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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Common Core Sample: Plumbing the Dark Mysteries of National Standards

I'm cranky. Are you? I've just been a downright Scrooge, though I really don't mean to. And I didn't know why until today. You see, for the last three months I've been aligning and adding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to all of my lesson plans. And, like drinking wine tainted with an undetectable, scentless, tasteless, and usually in powder form, poison, it's been secretly making me ill.

Maybe it's been the recent blogs and articles about the CCSS that opened my eyes or the recent workshop I attended on aligning the CCSS. Not sure. But I do know that I'm not usually cranky, except when I'm hungry.

Raising the Bar

I can feel there's a transformation going on within the kids in my classroom, and I have my suspicions that these standards are playing a not-so-insignificant part. Right now it's only a minor morph, but I feel it. They are growing up, maturing, thinking deeper and wider. In my eyes, they're more like eleven. But they don't know it. ("I'm eight, Mr. P." "No, you're eleven, darnit! Act like it. It's standard now.") CCSS has pushed me to push my students two, three, four levels above their heads. I'm all about pushing, getting the most out of my students. But right now I feel like I'm trying to push a slimy oyster into a slot machine. It's just not going to happen. And the CCSS is telling me that what I'm teaching is standard, middle of the road stuff. Like I said, cranky.

It's this constant tug-of-war between what's standard (Do we really have a standard student? A standard teacher? A standard learner?) and what eight-year-olds can physically and mentally do, what their physiology allows them to create, deduce, interpret and analyze.

Sure, I want my students to excel. I want them to be able to...

LA.3.RI.3.3 - [Grade Level Standard] - Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.

Absolutely! That would be awesome. And I want them to...

LA.3.RL.CCR.8 - [Anchor Standard] - Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

Eight-year-olds, dude.

Muddying the Waters

This is all in good intention, but maybe... I've got it! Maybe my pissy mood is rooted in the standards' utter lack of a clue regarding the machinations of the third grade mind. When a third grader delineates an argument, what does it look and sound like? And more importantly -- what will mastery look like?

Man, I don't know. And I can't find a thing about it. If we need to be UBD-ing it, we need to know the end point before we can make a plan to get there. Right? I wouldn't attempt to teach someone how to play the blues like Muddy Waters without making them listen to Muddy first. If the state and government want students to achieve on a higher level, teachers, students and parents probably should know what that level looks like. Right now, the end is muddy.

The standards look good on paper. They go deep on paper. But . . . teachers have been teaching for a long time in a NCLB mind-set -- shallow, watery skills and memorized facts to pass a test at the end of the year. Kind of like a temporary tattoo. On paper, the CCSS embeds deeper ink, but time is needed to turn the ship away from the iceberg. And it's a big ship, my friends. Millions of students need to be rewired. Time, time, time. Time is needed for deconstruction and reconstruction of the student and the teacher. It's probably not a good time to start a new way to evaluate teachers, but so many states are in this accountability frenzy that is doesn't matter. How many teachers will lose their jobs because of students not cutting it with the new standards? That's a bit of a concern, especially when fifty percent of teacher evaluation is based on an assessment directly conceived from the CCSS.

A National Standard

All but five states have adopted the CCSS. This is the closest that the United States has ever been to a countrywide standardization. I've been thinking about this, and I'm not sure if it's good or bad. If the standards live up to the hype, then it's good? When I learned to play tennis, I had to break a few bad habits before I could thoroughly practice for perfection. If I hit a rotten forehand four hundred times it's still a rotten forehand (probably worse). Can't blame my effort. Hopefully the CCSS is not rotten. However, I don't think it matters because we've already jumped off the diving board. I just hope there's water in the pool. But seriously, if something is grand and standardized, is it no longer grand? When I visited the Nancie Atwell Center for Teaching and Learning, I saw all teachers teaching the same way, but it was marvelous and real and I would want my own children to experience such an education. The whole school ran on the same systems and believed in the same philosophy. It worked for them. I guess you can say it was standard, but it is an honest and real education. Thomas Newkirk, in his article The Text Itself brings up a very good point that we should all be aware of as we attempt to teach and live under the shadow of CCSS: "Bad things happen to good ideas when they become mandates."

Will national standards raise the United States out of the muck and grime? Will it save our souls from the nuclear fallout of NCLB? In the words of Butt-head, "Uh, no." It's too grand of a scheme to work, right? It's too vast and open for interpretation. What really matters is what's going on in the classroom day-to-day, hour-to-hour and minute-to-minute. The small stuff, brothers and sisters.

What experiences have you had with the CCSS?

Do you think it will lead to a national curriculum?

What pressures? Stress?

What successes?




Comments (22)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

[quote]M.A., for someone as supposedly adept at evaluation as you, you sure don't understand what the other writer is saying: that the children are eight and nine years BEHIND. [/quote]

I don't think you understood her, either. Read her response. Besides, for any student to be 8 or 9 years below grade level, they'd have to be very low functioning and would most certainly have qualified for special education services by now.

