Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Educational author/historian offers advice for states who opt for Common Core

One of the biggest problems facing those who are opposed to Common Core is that some of them diverge from reality with their reasoning for opposing the standards and some are simply opposing them because they are against public education.

Educational blogger, historian and best-selling author Diane Ravitch, in a post today criticizing Glenn Beck's book on Common Core, offers some reasonable suggestions for dealing with Common Core:

My advice to states that want to use it, who think it is better than what they do now, is this:

1. Convene your best classroom teachers and review CCSS. Fix whatever needs fixing. Recognize that not all students learn at the same pace. Leave time for play in K-3.
2. Do not use the federally funded tests. Do not spend billions on hardware and software for testing. Let teachers write their own tests. Use standardized tests sparingly, like a state-level NAEP, to establish trends, not to label or rank children and teachers.

3. Do not use results of CC to produce ratings to “measure” teacher quality. Study after study, report after report warns that this is a very bad idea that will harm the quality of education by focusing too much on standardized tests, narrowing the curriculum, and forcing teachers to teach to the tests.

4. Do not let your judgement be clouded by people who make hysterical claims about the standards or those who wrote them.


Anson Burlingame said...

Good advice in my view.

BUT it leaves a question about how best to measure student achievement in level of knowledge. Holding test scores over teacher's heads as a metric is not a good idea. But something needs to be used to ensure that kids are learning what needs to be learned. Leaving that solely up to individual teachers creates chaos, just as holding one test score over them creates chaos as well.

So what exactly should be used to ensure kids learn what is needed in schools, today?

Anson Burlingame

Anonymous said...

Mr. Burlingame,

As long as you have basic standards that direct teachers to cover the material that the school districts or state or federal government have deemed important for each grade level, why does leaving the learning up to the teachers create chaos? This seems to imply that the teachers are not doing their jobs correctly or are incapable of doing a good job without scripted material being handed to them to read.

Statistics are often used as a shortcut tool for management or bureaucrats. It is very easy to look at a spreadsheet and say, "This school is performing better than that school" or "This teacher's test scores are better than that teacher's scores." Anyone that has actually spent time in the classroom knows that in no way does this tell the whole story. There are countless variables that go into the performance on a test by a particular class. It would be much more time consuming for the principals and superintendents and state representatives to spend time in each individual classroom, getting to know the students and observing how the teachers present material and interact with those students. However, this would be an infinitely more accurate way to judge whether or not a teacher is effective.

If the school district and the principals are doing their jobs correctly by hiring the best teachers, or not renewing the contracts of teachers that were not a good fit, than why can we not trust these teachers to use their creativity and judgement to find exciting ways for the students to learn? I think that way too much emphasis is placed on trying to measure learning, rather than giving the teachers the freedom and flexibility to run their classroom in a way that most benefits the students. The simple fact of the matter is that some students will make good grades and score well on tests regardless of who the teacher is, and there are other students that will perform poorly even with outstanding teaching and numerous supports and interventions in place.

If a teacher makes a strong connection with a child that comes from a broken home, builds that child's trust, creates an inviting environment in the classroom that allows that student to make friends and gain the courage to take risks and participate in class projects and discussions, but that student then scores very poorly on every test administered, do we conclude that the teacher is unsuccessful because there wasn't enough learning? This is the problem with trying to put numbers on education in the classroom.

To answer your question "what exactly should be used to ensure kids learn what is needed in schools", I would say trust in the districts or the state or federal government to accurately select the age-appropriate standards for each grade level, trust in the principals and school districts to seek out and hire the best teachers, and trust in those teachers to work hard to ensure that each child performs to the best of his or her ability in meeting the standards. If there is a problem at any particular level, than it needs to be corrected. It was not that long ago in public education that there were no standards set at all, and the curriculum came directly from the individual school districts and teachers. To imply that no successful learning can take place without standardized testing, countless spreadsheets of data, and scripted lessons also implies that most adults today that went through public school received an inferior education. The high stakes testing, prepackaged lessons, and strict teacher control did not exist when I was a student, and I feel that the education I received in public school is superior to that being delivered now. This has nothing to do with teachers being less qualified or skilled today, but rather a reflection of the lack of trust in teachers' ability to do their jobs without constant hand-holding and the unnecessary pressure of high-stakes testing and comparative data which results in doing nothing but teaching for these tests.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, 12:15! What an eloquent and spot on response.
There is one point that I disagree with--the part about the federal government selecting age-appropriate standards. Those people haven't done that yet. They don't have a clue about child development or how children learn.

