The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Part 2

By Victoria M. Young

Many have been blinded by this tale of Ugly, Uglier, and Ugliest that we have come to call Common Core. If you missed the showdown at the O.K. Corral, the Common Core Forum at the statehouse, I’ll hit a few points here but encourage you to watch it because the Idaho Task Force recommendations are based, in very large part, on a blind faith in these standards to do miracles.

"It's not a joke, it's a rope, Tuco. Now I want you to get up there and put your head in that noose."

“It’s not a joke, it’s a rope, Tuco. Now I want you to get up there and put your head in that noose.”

First, the award for ugly goes to the people who glorify the virtues of Common Core for bringing “reading and writing correctly” into the curriculum. Those that were schooled under the standards-focused education model, and the narrowing of the curriculum that it produced under Idaho’s first adoption of “higher standards,” probably don’t know that teaching children to read and write correctly used to be THE standard. That’s an ugly fact; we restricted the amount of writing students did. We did harm. But we don’t NEED the Core to return to what we should have been doing all along.

And math instruction at the elementary level is proving to be as ugly as the old “New Math” that should never make a comeback. We are hearing that teachers love it. Not all, because one size doesn’t fit all. “Kids are doing great?” Not all, because one size doesn’t fit all. Yet children are being required to conform to the Core way, or they are failing. Knowing your basic arithmetic facts and how to use them is no longer defining success. All of us old folks who learned the old way and can still out-calculate the younger generation – we’re wrong?

Interestingly, in the upper grades, their standards haven’t changed nearly as much so those teachers are most likely to not understand all the fuss. The problem is they aren’t the ones at the evening table dealing with the stress created by the Core homework and techniques. And wasn’t it the middle schools and high schools that we have had such mixed results with improving? Why wasn’t there a bigger difference – higher, more challenging standards – in secondary schools especially when we are going to pay such a (predicted) huge price for such little change?

Uglier yet is the analysis of the gap between our old standards and the Core in third grade English Language Arts. 43 % of the content is introduced sooner by the Core than it would be with our old standards. Better? We don’t know. That is a big chunk of change for veteran teachers. And if the task force recommendations move forward as law, “mastery” (a concept I’m not saying I’m opposed to) at the third grade reading level is the target for holding students back (Florida model). If any standard is not implemented correctly, it can do more harm than good. Children will be set up for failure if we don’t have all the right tools for teaching in place BEFORE requiring mastery. Are we prepared for that? Or will children just be collateral damage, again?

And the highest dishonor, the Ugliest: CONFORMITY. The task force recommendations for training to the Core are wide-ranging and almost engulf the full spectrum of stakeholders. Parents being the exception, we were only given a token mention in the whole report.

Professional development will be aligned with Common Core for educators, administrators, superintendents, and school board members. Yes, we will train board members to be a cooperative part of The Common Core System. Dissenting voices? More assuredly excluded.

And because the task force was convinced that they can just go along with the Council of Chief States School Officer’s (CCSSO) plan as written in “Our Responsibility, Our Promise,” all new principals and teachers will be prepared in alignment with the Core, licenses will depend on it, and there will be “the sharing of candidate data among organizations and across states.” Granted, intermixed with many very questionable ideas, this report has some good ones but even the good ideas may not be doable with Idaho’s limited capacity (human and monetary).

The claim to fame for Common Core is that “by meeting these new standards, every child will graduate from high school prepared to go on to college, community college, professional-technical education or the workforce, without the need for remediation.” O.K. With the phrase “or the workforce” in there and jobs in Idaho going the way of low-wage positions, maybe Mr. Luna isn’t lying about “every child” going on without needing remediation. That is beyond an ugly thought.

The bottom line is that we don’t NEED Common Core to improve standards and we don’t know what the real bottom line – costs for Core implementation and testing – will be. There is so much more about the Core that should be questioned. There is one certainty — the education industry will make big bucks off of little real change. Teachers had better reconsider how much they like the Core if after the dust settles, there is no money left for things that really make the difference in classrooms.

At the Common Core Legislative Forum,  I heard a lot of “ifs” and “hopes” expressed. It is just not good enough to be betting Idaho’s future on Common Core as the core for improvement.

Note: the forum may take a long time to load.

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