Two Common Core Supporters With Comments for the Critics
Two relatively recent commentaries/blogs from EdWeek inspire this column. Substituting for Rick Hess in the EdWeek blogosphere, on Feb. 20, 2014 Morgan Polikoff from USC wrote “To Save the Common Core, Don’t Fear the Moratorium.” I don’t know whether Dr. Polikoff has the same generally conservative reform viewpoints that Rick Hess, from the American Enterprise Institute, displays: In this blog entry, it seems he does not.
CCSS Opposition Often Focused on Teacher Evaluation and Testing
He generally defends the Common Core in much the same way that I have defended it, while noting that much of the criticism is rooted in the opposition to testing and how it is being used for teacher evaluation. I tend to agree with nearly all of his positions. He suggests test scores can be used for some evaluative purposes, but not as many as have been foisted on schools by states and federal teacher evaluation policies. He cites research on the unreliability and invalidity of new assessments as teacher evaluation tools. He notes, and I fully agree, that teacher evaluation has been largely “perfunctory and could be strengthened,” while noting that there are better ways to do this than impose a testing regime. And certainly his summary of why tests aren’t useful for teacher evaluation reads like he has been reading my blog. Unfortunately, as a university academic with ready access to subscription journals, some of his research citations are not available for free download, but I recommend checking out the links in this blog and seeing if the references are available through a public or school library interlibrary loan program. For New York educators, the K-12 school library system should be able to obtain the scholarly journal articles via the State Library System at no charge.
Polikoff has a few other interesting blogs in the same week—both before and after this one—as he substitutes for Rick Hess. Check them out if you can get to EdWeek Rick Hess Straight Up blog site.
Core Standards Complexity is Killing Effective Implementation
Mike Schmoker, who’s recent book Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning (ASCD, 2011) is among the better discussions of how to deal with current reform issues, wrote a wonderfully lucid commentary on January 15, 2014, entitled “Why Make Reform So Complicated?” He writes that the complexity of the standards movement “… is the enemy of the most indispensable elements of improvement: clarity, priority, and focus.” Citing other authors who write about organizational change, he note their dedication to “the clearest language in the service of focus.”
For those of us who have worked with teachers and tried to assist them in translating the convoluted language of state standards into instructional practice, his words ring true. Schools have too many mandates that are “maddeningly ambiguous and confusing.” He sees latest generation of the standards movement, Common Core, as “largely welcome and long overdue” but still “overlong and abounding in indecipherable abstractions.” I’m in agreement that education actually knows how to do schooling right. And essentially he is saying educators simply don’t have the support or time to implement best practices.
Educators Don’t Have Job-Embedded Training Opportunities
A look at the limitations of current practice within schools will show that teachers have less professional development time built into their work weeks that pretty much any other group of employees—every new process in other environments is tested before being implemented, and employees are trained to use the equipment and tools before they are expected to perform. This is true whether it is a worker in a fast food chain using a new deep fat fryer, a soldier using a new weapon system, or a doctor using a new robotic laser surgery tool. Only in education are we likely to find a systematic change as great as the Common Core Standards being pushed out into schools before curricula and assessments are ready, and before schools anywhere have piloted the standards and tweaked the content to ensure it’s appropriate grade by grade and actually gets students ‘college and career ready.’
A Call for Educational Civil Disobedience
Schmoker’s last paragraph is a wonderful statement of where educators should stand their ground: “The transition to simple, priority-driven school improvement might require a kind of civil disobedience: a refusal, by a critical mass of educators, to implement anything unless it has been adequately piloted, amply proven, and then made clear and simple enough for educators to learn and implement successfully. If we insist on such conditions, we will move forward at a rate not seen before”
Here’s to civil disobedience!