Saturday, June 8, 2013

Common Core

Once upon a time I was a teacher for a public school district that was one of the top ranked school systems in the state of Connecticut.  Each year I was handed a three ring binder that contained everything my students were expected to learn in the course of one school year.  Our curriculum guide was written for the teachers by the district’s school administration.

It was comprehensive, challenging, appropriate and thorough.  Imagine a chart with every conceivable topic broken down into quarters.  By the end of quarter one the student should meet the designated criteria.  These benchmarks became progressively more challenging from quarter to quarter.  There was no room for interpretation.  You were given your binder and you were expected to present information in a way that met each child’s needs so that the child could move from one benchmark to the next.  

Do you know what I was not given? Textbooks or any required teaching material.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Just the binder.  It was the expectation of the administration that I would use my intuition, knowledge, passion, curiosity, skill, and desire to select and use materials appropriate to reach my students.  In many ways it was like homeschooling other people’s children!

To teach cursive, I did use a text that the other teachers in my grade level (third grade) used, but to practice, the class would copy poetry in their best writing.  We used primarily Marilyn Burns to teach math, but we did a great unit on measurement using the March Madness basketball tournament.  I taught geometry on the playground using a digital camera to document shapes and we used that same camera to find arrays in the school building that corresponded to multiplication equations.  We published a book of poetry.  We sat outside and sketched trees.  We kept journals and read great books.  We had time for recess every single day.  Rain or shine.  Snow boots lined my classroom wall and my Wellies were ready to muck around on the muddy field. 

I loved my time teaching in this school, in this school district.  Students in this school, in this district, learned.  I did not give homework that lasted more than 15 minutes.  If it took more than 15 minutes they were to return it unfinished.  I did not give letter grades, just numeric 1, 2 or 3s.  We did not subject third graders to standardized tests, that did not start until 4th grade.  We did not need to be told how to teach and when to teach and why to teach.  We taught because we loved to teach.  As a grade level, the three other teacher and I met at our homes to talk about the latest books in education over coffee and dessert.  We met to discuss what was happening in our classrooms and how we could implement the best practices from each other’s experiences.  I had a mentor, several in fact.  Teacher failure was not an option.  There was too much love and support of the staff to allow a teacher to fail.  Sure some teachers had better personalities than others.  Some were strict, others jovial, others novice teachers and others published authors and veteran educators.  

I was not a teacher for very long.  Just five years.  What I described above was my norm for years one through four.  By year five (the year 2000) times were changing.  Homework was being given in 2nd grade.  We were doing test preparation.  Our first mandated text book was given: Chicago Math.  Goodbye beautiful Marilyn Burns who allows for accommodations, enrichment, review, and extensions and hello Chicago math that allows for none of this.  I did not stay long enough to see my beautiful world of pure education collapse under the stresses put upon it by the State.  

Once government beyond the local district became involved, the entire culture of the district changed.  We were blessed to be educating children in an affluent community where parents were in and out of the classroom daily, where budgets were never an issue (I had a $500 discretionary budget to buy whatever supplies I wanted every year), and where drop out rates were nominal and students were expected to continue on to 4 year college institutions.  The desire to pull up lower achieving districts through testing mandates, teacher accountability, and subscribing to No Child Left Behind, produced nominal increases in test scores and one of the casualties of this was that the high achieving districts lost their uniqueness, their creativity, and in some cases, their teachers due to the need to conform to state or national statutes.  

I am very fearful of Common Core.   Since when does the Federal Government have the authority to replace the local districts when it comes to educational mandates?  Where does the Constitution provide for this?  Education is a local/state issue, not a Federal One.  We are entering very dangerous territory when we let the Federal Government dictate how teachers must teach, what they must teach, what they must teach with, and when it must be taught.  The implications of this are staggering.

I am now seeing Common Core advertising in retailers like Barnes & Noble.  This week I saw this ad on the back cover of Book Page from our local library.  Apparently DK Publishing has sold out to Common Core.  Now not only is the Federal Government controlling education, it is affecting what authors write and publishers print.  Scary.  

At this time I am most grateful to be living in a state that (for the time being) has no mandates on homeschooling families.  I am free to choose my children’s curriculum based on their learning styles, their needs, their interests, their abilities and their prior knowledge.   I have the ability to choose the best material available to us and this material may be very different from another homeschooler in the same town.  Common Core has no place in my home.  Common Core has no place in our schools.  This is a move away from education and a move towards a totalitarian state.    I hope as more people become aware of what is happening, they take a stand and say no to Common Core.  The time has come to stand up for our children and their education.   


Jen Dunlap said...

This is so frustrating. It's like throwing more money and resources at something that is already broken. It makes me nervous for homeschooling in general in the future.

Jenn said...

I felt a little knot in my stomach when I saw the photo of the ad...actually, I feel it anytime someone mentions Common Core. It's disturbing, especially in contrast to the beautiful teaching experience you described early in your career. I also taught at an amazing school until 2003 and saw a lot of changes over time that weren't in the best interest of the teachers or students. I never thought we would homeschool, but now I can't imagine any other lifestyle for us.

Homegrown Learners said...

I share your concerns. I agree with Jen's statement that it makes me nervous for homeschooling in general. We don't have any restrictions here in GA, but I can feel them coming and it scares me.

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