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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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What Colleges Will Teach in 2025

3 Oct

If you haven’t read this piece from Time yet, consider doing so. My oldest daughter will be a high-school senior in 2025. What will school look like for her? Well, some of that depends on which question we decide to pursue: should we be asking what students should know or what students should know how to do? The easiest answer, in my mind, is ‘yes’ to both of those. And I would elaborate:

  • Do they participate in the conversations of their communities?

In my mind, this is really the central issue. Participation requires asking questions. It requires finding and developing honest, well-argued, complex, balanced, open-minded answers. It requires reading and writing and listening and speaking. And it can exist anywhere. Whether you’re a lawyer or a student or a homeowner reading your water bill or a citizen in a town attending a town meeting or a pet owner interacting with other pet owners or a politician or a child or whatever, are you participating? You know, lurking is one thing – acquiring information without responding to it – but we want our communities, whatever they are, to be filled with individuals willing to speak up.

I can’t remember everything I’ve read, and there is a whole heap of literature that, as an English major, I probably should have read but haven’t yet. I am of two minds about this: first, you can’t read everything, so there’s that. However, it is important to have foundational knowledge. When I was in graduate school, I constantly saw parallels between what I was learning as a graduate student in rhetoric and composition and how I had learned French. I remember that transition time when I was learning French, right before reaching a level of fluency where I could have a conversation and feel like everything I had learned was coming together. In graduate school, when I began reading texts that referred to other texts with which I was familiar, I began to anticipate that same transition to fluency, and that feels good. It feels good as a person to feel like you are a part of a conversation. Kids need to have access to that dynamic as well. And it’s absolutely impossible for us to teach this to them as little pills of information to swallow. If we want to do better, we respect them as individuals, connect them to their communities, and watch them grow.

 

 

Sure, When Pigs Fly – A Few Thoughts on Assessments

2 Oct

We spent some time in our high school ELA meeting today talking about standardized test results and how they show how much the kids are struggling, but I had to ask myself – do we believe that this test is testing what we think it is important for kids to know? What a fundamental but excruciatingly difficult question to ask or answer. I came away from this meeting with notably more questions than answers. Namely,

  • Do we really have the leisure to be this concerned about grammar? I mean, if kids can’t understand what they’re reading and don’t (overall) know how to think critically, is it responsible of us to teach them editing? In my mind, I always think of this in baking terms – if your cake is wet or grainy or gross, is there really a point in icing it? (I speak from experience when I say that bad things can happen if you do.) I mean, not to belabor a point, but really, we all know that kids are mostly unwilling to go back to a piece if they’re already “done with it” (read: they’ve fixed the grammatical errors). The last time I made a gross cake and iced it, I really didn’t want to go back and remake the cake (which I definitely should have done) because, I mean, it was already finished. Whether it’s undigestible cake or text, should we really be polishing a half-baked idea?
  • Also, yeah, the culture question – Kids seem to be missing a fair number of questions due to lack of cultural capital. What do we do about that? You can’t teach a kid every idiom in the English language – Wikipedia estimates that there are more than 25,000 – so what then? In my mind, we just keep reading and digesting and reading and thinking and reading and writing and asking them difficult questions and engaging them in conversations that matter. What would you do?

I’m no assessment expert, but I do know that it’s important for us to learn what our kids know how to do and what they’re learning. If you could wave the magic assessment wand over your school, what would this picture look like for your kids?

Diane Ravitch

27 Sep

So, did you hear NPR’s interview with Diane Ravitch this morning? Have a listen.

I didn’t think, for some reason, that I was going to end up in her camp, but based on what she talked about this morning, I’m thinking I need to read her new book. This was a brief interview, but Ravitch spent most of her time focusing on what she sees as the “real” problem of education – poverty. I was particularly drawn in by her point that the kids we need to help the most are getting the least, and that we need to focus on doing things like decreasing class size, and making sure that impoverished kids receive arts and have access to things like guidance counselors and school librarians.

Amen.

Have you read Ravitch’s book yet? What did you think?