A science teacher’s truth about the Common Core

commoncorelogoIt’s always interesting to be a fly on the wall when non-educators discuss public education policy.  Whether I’m sitting in the “parent room” at my daughter’s gymnastics practice or standing in line at the grocery store, I find it enlightening to hear what regular folks think about what’s going on in education.

What is less enjoyable is holding my tongue when I hear half-truths and misinformation being shared.  Sometimes I just avoid the situation, but at other times I can’t resist the urge to set the record straight.  These days it’s frequently about the Common Core.  I’ve come to realize that, as this issue has become politicized, more and more people have ridiculously strong opinions about a subject that they know very little about.  I won’t pretend to be an expert on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), but here are three ideas that I try to correct when I hear others misstate them:

1. “The Common Core has created a culture of never-ending testing.”  The fact is that the CCSS don’t dictate any testing whatsoever.  They are standards that communicate what students should know, and there is no language in them about how, when, or where they should be assessed.  Standards are like the finish line in a race.  The finish line doesn’t care how you train for the race, or the pace that you set on race day.  It doesn’t even care if you cross it.  It’s just there to show you where to go.

It’s legislation encouraged by Presidents like Clinton, Bush, and Obama that has made high-stakes standardized testing so overwhelmingly prevalent, not the Common Core.  It is completely possible to adopt the standards without resorting to the kind of testing regime that Race to the Top has cajoled states into accepting.

2. “Most teachers hate the Common Core.”  According to a recent piece on the Fordham Institute’s EdExcellence.net, based on the results of the recent PDK/Gallup poll on public education, most teachers support the CCSS.  I see a lot of great things in the standards.  As a science teacher, the CCSS impacts my class more than you might think.  Despite the fact that the standards are about reading, writing, and mathematics, they do a great job of codifying how these skills should be taught and reinforced in my class.  I have always known that science class is a great place to integrate math and reading, but now I have specific standards that guide my work.  This allows the powerful lessons that take place in classes like mine to become more common across the country.

3. “Common Core is a federal takeover of local school control.”  Despite the constant reminders that CCSS began as an initiative of governors, not the feds, this is a pervasive misconception.  Importantly, the standards may have sparked a frenzy of aligned materials being offered by publishers, but most educators agree that the best results come from teachers, schools, and districts developing their own lessons to reach the Common Core Standards.  We need to remember that our students vary a lot, and our lessons will only be successful if they are customized to their needs.  We need to push back against those who think that national tests and curricula are the goal here… or even a good idea.

It’s similar to when I start my students on an inquiry lab in science class.  I may choose the destination for them–such as creating an object with neutral buoyancy–but I try not to tell them how to reach that goal.  I want them to find 130 different ways to achieve success, because they are 130 different little people with 130 different minds.  Common standards does not mean common lessons.

 

Personally, I am rather ambivalent about the Common Core.  I am glad that we have modernized the set of standards that guide what we teach.  But I wish that more states and districts had taken more time to roll the CCSS out and train teachers.  Perhaps then more of our community would have a more positive opinion of them.  And maybe they’d stop talking so loudly about them at gymnastics practice.

What’s your opinion on the Common Core State Standards?

4 thoughts on “A science teacher’s truth about the Common Core

  1. Paul,

    I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately myself, and I think your post is spot-on. I am especially frustrated with the misinformation about your first point: Common Core State Standards does *not* specify standardized testing. And in fact, it is all the testing that frustrates most teachers. People seem to forget that there were high-stakes standardized tests well before CCSS, and I’m sure there will be high-stakes testing attached to any “new” standards with which they might replace CCSS.

    The guidelines of CCSS are not the problem and (for my subject of language arts at least) are really well-written.

    ~Erica

  2. I’m an elementary school teacher who has interacted with the Common Core State Standards at both the 1st grade and 3rd grade levels. I have found that my students in both grades have benefited from them. They ask them to be more thoughtful, interactive, and cooperative learners.

  3. As a fellow teacher, this is EXACTLY how I feel about the CCSS. It’s been shocking to see how something that I couldn’t see as anything but good for education became so politicized so quickly. Because this issue is one that is so tangible to me, it’s been a true lesson on the realities of a situation vs. the public perception and outcry. Thank you for articulating exactly how I feel, especially in the last paragraph about your frustration with how they were rolled out in so many districts.

  4. Hey Pal,

    First, when are we getting a beer? Why hasn’t that happened sooner? I want to tell you about the two desktop computers that I have in my classrooom!

    (Have I ever told you that story?)

    Second, I am constantly blown away by the resistance to the Common Core. I’ve taught in NC for 22 years. They are the best standards that we’ve ever had in place in this state. It WAS a bright spot for me as my daughter heads off to Kindergarten — I was jazzed to know that our state had standards in place that I could believe in before my girl ended up grinding her way through the system.

    Now that we’re pitching them, though, I’m floored — especially considering that we are pitching them for political reasons and based on the input of wonks and whacks who seem convinced that the Common Core requires kids to embrace lesbianism and REALLY complicated solutions to two-step math problems.

    What I’m most interested in studying now is the marketing angle of the whole disaster. How the hell did the right deliver such a convincingly consistent albeit completely crazy message about the standards? If we don’t start fighting better PR battles in education, we’re doomed.

    Hope you are well,
    Bill

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