Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Explaining my issue with Common Core to my son (Part I)

Your letter to the editor supporting Common Core was impressive.  All of the problems with education and their long term effects on livelihoods that you mentioned are real.  The need for a change in our education system is real.  Your letter and opinions lack one thing- perspective.

Obviously, since I am your mother, I have a couple decades worth of experiences and knowledge that you as a 16 year old student lack.  I am old enough to remember school before all the testing started.  I was preparing to become a teacher when the push for more standardized testing started.  I have heard years and years of political rhetoric and promises of improvement.

None of the promised improvements have happened.  Our children have not become adults more able to compete in the worldwide workforce.  Our children have not become adults able to easily handle all the pressures of our modern world.  Our test scores have not improved or surpassed other nations' scores.  Our nation is not held up as the shining example of quality education that we want it to be.

My perspective differs not just from yours but is also different than most adults.  A friend often referred to me as an "odd duck".  This was not an insult.  "From one odd duck to another" recognized the fact that we had ways of viewing things that were not the same as the masses.  I have studied a wide range of subjects and each has given me insight into the world.  Had I followed the traditional path of college, job, kids, working mom, my opinions on life and Common Core would be different.

When your older brother was born, I had just finished my Master's degree from Ohio State and was disillusioned with higher education.  Getting my PhD. and being a professor had been my dream.  I was not suited to the politics of academia and felt there was a disconnect between the ivory towers and the real world.  I wanted to do something that would benefit people in a tangible way and not just add to our knowledge base.  Focusing on my family for a few years seemed natural.

When you came along, you needed me even more than I ever imagined.  I used all of my skills as a researcher, educator, advocate, and parent to help you overcome your disability.  I became a substitute teacher so I could learn more about our school district, keep an eye on my boys, and help me understand our education system.

My perspective of our educational system is from the standpoint of:

  1. a parent, 
  2. a parent of a child with a disability,
  3. a parent disagreeing with the school,
  4. a parent happy with the school,
  5. a long time and long term substitute teacher,
  6. a outsider but yet an insider,
  7. the child of two special education teachers and supervisors,
  8. a science researcher,
  9. an anthropologist
  10. and, finally, a new hire recruiter.
  Now, let me shock you.  I was originally in favor of Common Core.  I thought it sounded like a wonderful idea.  Let's get down to the basics of what our students need to learn and put those in writing.  Let's have these be standard throughout the country so students switching schools and switching states will not miss out on valuable information and learning.  It makes sense and I still like the idea.

I want to see a book listing all the skills that a child needs as he or she progresses through the grades.  I want parents to be able to check off these skills as they are mastered and a child to see his progress charted over time.  I want to see a listing of the very basic skills a high school graduate needs to function as a contributing member of our society, a list of what various skilled trades need, and a list of what college bound students need.

All students and their parents should be able to understand the requirements and track the progress.  If the standards are vague, they need to be refined.  It is not enough to simply say, "the student will understand significance of agriculture in societies."  The rise of agriculture can be discussed in a paragraph but not fully understood after a lifetime of study.  Each answer gives rise to more questions.  The standards need to give examples as to the depth of understanding that is expected of each topic at each level of learning.

That was my vision of Common Core as a simplification and unification document but that is not the reality.  I am an idealist but should know by now that reality is much different.  The problems with Common Core are illustrated in the blog I shared with you last week about kindergartners. (see below)   I have spent time in kindergartner classes.  Reading and writing should not be the focus.  Socialization, listening skills, speaking skills, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and interactive learning should be stressed and can be without placing undue stress on young learners.

Once upon a time, you were a kindergartner.  In no way, shape, or form were you ready to read or write.  Reading, writing, and mathematics were the least of my concerns for you at that time.  Oh, we worked on it every afternoon.  We sat at the kitchen table reviewing your learning ring of letters, numbers and sight words.  We worked through handwriting worksheets.  I was thrilled with every small victory but was more concerned with teaching you to sit and to work than the outcome.

My main concerns for you included:

  1. Being able to function appropriately in a classroom setting, 
  2. Being able to sit still, 
  3. Being able to ask questions, 
  4. Answer questions,
  5. Fine motor skills,
  6. Gross motor skills,
  7. Finding your way in the school building,
  8. Dealing with all the other students,
  9. Not being harassed, bullied or hit
  10. Being able to tell me at the end of the day what you did.
  11. Coming home safely.
When you started kindergarten, you were functionally nonverbal.  If I asked the right question, I might get a response.  You didn't converse with anyone or volunteer information or opinions.  Reading and writing can in as a poor second to being able to have you tell me about your day and to making sure you were behaving properly.  With Common Core, you would have probably been forced to repeat kindergarten.  As it was, the school recommended it even though you had achieved the minimum recommended skills.  Psychologically, repeating kindergarten might have done serious damage to you self esteem.  It wasn't until years later that I realized how hard you were pushing yourself to be everything the teachers wanted you to be.  Failure to progress to the next grade could have meant you stopped trying as hard.  

You did eventually learn to read.  Mathematics came a little slower but it did come.  By middle school, you were all "caught up" and now as a 16 year old high school junior you have two college classes under your belt and got A's in both.  According to Common Core logic, this should not have happened because I wasn't pushing reading and writing.  I was pushing everything you needed to learn to become a productive part of society.  Social skills.  Reading and writing came because you realized you needed to learn them to be part of the class and part of the world.

Tomorrow: The Greater Context of School Testing- The Bell Curve, Sputnik, and Princeton's ETS.


Report: Requiring Kindergartners to Read — as Common Core Does — May Harm Some

From The Washington Post's Education Blog
"The Answer Sheet"

By Valerie Strauss
January 13, 2015

The Common Core State Standards call for kindergartners to learn how to read, but a new report by early childhood experts says that forcing some kids to read before they are ready could be harmful.