A Response to “Five Reasons the Common Core is Ruining Childhood”

1 Nov

The Huffington Post published this article on the Common Core last week, and I’ve felt moderately uneasy ever since. This is the kind of thing that I keep hearing people say, but it really doesn’t make sense, and I’ll explain why. The author, Katie Hurley, centers her criticism around 5 main issues that she blames on the CCSS: (1) increased stress; (2) creativity is dead; (3) inadequate time to socialize; (4) poor eating habits and insufficient exercise; and (5) no time to decompress. Let me begin by saying that, Ms. Hurley, I agree with you on all five of these points. Kids are stressed. Teachers feel like they don’t have time to teach creatively, and kids are suffering from less time to socialize, exercise, and decompress. However, Common Core is not to blame for this situation.

Ms. Hurley writes that the “hyper focus on core areas of learning and the constant testing to ensure that material is being memorized” stresses kids. Yep. Constant testing does stress kids, but show me anywhere in the Common Core that suggests we ask kids to memorize material. In fact, this is one of the major strengths of Common Core. What could kids memorize that would help them learn to “write arguments and support claims with valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence”? What could they memorize that would help them to learn to “examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content”? If you want to see what the Common Core actually requires kids to do, go and read the standards. You might be surprised.

“Busy work is the name of the game.”

Again, Ms. Hurley, what does this have to do with the standards? I agree. Kids are exposed to a sickening amount of mind-numbing busy work, but that’s not the fault of these standards. These standards ask kids to read, write, and think in complex ways. The literacy standards want kids to write coherently; to develop and strengthen writing through planning, revising, and trying new approaches; to use technology; to share their writing products and respond to feedback; to research, solve problems, and synthesize sources; to analyze and reflect. It’s hard not to be creative with such a plethora of options. Isn’t this what we adults are doing already? Now, there’s a lot of bad teaching out there. That doesn’t have anything to do with the Common Core Standards. That has to do with trying to manage 25 individuals in one room at the same time. (And don’t say that research on class size shows that it doesn’t make a difference. If you’ve ever taught or had a kid in school, you know that it does.) That has to do with ZERO time in the day to work with colleagues, read professional literature, or participate in conversations. We spend SO. MUCH. MORE. time talking about paperwork than we do about actually doing our jobs. Give us a break! Teachers don’t feel like they can be creative because there are big tests out there being held over their heads, but that’s not the fault of the Common Core.

And, you know, my biggest, truly biggest concern for my own daughter when she entered kindergarten last year was about time – time for recess, time to exercise, time to talk with her friends, time to eat her lunch at her own pace, time to sit for a moment and rest. At barely five, I didn’t want my barely-not-a-baby girl to be doing something academic for 7 hours, 5 days a week. I wanted her to have time to develop relationships and play and get some oxygen in her blood. And this doesn’t change as kids get older. However, once again, this is unrelated to the Common Core standards. The CCSS elevate our expectations for quality work. We can’t ask kids to fill in worksheets and have them magically come out understanding how to read, write, and think for themselves. Teaching is changing under CC, and that’s a good thing. All of the negativity surrounding this conversation has to do with missteps in implementation: what will these new tests look like? will districts require all teachers to teach the same texts, the same units? Let’s hope that our administrators can step up to support us as we deepen our practice and engage our students in richer and more relevant work than most of them have experienced in school and not burden us with more meaningless tests and less autonomy. Let’s not, however, bash the CCSS. It’s essential that we understand the difference between high standards and poorly-designed tests.

(And, on that note, if you’re interested in assessments, check out Organic Writing Assessment: Dynamic Criteria Mapping in Action for a look into how local control over testing could generate information that teachers might actually value and could use to improve their teaching. Imagine that.)

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