While I found the political bashing unnecessary in the original blog post by Ms. Ravitch, I do have to agree with her on what to do to make sure that the Common Core State Standards are right and used correctly.

Mr. Burlingame,
Learning is not left up to individual teachers. There are standards, pacing guides and supervision by administrators. There is professional development provided. In addition, most teachers access their own learning to improve their skills.

Please let teachers teach.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you about the federal government 6:52, which is why in my post on 12:15 I stated that if there is a problem on any level than it needs to be fixed. The developmentally inappropriate standards in the Common Core is exactly what I had in mind. The less government intervention in the classroom, the better.

Anson Burlingame said...

While still between me and "anonymous" this is a good exchange, constructive exchange if you will, at least in my view.

Last fall I attempted to mentor five kids in General Science, get them to a level where they could pass the course. I failed. They were all freshmen in high school but could not do elementary school math calculations, period. Why?

This summer I am mentoring my grandson in chemistry to help him prepare for college. I was astounded, literally astounded, in our first session at his lack of knowledge of the BASICS in chemistry. He as well was a suma cum laude graduate from JHS last Sunday and received an "A" in chemistry a year or so ago.

But I DO agree with others that setting good standards is a key part of the process. Set such standards then let good teachers help kids to reach them, pure and simple.

But we remain mired in arguing over standards, much less setting them and achieving them by and large.

I also challenge all of you commenting herein to show me a way to identify "good teachers". I would add to that challenge as well, how to identify "good administrators".

We struggle now in public education to identify, correctly, "good students" as well. When every kid in every class passes all classes and is always promoted to the next grade, well ...... I guess that means we have no "bad students" either, right?

It is a TOUGH problem, separating the "good from the bad" in society today it seems to me and there is no more glaring example than in our public schools.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Burlingame,
You are right--this is a VERY tough problem because it is very complex.

I'm not sure what the chemistry class entailed. Is it possible that it was some kind of introduction to chemistry? Is it possible that what you know is beyond what was required in the class? I don't know the answers either but these are the questions that could answer your question.

As far as the 5 students you were mentoring not being able to do elementary math calculations, you should know that some teachers throw math instruction at the kids and hope that they catch it.

What you are asking about has SO many pieces to it. Students are complex. They learn in different ways. They also have to want to learn. It also helps if the learning is fun or novel and there is a positive relationship with school. If they don't value school or just know they have to do it and do it well, then there is no motivation to do things that are hard or uninteresting.

Standards should be designed so students are not only successful but also challenged. The standards have to be aligned with how children develop and should be designed to progress like steps.

I'm not sure why you think we must have "bad students". If students can meet the standards, can perform the tasks put before them, then they "pass". Of course, when every parent comes to school unglued because their students don't have straight A's, and administrators have teachers change the grade, we have a problem.

A good teacher? I know for myself and for my own kids, that's someone who cares about the kids. The teacher wants to joke with them along with teaching them. The teacher may be "hard" but also "fair". That means they treat the students with respect. They get along with the other teachers. They work hard to reach every kid and make sure that they understand what is being taught.

Administrators? They also should be wanting all students to succeed along with all teachers. They don't play favorites, they expect everyone to do their share. They treat students and teachers with respect. They lead the learning. They care about families and the community and they make sure their students will be able to make that community better.

I know, there aren't any fancy graphs or bunches of numbers that can be put on plaques and certificates. Just people, doing their best at what they're good at and making the world great.