My newsfeeds are filled with stories about states adopting and not adopting the Common Core State Standards, screenshots of the “new math” homework, and the reauthorization of ESEA. Granted the algorithm that provides me my social media based news is certain to be more teacher centered than others’ feeds. But, what I notice most of all, is that there is usually a dialogue within comments of like-minded educators about how a post gets it wrong, or occasionally, gets it right. But, at the national level, I rarely see this dialogue taking place. Even in local coverage of topics, I can hear myself asking “did they talk to an educator for an opinion?”
Part of the issue with educational reforms is that everyone feels they are an expert, after all, they all have been inside a school building. Couple that with the baggage, good and bad, with school, and people will have vastly differing opinions about what school is and should be. Instead of getting frustrated by the narrative in my feeds, I need to create a way to respond to the narrative, which I have found to be the following three messages:
- Testing and Standards are not the Same Thing.
- Be in Charge of Messaging.
- Don’t Throw Everything Out but Do Throw Some Stuff Out.
Testing and Standards are not the Same Thing.
This is most relevant when interacting with the national and local level narrative. When I read an article or listen to a story about Common Core backlash, within a minute of listening/reading, I realize that the story is really about the testing situation. And, ultimately, it’s more about the time that testing is taking within the school day, which President Obama recently spoke to, and could warrant an entire blog series. The whole testing time debate is something that I feel confident to weigh in on about my experiences and opinions, but I also think that the decision making rests above me. At the high school level, there is a tangled web of connections between testing, graduation, opportunity, accountability, and local/state requirements.
When I talk about Common Core, am I talking about the standards or the accountability pieces? It’s important that I clarify that piece when commenting on a story or talking to a person who is sharing a story or a concern about Common Core. Otherwise, I risk talking about subject that isn’t what the other person is talking about. The more that I, and others, can insert the difference between testing and standards into the conversation, the better chance that clarity will take hold in the narrative. The better chance that we can actually talk about the issues that we really need to talk about in education.
Be in Charge of Messaging
In a way, my last message is part of being in charge of messaging. But, really, this is the messaging that I see at my personal level: in my building and in my personal life. Everyone knows the viral messages about a parent responding to a Common Core math question by answering it in a “simpler” way or with a rhetoric filled paragraph response about the absurdity of the question. These go viral because: they’re visual, they relate to how we learned math back in the day, they connect to a frustration that is present, and the national news likes the narrative. How can this change?
First, when one sees the story shared, what steps are you comfortable taking? Would you dialogue with the sharer of the story, acknowledging what caused them to share that particular POV? You don’t have to always insert yourself into the dialogue. But, always staying silent can’t be the answer either. Share stories in your network that offer the other side to the dialogue about Common Core, like this one that my friend Sara K. shared on her Facebook wall: Common Core Math is Not the Enemy
Second, how are you shaping the conversation in your personal life and with your community, especially your parents/guardians of students. There is most likely frustration being felt in the community because the math, while not new, is different than what he/she learned in school. Ultimately, guardians want to help students with their learning. I can only imagine the scene that must have happened between a guardian and student when the student says something like “well, that’s not the way Ms./Mr. X does it.” Ask guardians how they would best like to learn about the new curriculum or what they are struggling with in regards to their students’ school work and then respond with: curriculum nights, handouts, web presence. Share the rationale of how and why these changes are taking place; what’s the big picture. Otherwise, resign yourself to knowing that guardians will learn about Common Core via social media.
Don’t Throw Everything Out, but Do Throw Some Stuff Out
This is mainly a message for my educator colleagues who at times feel frustrated by the pendulum change of educational reform and the new curriculum that greets a new school year. It’s easy to get broken down by this system and think that everything must change. So, find a way to keep some of your older practice, but also recognize that it’s healthy to not always teach the same thing in the same way with the same content.
This especially hit my English department a few years back when Lexile started to get thrown around in regards to text complexity. Yes, I agreed with that fact that Lexile would have to be an important piece in our discussion about student reading, but I, along with other colleagues, also sought to balance the whole text complexity triangle with the district Lexile discussion. Did we throw out texts that we had commonly taught? Yes. Did we throw out every text we had taught due to Lexile numbers? No.
We looked to our work, thus far, to see which standards had we actually already been hitting with our discussion and which standards would be newer or differently focused. Standard 7, which I wrote about last month, wasn’t that prevalent in my classroom instruction. So, I made a change. How did I start the work with students? I did what was easiest. I took the words right out of the standards and had my students compare: Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” and Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus through the question of “how do we respond to the world around us and what is our responsibility to respond?” Then, I followed it up with poems that I had already taught around this questions and searched for new poems that would complement the discussion. So, I added a piece that analyzed the same subject/scene and then went broader to connect to my bigger theme of what actions are we responsible to take when we encounter injustice or downfalls in our world.