What’s Common Core Got to do With Learning?


The Common Core State Standards has parents, educators and politicians all weighing in on the matter.  There is an issue of appropriateness, relevance and whether the implementation is only serving as another form of evaluating teacher performance on student test scores. Also viewed as experimental, these standards were adopted by schools across the nation without being piloted, tested or input of the practitioners themselves. Stakeholders who also should have been included in the decision making process ‘before the fact’ and prior to implementation in k-12 education, are parents. They’re necessary and vital partners in education, also representing, and giving voice as the best advocates for the children whose learning experiences are impacted by these standards in both public and private education.

I strongly advocate for the setting of high standards as they pertain to learning expectations, and the performance level of accountability of classroom teachers. The heavy reliance upon test scores, in regards to the determination of teacher performance, effectiveness, impact or qualifications, is unrealistic. It also does not measure the full extent of knowledge, deeper understanding, or overall student learning outcomes.

What about students with special needs? Although  accommodations are provided in accordance with IEP’s, for students with certain learning disabilities by extending allotted testing time, and considerations given by appropriately controlled environmental factors, some children are just not very good ‘test-takers’. The same is true among students in general education; some are also not great at taking exams, in written or computer-based formats.

Taking exams and performing at levels that will adequately demonstrate knowledge requires special skills and tools that, for many, students, must be learned. With that in mind,  is it appropriate to assume that teachers are indeed forced to ‘teach to the test’? Otherwise,  how are they to counter the impact that low scores will have upon their evaluations that assess their pedagogical skills? That question alone is frightening to ponder. In fact, that should not enter this equation.

There are lots of excellent teachers in the classrooms of our schools, and there are many educators who are under pressure by administrators of a system that equates test scores with teacher ability. This can serve to inhibit the growth of many educators who entered the field with a pure desire to teach ALL students. The need for standardization somehow is removing the freedom of expression for teachers that allow room for pedagogical mastery  with the autonomy to demonstrate creativity in their instructional delivery.

Every student has at least one  teacher that they will remember for many reasons. The teachers who seemed slightly ‘off-center’ and made learning fun and exciting are definitely at the top of the list of revered memories for students.   The  personality of educators are conveyed as they plan, teach, and engage students in the classroom. The best teachers are those who seem to effortlessly have a sense of self and a connection with the material as well as a strong connection with the class. Each child is an individual, as is the teacher. Teaching to high standards and aligning the instructional content with the common core should not prohibit a teacher from infusing his/her uniqueness into the mix.

The thing is that the world and the economy demands different skill sets than has been taught in k-12 education. The common core is nothing more than expectations pertaining to content knowledge gained at each grade level. What becomes my issue with this new framework is that it shapes practices, supposedly for the benefit of learners in preparation for citizenship within a global and competitive economy. Yet,  we still can’t fix the problems with educating our nation’s children. We must broaden our perspectives on learning and broaden our mindsets as educators to arrive at a more comprehensive actionable plan to crunch the numbers.

We can’t judge or determine mastery of sound evidence based pedagogy, or deep understanding via standardized student learning assessments alone. There is a delicate mixture of factors that enable better, more accurate determinations. Teachers are not one-dimensional, and likewise, the same goes for students. Addressing teaching and learning from a holistic lens, we see that for the most part, teachers are not changing ‘what’ they teach and have always taught. The difference lies in the fact that teachers need to make changes in the ways or ‘how’ they teach content to students today.

I also feel that a critical component that underlies this new ‘rigor’  in the most relevant implementation of the common core curriculum is the ‘mindsets’ of educators themselves. Besides engaging students in the learning process and differentiating instruction, we need to address cultural competence. We must address the implicit bias that seems built into the system that influences every aspect of our lives, including worldviews and impacts upon decisions we make on a daily basis. Largely unconscious, these biases, held by us all get reinforced by stereotypes, and  our own limited experience. It affects how we teach, how we encourage, discipline, and interact with diversity and can be detrimental to student engagement, achievement, and can prevent impartial assessments. So, what does the Common Core State Standards have to do with improved student learning outcomes, or teacher performance evaluations?

 

My answer is…..nothing…..

without the critical systemic top-down mindset adjustments to expand the framework of education in such areas that better prepare schools and staff to become more inclusive in scope of practices, policies, programs and perspective For now, the common core is only a response to symptomology but not an answer to what we must do to equip ALL children for future global citizenship. If you have thoughts about this subject, I would love to hear them. We can collaboratively find that ‘center’ that balances policy, perspective and practices that lead to  positive school experiences for ALL members of school communities everywhere.

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