Ever since I decided to become a teacher (for apparently the second time in my life, haha), I’ve paid a lot of attention to education as discussed by commentators and lawmakers.
Since I was a middle and high school student during “No Child Left Behind” and in college when “Common Core” was adopted, I heard a lot of adults and educators complaining about both because they’re too strict and don’t let teachers make decisions.
Now, at some point in college, I decided to consider myself a Non-Conformist. Pretty much, I do my own thing based on my own rules and am very good a “smiling and nodding” when I think other people’s ideas are bat-shit crazy.
When I first heard about “Common Core” the thing that struck me most was that it would mean that students in (hopefully) all 50 states would be taught using the same curriculum. This, I thought, would mean that a student could transfer from one school in one state into another school in a different state without much confusion due to repetition and stuff being “skipped”. I have a cousin who moved from SC to PA (or vice versa) in 4th grade and thought that the Civil War was 2 different wars because of the completely different way it was taught in both states. I think that this is the example that shows exactly how screwed up our education system is in America. Living in Southeastern VA means that there are a lot of military kids who move around a lot and they deserve to have one solid education, not a piecemeal one based on what the individual states think is important.
Anyway, so, I was loving Common Core and then I started hearing parents and educators complaining about the new way of teaching math. Mmmkay….
They started showing me examples. I agree: that crap is weird!!
But…is that a problem with the overall aspect of Common Core? Or is it an implementation problem?
My education class this semester is Language Acquisition and Reading. This week we’re learning about lesson planning, which includes information on Basal Readers which has since become the educational idea of a “core reading program”. Essentially, teachers are handed a reading program that’s supposed to solve all their problems so long as they work through the program systematically with their students. The article we read this week explains why this doesn’t work (USING BASAL: From Dutiful Fidelity to Intelligent Decision Making by Peter Dezvitz and Jennifer Jones).
Essentially the problem is that no two children or classrooms are exactly the same (duh). The Basal can offer a great place for novice teachers to start, but teachers still need to evaluate their students to determine exactly what they need individually. The Basal can’t really differentiate for students.
Which, really, only serves to prove the point I’ve been trying to make for going on 10 years now: the school system can make all the mandates they want, but teachers are completely free to revise and plan on their own (“defying the school system’s mandates”) all they want so long as at the end of the day the student is learning exactly what they need to learn!!
Before “No Child Left Behind” and “Common Core” Virginia had it’s Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. Every student in 3rd, 5th, 8th, and various high school classes had to pass these suckers in order to graduate and the student’s scores had great influence on teachers keeping their jobs and schools getting accreditation.
This, of course, led to many teachers and administrators deciding that it was better to “teach the test” so that the schools kept up appearances of offering a quality education.
I call these teachers LAZY!
You see, even though I was in AP and dual enrollment classes in high school, I still had to take the SOL tests. Here’s the thing: as a class, we NEVER studied for the SOLs. This is because the AP and dual enrollment requirements are above and beyond what the SOLs ask and so without any special preparation, we AP kids easily aced or nearly aced the SOLs.
I had many friends in regular classes and they were given vast workbooks meant to prepare them for the SOL tests. I read through them and was fascinated and appalled by how little in depth knowledge was required of them! That’s not right!
Since I spent so much time with the “regular” kids, I could never understand what made me special. Sure, I had more knowledge, but that was because I was in classes that required me to go above and beyond and so the incidental facts were easily retained.
It’s easy to remember that the Revolutionary War was fought between 1775 and 1783 when you’re writing essays in 30 minutes on “To what extent is a Revolutionary War a literal revolution where society returns to the status quo after a short period of change?”. Memorizing dates is lot easier than trying to determine if everything after a revolution is actually just like it was before the revolution (I’m convinced that it’s more like a spiral where life is similar, but with a striking difference; like, American’s don’t drink as much tea as the English).
Anyway, since I think that students are much more competent and capable than school systems seem to give them credit for, I’ve always decided that if a teacher is complaining about too much regulation and testing by administrators, the teacher probably isn’t a very good teacher.
Do many kids get stressed out about taking too many tests? Yes. Can students be given the skills to make these tests so easy that they’re a joke? HELL YES! If a teacher is afraid of their students doing poorly on any given test, then the teacher hasn’t taught them properly. Period.
