John King scheduled town hall meetings around the state, and then cancelled them because of the feedback he received. Have we really come to a place where it’s better to fight or ignore each other than it is to have honest dialogue? He rescheduled meetings around the state, so time will tell how those meetings work out, but we all need to be honest about how we feel about the CCSS...good or bad.

In many states the CCSS were rolled out really well and teachers are happy with them. They don’t see it as a script, but more of a guide to teaching. Let’s face it; we’ve all had to work with guides before. Anyone who teaches used a textbook and adopted or adapted what the textbook offered. Some teachers created their own textbooks and guides because they wanted a more individualized approach.

In New York State, where I reside, the rollout of the Common Core came at the same time that state assessments were tied to teacher and administrator evaluation for the first time AND when many schools were experiencing severe budget cuts. Therefore, when schools were cutting staff, they were also charged with buying new resources that were CCSS applicable. There was a pressure to buy new resources because state assessments were tied to the Core.

Even though about 30% of students showed proficiency on the state assessment, we all ended up with HEDI scores that Commissioner King thinks we should be happy about. Recently, Jessica Bateman wrote,

More than 90 percent of teachers outside New York City have earned high ratings in the state's first year of mandated performance evaluations, a fact that state education commissioner John King said "should" ease unions' concerns about attaching "high stakes" to testing in a new, more difficult curriculum."

Just to be clear, it doesn’t make us feel better, because “at the end of the day” our testing culture is still harmful to students, and causes many schools to focus on testing. Those teachers and school leaders who received higher HEDI scores will believe that test prep was one of the reasons why that happened.

In addition, NY’s rollout was pretty horrific. Any questions about the CCSS were answered with “Go to EngageNY” which was both unfriendly and completely inadequate. If teachers rolled out lessons the way the NY State Education Department (NYSED) did, they would get a rating of ineffective.

Believe it or not, it’s not all NYSED’s fault...yes, I did just say that. We live in a state where the governor went after $700 million dollars (everyone needs money!) in Race to the Top money, and used a baseball bat to swing at public education and unions. And he was not afraid to use different data to make his case. Unfortunately for him, with his ongoing abusive stance on public education, he also made NY’s rollout of the CCSS pretty much a laughing stock for other states.

Which leads me back to the Common Core...

Are the CCSS Bad?

I’m a fairly trusting guy. When it comes to the teachers, staff and students that I work with, I believe they are doing the right thing until they prove otherwise. I have a “Fool me once, shame on you....Fool me twice, shame on me” philosophy. Which makes me wonder whether the CCSS are bad or do educators think the Core are bad because of the rollout? Additionally, is it the CCSS...or what administrators in each building expect from teachers? I don’t believe teachers should have to follow a script and never expect them to do so.

Over a year ago I had a really great faculty discussion about the 6 Shifts of the Common Core. I like the 6 shift. In the faculty meeting I used Eli Pariser’s video Beware of the Online Filter Bubbles to highlight the point that we need students to go deeper in their research and not believe everything they read on the web or see on television.

Unfortunately, in the past few months, NY has pushed the use of curriculum through EngageNY which was created by Core Knowledge and Expeditionary Learning. Those two models have a ton of curriculum (both good and bad resources), which makes it seem like NY State adopted the Common Core State Curriculum instead of the Common Core State Standards...especially since they are tied to assessments.

I know that the criticism of the CCSS is that they are too rigorous and not age-appropriate. I also have heard that there wasn’t any early childhood expert on the panel that created the CCSS, and that they are corporate driven. However, I also worry that they are supposed to be standards and many school leaders, especially in New York, are adopting them through scripted curriculum because they are tied to assessments.

In the End

I understand that educators may take issue with the fact that I am not saying I don’t like...or like...the Common Core, but I would rather get to the core of how educators are really feeling about them. Sometimes I do not think it’s the Common Core that are the issue, but the way they were rolled AND the way that some schools are using them.

As a school leader, I like providing teachers with resources and guidance, but I do not dictate what they teach or how they teach it because I believe educators are professionals. We work on weaknesses together, and work through those weakness with honesty because we have trust. I don’t walk into their classrooms and ask which Common Core Standard they are teaching. I look at student engagement, the relationship teachers are creating with students, and what learning goal they are working on together. That learning goal may be different for different students, and those goals can be easily tied to any standard.

So, I guess in a longwinded way, I am wondering how teachers and school leaders really feel about the CCSS. Feel free to be angry with me for not taking sides, but the blog is called Finding Common Ground for a reason.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.