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Common Core Implementation: I Never Promised You A Rose Garden

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Shifting teaching methods, homework practices, assessment policies, and long-held thinking about what kids need to learn won't be easy...it will take all of our efforts: nights and weekends, too!

Shifting teaching methods, homework practices, assessment policies, and long-held thinking about what kids need to learn won’t be easy…it will take all of our efforts: nights and weekends, too!

I support the Common Core. I spend most of my waking hours either talking with educators about the standards or working directly with teachers as they craft standards language into teaching objectives and student centered learning opportunities. My weekends are no different from my working days…always the Common Core, or the PARCC assessment, or the new teacher evaluation which in my eyes, is a marriage of the two. Regardless, I try to put away the standards when I leave my office, especially when I go out with my husband to enjoy a relaxed evening over a restaurant dinner. And that is how Saturday night’s dinner began. A glass of red wine and my guy….until our a one-time neighbor spied us in our corner table and came by to say “hello.”

“So good to see the two of you,” she oozed while simultaneously grabbing an open chair from the empty table nearby. “Must be two years anyway!”

“Yes, it has been awhile. How is your family?” I asked as she pulled the chair up to our table and sat down. “Growing, I’m sure. And your mother? I haven’t seen her this winter!” At that I grew uneasy…had her mother passed?

“Mom moved in with me. The winter was so rough and driving dangerous, so she stayed with us. She went home last week.”

Relief.

“Dea, aren’t you supporting that Common Core?” Her tone was almost accusatory. “Our school is doing Common Core and Addie is struggling! Don’t you work with teachers and schools on that?”

“Well, yes, I do.”

Before I could get another word out, she rushed ahead: “God, could our teachers use you! Not only is Addie struggling, her teacher tells me its is really hard for her. Addie used to be a good student. Now she’s just confused. And I am too. She gets this homework and I can’t do it. Whatever happened to memorization!” She threw her hands in the air, clearly frustrated.

I tried to squirm out of this one saying, “I usually work more with the literacy standards, but yes, the math standards want kids to work with math concepts so they can see how numbers work.”

“What was the matter with just knowing that two times three was six? And the homework! I just know that my Addie used to feel smart and now…like I say: confused. I understand that learning gets more complex and she is just nine, but she is not the student she used to be and I…she’s only nine and I’m not able to understand her homework–I mean I can do it…but I just don’t ‘get’ it.”

And then, thank the Good Lord, our meal arrived.

I don’t know about you, but in this exchange I heard both a text and a subtext. Let me chart an explanation:

Our school is doing Common Core. The Common Core is not seen as a set of expectations. You don’t “do” expectations, you work towards achieving them as a goal. When parents and teachers claim to be “doing the Common Core” there is not a clear understanding of the Common Core as a set of standards, a set of long-term goals that parents, teachers, and students are working towards. One doesn’t “do” goals. There needs to be communication that educates parents and as necessary, teachers, to understand that doing is in the classroom. Standards are expectations to be observed.
Addie gets homework and I can’t do it. Homework is intended for students “to do.” Parents should be available to help their children with homework, but homework is an opportunity to practice what has been taught in the classroom under the careful eye of a professional. If you weren’t in the classroom under the careful eye of the professional, why would you expect you could do the homework?
Addie used to be a good student Addie is still a good student. In the old days, good students were determined by the ease with which they completed assignments and tests. Technology has changed that. The right answers do not need to be remembered because they can be Googled. Today’s good student has perseverance, drive, grit, and ingenuity. Instead of valuing a single right answer, today’s good students are willing to look at alternatives for problem-solving. They seek multiple answers to problems and perspectives. The way that adults and even kids think about who or what is a good students need to change.
The teacher tells me the Common Core is hard for her. Teachers implementing the Common Core with fidelity are working hard as they make adjustments from single methodology thinking to a multiplistic view of how to teach. They are shifting from teacher-centered classrooms to student-centered learning. Sure, this is hard. This is change. If teachers say this is hard work, then you can probably bet they are doing their job. What was easy was taking out the textbook and presenting the scripted material.
Aren’t you supporting that Common Core? That Common Core constitutes the learning standards for Math, ELA, and literacy in almost every state in the Union. The use of “that” is pejorative. Parents and teachers who refer to the CCSS as “that” are either not well-informed about the intent of the standards (see note above) or are informed and yet in opposition to the standards. From the direction the latter part of this conversation takes, uninformed is my assumption.

The efforts to develop the Common Core Standards began in 2009. Today, 44 states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) have adopted the Common Core. Granted, this is only 2014, but I would hope that the standards would soon become understood as a “consistent guidelines for what every student should know and be able to do in math and English language arts from kindergarten through 12th grade” (www.corestandards.org: What Parents Should Know) rather than a set of activities or prescribed instructional methods. To this point, the process has not been easy. I can only imagine the resistance to change and the struggle for status quo will diminish as time moves forward, experience widens, and those apprehensive of new ideas find benefits in the standards’ effects.

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