Archive for July, 2013

Mind Your Common Core Standards

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Defenders say Common Core Standards answer the common problem of differing education standards among states. How many students have matriculated to your California school from another state and have no idea about fractions, let’s say, when your class is in the middle of the unit? It doesn’t have to be another state, it could be another California county!

To overcome that reality, for a while California students had to be enrolled in a school district for a specified number of days or their yearly state test was not counted in the final record for the school and district. That happened when Adequate Yearly Progress federal scores were the important measure. After a while, teachers, schools, and districts, in California anyway, stopped fretting about the federal scores and concentrated on curriculum that would improve student success measured by the state’s Academic Performance Index (API) system. You know California’s ambition to take the lead in accountability even when it had no money.

Now that money is available to school budgets, the California Department of Education and the California Teachers Association have begun professional development for the implementation of California’s version of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2014-2015.

When collaboration occurs, many teachers look forward to professional development before the transition to CCSS use. Those who promote the transition focus on the goals of fewer topics and greater depth. The CCSS website stresses that teaching methods are not dictated. Who wouldn’t be attracted to teaching more about one topic, and not worry about all those pages not covered in the textbook? What teacher does not welcome with a good heart the “cycle of inquiry,” leading to strategies that are best practices?

Faultfinderss are now coming forward to name the flaws for the 45 states who agreed to upgrade the curriculum and standards that allow a huge country of more than 50 million children have a chance at better college and career, whether vocational or professional. Critics claim parents have not had the opportunity to understand the education changes. There has not been enough public discussion country-wide. New demanding tests by some states before adequate implementation means student success doesn’t pan out. The House of Representatives bill to finally revise the “Elementary and Secondary Education Act” (ESEA) leaves standards to the states, thereby wiping out the work of the National Governors Association attempt to improve learning.

Change takes time and perseverance. Teachers have long been criticized as unwilling to try change and rely on their unions to back them up. However, both national teachers’ unions are strong supporters of Common Core State Standards.

So mind your p’s and q’s. Keep a stiff upper lip! Watch the world through rose-colored glasses.

For more detail, see “Who’s Minding the Schools?” by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreyfus, New York Times, June 9, 2013. See articles on CCSS in California Educator, March 2013 and June/July 2013.

Coming Nigh: More Change

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Consider the April 2013 San Francisco Chronicle article about real estate agents being asked to show homes in the ‘right’ peninsula areas. Peruse the April New York Times article about Utah schools offering dual-language classes. The education-oriented reader bites her lip to keep from smirking.

The ‘right’ area to California teachers means one near a school with high scores for the California Academic Performance Index because the home can be sold later for more money than homes by schools with low scores. Utah wants all those public school kids to make money when they grow up by speaking another language so they can be Mormon missionaries to foreign countries first and then high earners in the global market forever after. Bilingual education finally gets its due.

But make no mistake! The major school district business across the nation, high-scoring or bilingual, is to establish new teacher and administrator evaluation models. Just google ‘school evaluation’ and an abundance of ‘for and against’ articles come forward. Keep in mind: the conflict heats up when a plan is devised, and the percent of student test success is built-in. Must the teacher’s evaluation show that 30% or 10% or 50% of her students have reached proficiency for the year? Who cares except those who want a number, the higher the better? Is that proof of a good teacher?

The controversy gets more complex because, at the same time, 45 of the fifty states in the union are preparing to establish Common Core State Standards (CCS). In California the curriculum content goal is to transition by 2014-2015. You can figure that teachers are not uneasy about real estate values near their school, but may agonize over changes to dual-language policies and procedures in order to account for CCS. Or be troubled by imminent changes to the assessment tools used for evaluation.

The top need, however, is long-term professional development for teachers before changes are made. Roll your eyes if one-day workshops are all the school gets for the implementation being asked. Raise your eyebrows when no coaches model what is being suggested for the classroom. Pinch your thumb against your finger if funds are skimpy for the tools you will need. Shake your head if piles of papers are handed out, but no time is given for collaboration.

How about professional development at your school that uses “inquiry teams” which meet often during the year to learn, practice, question, and promote change?