Sue Boudreau's picture
Sue Boudreau
Seventh Grade science teacher from Orinda, California

In California, it would be hard to have less relevant, developmentally inappropriate standards than we have been struggling with for the last 12 years. I really like that the CC standards come from what we want for our kids: to be prepared to succeed at college and in the workplace. The writers then teased it out by grade level so one builds on the next. Such an improvement from our rag-bag existing standards.

I agree that it would be a good thing to have more guidance for teachers as to what specific standards might look like in practice. These standards are really, really different from business as usual in Ca schools in I think, some powerfully good ways.

Relevance, high level thinking, cross curriculum collaboration, leading to project-based learning I hope. The CCS are revolutionary and will take time and training to implement, assess and evaluate the whole thing.

I really hope teacher evaluation will wait until we have time to get the hang of it and get the kinks out. But let's give 'em a try, I'm actually kind of excited, even though I'm a comfortable veteran teacher. How great to have a shot at California kids being competitive in the global market place and as critical-thinking citizens.

Nancy Sayed's picture

Perhaps so. I read and took in the correction without need of your help.

The point is that we all sit around talking this to death, while the people who are supposed to be the experts leave out the key component without getting called on the carpet. Curriculum is nothing new. Standards are nothing new. It's the "making sure students learn the curriculum, and measure their learning" that is the crux of the matter. These lazy bums sit around like the tailors making the emperor's new clothes, preening and fawning over Wilhoit, and NOTHING GETS DONE...

As a friend liked to say, "He oughta be horsewhipped." I remember emailing Wilhoit years ago with concerns about the assessment portion. He deigned to ask a gofer to reply, telling me that that was their next component. Looks as if he's going to do what people always do in education: leave the hard part up to the befuddled, confused teachers who also happen to be the soldiers in the trenches, and the result is what Gaetan is struggling with. I can take a good old fashioned argument, but I can't take sycophants.

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

[quote]Perhaps so. I read and took in the correction without need of your help.[/quote]

Then how about a retraction of this statement, since you went out of your way to criticize me for the same mistake you made?

[quote]"M.A., for someone as supposedly adept at evaluation as you, you sure don't understand what the other writer is saying: that the children are eight and nine years BEHIND"[/quote]

Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Director of Programming and Innovation @Edutopia
Staff

We always appreciate a spirited discussion but when it turns nasty, it's time for reflection. Are you here to help improve education or to win your point? We support constructive exchange of ideas. Please keep it both constructive and an exchange. Thank you!

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

[quote]Because they aren't 2 years behind. They are 8 and 9. We are just trying to suddenly teach them things that they were learning when they were 10 and 11. [/quote]

Right, you said you teach 3rd grade (8 and 9 years of age), so what does the last part of that sentence mean? You refer to them in the past tense "when they were just 10 and 11."

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

Crankiness and other extreme emotions aside, standards and using them as the basis for lesson planning is actually a good thing. Why?

I've taught in both private and public schools. While neither are perfect, the latter has an advantage and the great thing is that pre-service teacher education at the post-secondary level in PA state universities have you write at least a hundred lesson plans until it's all said and done. The common core is standards or anchors. Proper lesson objectives descend from the standards. The lesson assessment must align with the lesson objective, otherwise, the lesson is ineffective.

With private schools, I've seen curricula invented out of thin air, based on an individual teacher's preferences or biases. In private schools, many teachers are uncertified, so they've never been trained to compose a lesson plan, to properly implement instruction, or to compose a proper assessment. They may be masters of content, but as many of you know who possess college degrees, many professors simply do not know how to teach. They can feed information and that's it.

That's not teaching. I once knew of a private school teacher who could not understand why she was fired for giving a failing grade to a student whose political views did not match hers, despite the student having evidently written a paper with above average form, grammatics, spelling, etc.

C'mon, Gae, I believe you are intelligent enough to understand that the language by which the standards are written are not meant to be read by third grade students. Any college grad should know the definition of "delineate."

As the other respondent mentioned, many creative ways can be implemented to meet the standards with some imagination. Your better texbook series offer loads of suggestions, especially those in language arts. Think of ways to make a lesson involve as many different standards across different subjects. It can be done. I've seen it work.

It takes imagination and some work, that's all, plus a little faith in the process.

I know of this animus toward NCLB because I've been hearing the chorus of complaints in faculty lounges for years. It's mostly from the older veteran teachers who don't want new challenges or extra work. They want to repeat the same basic lessons year in and year out and coast toward retirement and their pension.

Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Director of Programming and Innovation @Edutopia
Staff

Since my last call for reflection, I have removed a few posts that continued the argumentative tone. I will continue to do so if there are any more posts that continue in this vein.

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