A Letter About My View on the Common Core Learning Standards [Because “Shut Up” Isn’t Clear Enough]

Jose Vilson Jose 5 Comments

Dear Reader,

Frankly, this post shouldn’t matter.

I’m a classroom teacher first and foremost, and am often in situations where I can readily embody what most of my colleagues believe about education and the teachers’ role in education reform. It’s a privilege at times to rub elbows with union leaders, well-known activists, and other thought leaders and sharpen those elbows when their ideas go astray from my personal beliefs. I have enough integrity that I can sit in the same room with someone with an opposing view without jumping across the table and threatening to choke the other person out. Or at least threatening to occupy their spaces on first breath.

All this to say that I don’t actually have an opinion on the Common Core Learning Standards, yet.

A year or two ago, I posted a couple of crosswalk documents from the New York State Math Standards to the Common Core Learning Standards (prematurely since I understand lots more about it now than I did back then). For the last couple of years, I’ve also attended a couple of conferences concerning the dissemination and execution of the CCLS as well. In New York City, the discussion has come to a point where, if you’re not using the words “Common Core” in a PD session or a faculty meeting, the moderator might get a frown stamp from our central offices.

On the same end, my friend JD and I had a conversation about the CC and realized that the assessment will make the standards whatever they are. The assessment will decide whether the “cool” pieces will matter. Who cares if we have less standards from K – 8 if students still get tested to death? Who cares if we have more coherent, fluid sequences for what students learn if 20-40 days out of the year get dedicated to interim and state tests for various subjects? Who cares if we as teachers have to think harder about the sorts of questions they ask of students if we constantly have to consider whether the material we teach has a high probability of ending up on the test?

Thus, I concluded with my own intuition (thinking for myself matters) that it doesn’t matter what standards lay in front of me. Pedagogy matters. Curriculum matters. Questioning matters. Coalition and collaboration matter, too. For the average teacher, these things should matter, if they don’t already. When I lay out the 180 days I have to teach, I get a good sense of the curriculum maps and pacing calendars we’ve created, and think about how I’ll deliver the lesson. I’m not thinking about Jason Zimba or David Coleman reminding me about the three shifts in their vision. I’m thinking about where my kids are in their learning, where they need to go, and how I’m going to get them there.

Yet, if you ask some people who vocalize their disagreements with the Common Core, you wonder if they’ve actually taught for more than a couple of years. Their answers sound foreign, but catchy because of its pseudo-populist tones. “I’m against the Common Core!” Great. So the average person not into education would ask: what does that mean? Now we’re getting somewhere. You’re pro-whole child education? Me too. You would like to dwindle our dependence on standardized testing and focus instead on more well-rounded assessments? I’m on that team. You’re for better integration of science, technology, engineering, and math with the arts and humanities? Awesome, because I am too.

You won’t hear that, though. You’ll harp instead on Randi Weingarten and the AFT’s (cautious) support of the Common Core. You’ll hang on Diane Ravitch’s non-vote on the Core as a clear sign you’re on the right track. You’ll follow some random tweeter capitalizing every other words in their tweets or interrupting your online conversations with a standard “Common Core will do that because it’s bad.” You’re well within your rights to do so. If you’re going to disagree with me, you can, too.

I’m just saying we can do better.

Whether or not you believe it, we do need a better curriculum, a better pedagogy, a better way to address education in this country, and it’s not going to come from whatever we believe about any policy or papers that come across our desks. It will come from the day-to-day interactions we have with our students, our schools, and our colleagues, professionally and politically.

If the Common Core doesn’t support the things I believe about good schools, then indeed I am not for the Common Core. Punto.


About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 5

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  5. Joanna Best

    It is important to listen a lot right now about CCSS and all the things that go along with it. I am already tired of hearing the name, though, I can say that. I wish we could just call it “the standards.”
    If you read the comments of outspoken readers on blogs like Diane Ravitch’s, you can get a good sense of what it is they don’t like about the “the standards” (whether it is the standards themselves or the politics behind them or the testing that comes with them or the implication that democracy is not really reflected in the process by which they came about). You have just to read their comments a lot and then you can see the trends in preference or which parts give them a negative reaction. I think any top-down type thing causes resentment, and thus a spewing off of reactions based on feelings. . . and then eventually things calm down enough to have a real and productive conversation about it.
    I think the things you mentioned that foster excellent teaching need to be brought to the forefront of the conversation and an intentional avoidance of certain buzz words needs to occur, including but not limited to: 21st century skills, college and career ready, global economy. School mission statements and school improvement teams have the power to affect a change in the vernacular that is driving public school norms, despite anything handed to us like CCSS or RttT mandates. That is where I am focusing my energy right now. I think most public school folks (and notice I did not say stakeholders. . .another word I think needs to be pushed back a bit) are ready for a set of words in the mission that encompass and imply the buzz words (well, some of them), but that are more embracing to community, value of individuals, and germane to healthy communities and individuals (not just competition).

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