And any teacher who thinks that gathering meaningful data about their students and evaluating how that data should influence instruction is too much work should be fired. We did Running Records a couple weeks ago. Yes, they seemed awkward, but I just watched a YouTube video of a teacher performing one very fluidly as part of small group instruction. In other words, I see how easy performing a Running Record can be with practice and the data it provides is invaluable. To think of it as too much work undermines just how much work and care goes into teaching!
I was reading these tips for Homeschooling and thought it was pretty horrible that in the chart for analyzing different methods of education, the amount of parental involvement was listed under the disadvantages! I mean…if parents are going to be teachers, then they should be comfortable being teachers! That means lesson planning. That means evaluations. That means actually learning the content before you attempt to teach it! I think that there’s a reason why most of the homeschooling blogs I follow don’t have much information for teaching children after they’ve become “independent readers”. Once the kid can read it seems like the parent only exists to answer specific questions that the child has (which means Google?).
I’ve taken enough standardized tests from elementary to high school to know one thing: except for the writing example section, they’re always multiple choice tests. I highly doubt that Common Core has added short answer sections. Which means that even in the math section, with the crazy, seemingly made up techniques, the only thing that matters is that the student gets the correct answer.
So, in a real world classroom, if the school system mandates a specific way of instruction, the teacher can teach that, plus whatever other techniques that individual students may have an easier time using. Because, here’s the thing: most of that “crazy math” is just meant to help students better grasp the concepts of numbers and how they relate to each other. It’s supposed to help students rely less on memorization and more on why math works.
I hate rotely memorizing things! I don’t have the patience for drills and I find such isolated facts to be useless information. But, I’ve just listed 3 of the more obscure inches to decimal conversions that I know (skipping the obvious quarters and halves). Why do I know these? Because I work in a print shop and our line-gauges are in inches while our paper cutter is in decimals. If I’m measuring something to cut it, I have to do the conversions. We have a cheat sheet right on the wall behind the cutter, but after a few months, they started to stick. And once I have them memorized, I don’t need to look at the cheat sheet anymore. (In a classroom, a student would probably be required to carry out the long division to make the conversion).
If a Common Core tests asks the student to do a division problem, the answer will be in numbers; it will not be asking them to show their work unless the question requires them to use a specific technique! But, that means that the teacher should have taught that technique as something to be learned, and if the student doesn’t understand the technique, other techniques should be taught in conjunction, with emphasis that learning the technique that will be asked about on the test is as important to learn as how to find the correct answer.
Do you see what I did there? If there are 4 ways to solve a problem, then the teacher should teach all 4 ways, illustrating why each of the ways is different and giving each it’s proper name. In other words, the techniques are facts to be learned, not just what the answer to the problem is.
If Common Core doesn’t test specific techniques and those techniques are useless once the core information has been memorized (e.g. 7×8=56), then it really doesn’t matter how kids learn to do math so long as they learn the technique that works best for them.
See? Lazy teachers are part of the problem. It’s harder to teach 4 techniques instead of just one, so I’m sure many teachers are unwilling to add onto their already overflowing workloads, even though I’m personally convinced that it’s actually easier to teach 4 techniques instead of trying to force the wrong technique onto a specific student.
P.S. This of course leads back to homeschooling parents who don’t want the state to oversee their child’s education. Remember what I was saying about the SOLs? If you as a homeschooling parent are teaching your child above and beyond what the minimum requirements of the state are, then you should have no fear of your child taking state mandated tests to ensure that they’re getting a basic education.
And if you’re refusing the teach your child evolution because you’re afraid that it will hurt their relationship with God (and that is why you keep your child out of school and are afraid of state tests), you are a bad teacher. Teaching the science adequately will not alter faith since religion and science have nothing to do with each other. Science describes the what and how; religion gives reasons for the why. Science functions perfectly without getting stuck on why things work the way that they do; for science why doesn’t matter. Lying to your child about how old the Earth is because this information disagrees with your holy book only serves to disadvantage your child because you’ve most likely cut out or otherwise undermined the very foundation of scientific inquiry: The Scientific Method.
Pro-tip: teach everything from the standpoint of the Scientific Method. Background Information/Observation, Hypothesis, Design and Conduct the Experiment, Evaluate the Data, Draw a Conclusion. Repeat steps as needed. Seriously, it works for every subject (or so say’s this history and environmental science major :-))!