Friday, March 2, 2012

Kill the Common Core, Save Education

I'm at a professional development meeting as I write these words and it occurs to me that I have not been at a good professional development meeting administered by my school system in two years. That's a long time to go without a good meeting. I've been to other training sessions that have not been planned or given by my school, and those have been good, but as for what I'm given by the school or the state, it has been pretty awful stuff.

Today's session is all about the Common Core Standards which, if you're not a teacher, simply means a list of things that kids should know at a certain age. Sounds good except when you think that kids are different from one another, but let's not trouble ourselves with that right now. We were doing fine at this meeting until we got to talking about the word "common." Then we saw what was really happening.

Years ago, when I first heard the term Common Core Standards, I was turned off. Common, it seemed to me, was a bad word to use in education. I teach alternative education kids and, on February 29th, I took some time to explain what a leap year is. To eleventh graders. They had no idea. They didn't know that February usually has 28 days in it. They had no idea why we would need a leap year. It was remarkable. Today I'm being told that not only must I align my planning to the lists of standards but that, in the very near future, I need to expect to create Common Lessons for my kids with the other English teachers in my school. That is, we need to create The One Plan To Teach Them All.

Are you kidding me?

Let's put this in terms of sports. All children will learn to be middle linebackers. They will learn the position by studying the play book. They will work to understand offenses through coaching on the field. And they will learn tackling through repeated drilling, tackling fullbacks coming through the line.

It does not matter if the student is a 75 lb girl or a 300 lb boy. They will both learn to be middle linebackers. They will all make it to proficiency in this skill.

Well, that makes perfect sense.

Today, if nothing else, the veil fell from our eyes. Common Core Standards have been adopted by 47 of the 50 states. Now, we are planning the common core curriculum which will most certainly be followed by the common core standardized testing. The very thing that I wondered about when I first heard that word "common" is coming true: we are creating a nationalized curriculum and testing system. That 75 lb girl better be ready to play ball because a big-ass full back is bearing down on her with the ball. And if she can't stop him, that's my fault and I get fired for it.

Oh well.

I wrote this morning to another teacher about how and when this trend will shift. I said that it would take a while, something like fifteen years. I repeated that estimation to a teacher at our professional development meeting. He said, "nah, it can't take that long." I explained that we are stuck on an oil tanker and that to stop such a thing takes five and a half miles. To turn it 180 degrees takes a full fifteen minutes. NCLB was designed during the Bush Administration and then strengthened by Obama's Race to the Top. It is a terrible bit of public policy but it is also an oil tanker. We are about to run aground and there is no way to stop or turn quickly.

Yet, maybe there is a way. Or maybe there are several ways. Here are some of the ideas I'm working with:

One, I'm not voting for Barack Obama. I won't vote for any of the Republicans either, but I can't bring myself to endorse Obama. I'm a teacher. What lesson would I be teaching him?

Two, I think I'm going to keep my kids home from the state testing. I need to investigate this further so that I know what impact it can have on them. I don't want to hurt them in any way by not letting them take the tests. However, taking the tests is detrimental. They could go to a museum, read books, kick a soccer ball, or dance. There are so many things more important than the testing.

Three, I'm going to keep publishing my experience with the Common Core and trying to convince parents that their children's educations are being sold out for government money.

It's not much. But it's a start. Kill the Common Core to save education.

Write on.