Saturday, August 17, 2013

How I Hope To Live With The Common Core Standards

I truly think that the idea of establishing a baseline of standards taught across the board is not necessarily a bad thing.  In my little English world, (I don't fully understand the math standards) I can accept most of that standards that are established by the grade level.  I do think that a junior in high school should be able to determine two or more themes in a complicated text and defend their answer using the text.  Unfortunately, that isn't what Common Core ended up focusing on.  There are several problems with how we are approaching Common Core.

The biggest concern that I have is that the idea of the Common Core is the over reliance on testing that we saw in No Child left Behind.  Charlotte Danielson, the person who designed the tool that South Dakota teachers will be sort of evaluated on (I am sure that teachers will still be held up to the testing lens), had this to say about the Common Core:
I do worry somewhat about the assessments—I’m concerned that we may be headed for a train wreck there. The test items I’ve seen that have been released so far are extremely challenging. If I had to take a test that was entirely comprised of items like that, I’m not sure that I would pass it—and I’ve got a bunch of degrees. So I do worry that in some schools we’ll have 80 percent or some large number of students failing. That’s what I mean by train wreck.
I also worry about what the Common Core does not focus on.  Alan Singer recently wrote:
Common Core standards are supposed to "provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn" and be "relevant to the real world." But "real world" expectations are defined as preparing students for "success in college and careers" and "to compete successfully in the global economy." As best as I can ascertain, in the entire document, there is no real discussion of life in a democratic society and the role of education in promoting democratic processes and democratic values. 
I look at the standards from the view of communication and have witnessed the gutting of speaking skills.  The Common Core has only six standards that can be boiled down to the following:

  1. Participate in discussions
  2. Use different types of research
  3. Listen critically
  4.  Talk to people so they can follow your organization
  5. Use power point
  6. Talk in way that shows you understand the rules of English
That's about it.  The past standards incorporated many different ideas and additional standards.  We have gutted the communication aspects for a stronger focus on the rules.  We are doing this when we know that one of the most important tools a business looks for in employees is the ability to communicate.  One study (as an example) states:
...oral communication was one of the top three competencies needed to succeed in a managerial position. Yet other studies over decades have demonstrated the unsatisfactory oral communication skills of recent graduates (Bolt-Lee & Foster, 2003; Reinsch & Shelby, 1997). Thus, it appears that preparing students’ oral communication skills for the managerial workplace has not been highly successful. 
Other fears have included an over emphasis on non-fiction literature that would push out important fictional works, the pushing out of non-core subjects like art and ag. sciences, wastes money, and a whole lot more.

So what is an educator supposed to do?  The Common Core is hear to stay in South Dakota.  I plan to use it to focus my classroom offerings, but still teach beyond the standards.  I plan to encourage other departments to teach more non-fiction reading, but I am not throwing out The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or any other non-fiction that is part of the current course of study.  I plan to continue to teach my students the difference between an informative speech and a persuasive speech and a special occasion speech.  I plan to teach my students how to construct a proper argument in a public forum round.  Finally, I plan not to worry (to much) on the test results of the students.  The reason for not worrying is that if push the students and the students are willing to give some effort, they should end up testing just fine on what ever test they are given, and if they don't I will examine the data with a shrewd eye and focus on if my students are actually learning skills that give them a chance to grow and change in the world and not if I made the testing gods happy.

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