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About this blog: While state and federal politics dominate the headlines, local issues have an enormous impact on our everyday lives. This blog will attempt to shine a light on topics of public interest and facilitate greater participation in the ...  (More)

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Are Teachers Turning On Common Core?

Uploaded: Jul 11, 2014
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) kicks off its biennial convention today in Los Angeles, and probably the hottest topic up for discussion is Common Core, specifically a resolution that has been drafted by the AFT's executive committee. The AFT, which represents approximately 1.5 million members and which has long been a supporter of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), notes in the resolution that while the "AFT believes in the promise and the potential" of the CCSS, they are concerned about how the standards have been developed and are being implemented. The resolution gives a clear picture of the growing chorus of concerns held by educators, including:

• Not enough input from teachers in standard development;
• Standards, especially those in the primary grades, that are not developmentally appropriate;
• Testing on CCSS standards when they have not been fully implemented;
• Linking student grade promotion and teacher performance evaluations to grade testing amid the flawed implementation;
• The "politically manipulated and technically invalid 'proficiency levels' that are being imposed serve to widen the achievement gap"; and
• The use of test results to "label students, teachers, and schools as failures rather than for school improvement".

Weakening public teacher support of CCSS is a problem for supporters—particularly because teachers are the front lines communicating with parents. In developing the resolution and discussing it at the convention this week, it appears that the national AFT is listening to its local union affiliates. Several prominent individual state unions, including the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), have publicly come out opposing the CCSS. In fact, when the CTU passed a resolution opposing the standards back in May, it asked the AFT to pass a similar resolution at the convention that kicks off today.

Common Core's mission is to identify "consistent guidelines for what every student should know and be able to do in math and English language arts from kindergarten through 12th grade". The devil, however, is always in the details. A close family member of mine (who I wish to keep anonymous) has taught for over 30 years and whose commitment to excellence in teaching was recently recognized by her school district's Board of Education. She echoes the concerns expressed that the new CCSS is not developmentally appropriate, stating "The overall idea is very good, but in the primary grades, they are asking way, way too much for these young children to master. Too much is being thrown at them, it moves way too fast, and they are not getting a solid foundation. That is what I am frustrated with. The standards go way beyond what they are developmentally ready for." She works in a school district in a less affluent area with a high number of students with English as a second language and feels that while children in affluent communities might get additional support to master the fire hose of information, for students like hers who still struggle with the language, the pace only puts them further behind. She adds that during the training she received on the new CCSS, teachers were told they would be teaching less, but going deeper. She and her fellow teachers have found that the opposite is true.

She also notes that the new standards dictate much more emphasis on non-fiction in the classroom (a topic I covered in an earlier post), which she thinks is good, but the amount of material she is required to get through comes at an opportunity cost. She has less flexibility to use fiction books and do class projects that she has found very beneficial in her 30+ years as an educator. She laments that there is now very little time for art projects in Kindergarten and 1st grade (grades almost synonymous with crayons and coloring!) and feels that art is important for students developmentally at those grades.

Ironically, at the other end of the spectrum, a math teacher at the middle school level tells me that units she used to teach at an earlier grade level are now pushed out several years under Common Core. This particular teacher has the flexibility to be able to add the concepts back into the curriculum at the younger grade level because she works at a private school – but not all teachers have that flexibility. She sees the benefit of introducing the more advanced concepts earlier is that students see them multiple times over several years and the repetition is helpful to cementing the foundation.

As the realities of Common Core are emerging amid the implementation, hopefully our education leaders will take the experiences from those on the front lines—and from parents whose children are truly in the trenches—and incorporate that feedback into revising the standards. The goal of teaching is to grow and improve through knowledge. The "standards" should be held to that.

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