CCSS and PARCC Make Horrible Bed Fellows

Although the voice of dissent seems to be the most outspoken when it comes to the Common Core State Standards, not all of us (teachers) despise the CCSS. In fact, some of us ELA teachers are really big fans of the new standards; they are more straightforward and allow room for expansion depending on how you approach the standards, and the standards also call for more independent higher order thinking skills which our students need to practice on a consistent basis. So by themselves, CCSS appears to be an Athena worthy solution to our ongoing debate of the fundamental purpose of public education and attempts to give remedy to the question: What kind of citizens do we want our public schools to produce? Since the induction of the CCSS, parents and educators alike have put up a united front proclaiming that the standards are everything from too difficult to not detailed enough, or that the standards are a part of systematic plan to mold the minds of subsequent generations. But what if Common Core by itself isn’t the true enemy of educational progress? What if the true enemy stands in the shadow of Common Core disguised as a logical and suitable companion?

Just like the spontaneous bouts of winter weather we’ve had here in Louisiana this season, behind every warm, sunny day are freezing temperatures, ice, and snow waiting to happen. Likewise, with every curriculum reform that graces our educational system drags with it our arch nemesis commonly known as “standardized testing.”  Standardized testing reared its ugly head in the shadows beginning with the guise of “evaluating” the progression of students. This by itself seemed reasonable, after all it benefits us to know at critical points of a child’s development if their skills are aligned with those of their classmates. Back then, standardized testing wasn’t a creature that threatened to devour our entire system, it had a purpose and a place. Then, right under our noses the role of standardized testing morphed into the full monster that “evaluates” everyone involved in public education except the student.

Hence the title of my blog, Educationship. A wise professor and retired school district supervisor once told me that “Education reform is not like turning a car, it doesn’t happen quickly. It is like turning a ship. It takes time going in the same direction to see a change.” Hitherto, many of the problems that we face on the district and state level is that reforms aren’t given the time required to see real change. It is as if we want a gourmet meal in fast food time, and with something as massive as an entire educational system in which we attempt to restructure the way that teachers have taught and students have learned for years, change doesn’t happen overnight.

One of the most empowering things about being an educator is that we have rare opportunities through which we can teach our passion. Not just a typical lesson that we’ve planned to fill in the time between bells, but every now and then we choose to read a particular book because the theme is so powerful and influential that we want to share it with a younger generation, or we choose to do a certain science experiment because it is so fascinating and eyeopening that we are sure that it will attract students into our field. Good teachers do not need the state or an administrator to hold their hands and walk them down the path of career booby traps to the happy grove of cookie cutter educators and say,

“Now to teach this topic from this book. You should do it in this manner because this worked for a group of students in Timbuktu (or some other far away place). Therefore, you should do the same thing and get the same results. If you choose not to teach this way, you will not receive optimal results. On the other hand, if this method doesn’t work for you where it has worked for others, you must be doing something wrong. Eventually, we may have to reevaluate your ability to teach.”

I know the above scenario seems absurd, but somewhere along the line the myth that teachers in general must not be that good at their jobs because all our students aren’t producing awe inspiring test scores. Believe it or not, a very large majority of teachers who have remained in the classroom after the consistent over-testing of No Child Left Behind, the Rat Race to the Top, the Stress and Value Added Model/Measurement (VAM) scores, the dog and pony show induced Compass evaluations, and now the Are-You-Smarter-Than- the-Riddler(?) PARCC assessment, are qualified to work in our current system. Teachers are not the opportunistic villains scamming the state out of $35,000 a year. Perhaps critics who has assumed this in the past should look to the test makers: Harcourt Educational Measurement, CTB McGraw-Hill, Riverside Publishing (a Houghton Mifflin company), and NCS Pearson who are more than willing take advantage of a system gone wrong and get paid megabucks doing it.

More details to coming soon!