After posting a few crosswalk documents between the New York State math standards and The Common Core Standards on this site and at my place of employ, I’ve been very involved in understanding how these mandated national standards will transform our way of teaching students, and how we need to get parents and students involved in the education ecology. By all accounts, the new standards are pretty good; light on how much we need to cover, deeper in the things we should cover.
Yet, this transition phase, like most other reforms, can often feel like it’s being done unto teachers and not with teachers. Under the premise that the eventual assessment will look like a series of tasks given to students, the overhead view on this assessment veers in the direction of the exams we have now. In other words, so long as a certain group of people use these assessments as a tool for extreme accountability and not a means of true support for our schools, we might as well not have the new standards.
We can’t discuss, for example, creative writing and voice recognition in poetry if there’s still that big scary test looming at the end of the year. We can’t expect many teachers to implement new technologies in our classrooms if we’re constantly balancing efficiency and depth in content. We can’t trust that teachers will want to visit other classrooms in their spare time when they have to use the waning amounts of time in their pocket to sift through hundreds of papers and give consistent critical feedback and analyze all those papers into pretty spreadsheets that demonstrates our understanding of data.
Why get creative and try something new when the old thing just works. Even if it’s only for 60% of the students, 60% of the time?
By the formulas teachers are now being judged by, that’s really all you need. The pressure isn’t to improve pedagogy on an imaginative level; it’s to standardize to the point where the outliers get forced into the mainstream of complacency. Policies like No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top kill creativity. Even a well-intended set of pedagogical mandates like the Common Core Standards gets out there on behalf of the federal government, they mess it up by allowing layers upon layers of middle people to twist these innovations into their own framework for success.
What does it mean? Well, if you’re in a school where people don’t stress out too often about exams, then this means next to nothing. However, there are far too many schools right now where these high-stakes exams can literally destroy whole communities. In places where we could use creativity for socio-cultural uplift, it’s amazing that we haven’t let schools become places to help those places become self-empowered and even answer the hard questions about their communities.
As any good teacher can tell you, though, it also means that students will also get to ask questions. And the answers could be all the above.
Jose, who has postponed the redesign of his blog for a month or so.