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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.)


It’s Connected Educator Month

11 Oct

Connected Educator Month is kind of like an illustration of my general teaching philosophy. We all need to have the time and support to be out there participating in the conversations happening in education. There are so many great resources circulating around the internet right now; here are a few:

A great list from Edutopia with ideas for becoming a connected educator

A Pinterest board to help you build your professional educator network

Also from Edutopia, a roundup of resources related to Connected Educator Month 2013

Now that I have this blog, I mean, I must be pretty connected, right? Yeah, well, I’m getting there. Here’s my real question – I’m still not on Twitter. What do you think – to join, or not to join? Am I missing out? Clue me in here!

In what ways are you connecting with other educators? And, on that note, if you have a blog or any favorite blogs to read, feel free to leave the links in the comments.


On Creativity

10 Oct

Gosh. How much do I love TED? I heard this a few weekends ago on NPR and thought it was a really lovely collection of thoughts on creativity.

I love this quotation from Abigail Washburn:

“Is it an original idea? Or is it something where you’re literally a creative collagist? You’re taking pieces of the world that you see around you and that are inside of you and put them together in a way that you see fit.” — Abigail Washburn

I am most definitely a creative collagist at heart. For most of the decades of my life, I’ve kept a journal. I’ve taken a hiatus over the last few years (thanks a lot, kids!), but I’m definitely ready to get back to it and have slowly begun that collecting that used to be so central to my life. In my little purple notebook so far – teaching ideas, thoughts about the garden, funny things the girls say, quotations from texts I’m reading, charts, drawings, and diagrams, a pressed flower, general musings, memories, lists – I’m getting back to my old habits of collecting words and ideas, and I’m really thankful for that.

What’s your medium for creative expression? How do you make time for your art, whatever it is? Are you a creative collagist? How so?

Collaborative Practice

8 Oct

Man, check out this spot-on blog post from Education Week.

The post references a paper from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, which suggests a number of structures that would help schools to retain teachers and help, overall, to professionalize the field. My favorite of the bunch – time in schools for collaborative practice. Yes, yes, and yes.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a job listing at one of the schools in the High Tech High network in San Diego. They were looking to hire a director of faculty research. What, what? A DIRECTOR OF FACULTY RESEARCH. In a high school. Mind = blown. Teachers having access to the conversations going on in the field! Teachers contributing to conversations! Schools supporting teachers’ contributions to the field! How about that? Seems like a pretty good idea, I’d say.

So, yeah, thanks, state teachers of the year, for making a point public that is so important yet so forgotten. We get better by reading and writing and reflecting and participating and listening and speaking and contributing. Let’s make some time for that.

Flash Fiction

4 Oct

Check out the NYTimes’ post on reading and writing flash fiction. There are some great questions here about what makes a story and some fun ideas for expanding and compressing texts. There are also links to all sorts of interesting related materials. Fun!

Have you or your kids tried your hands at flash fiction? Do you have a favorite piece? Please share 🙂

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.



Practice Exchanges

30 Sep

Hey, this sounds familiar!

I’m fairly new to the Literacy in Learning Exchange. If you haven’t checked them out, you should. Their basic premise is a solid one – to connect entities working in literacy to one another. Essentially, they pitch the practice exchange as an alternative to professional development in which educators are engaged in

  • adult learning as a shared responsibility,
  • shared accountability for student learning,
  • using evidence to discuss teaching and learning with others, and
  • collaborative learning that is captured and shared with others.

This sounds exactly like what we aspire to do with our College-Ready Writers Program. I have actually never participated in professional development of this type. All of the professional development I have received (or, embarrassingly, offered) until this fall was 90 percent sage-on-the-stage style. The message is: we, the presenters, have the right answers; you, the teachers, do not. Yikes!

So, in our schools, we are working hard to create a true collaboration with teachers teaching each other and equal access to research for all. What a waste not to learn from the other educators in our community, be they from the next town or even the next classroom over.

What’s it like in your school? Do teachers get time to work together? Do you have any horrible or wonderful PD stories to share?

Happy Monday!