common core state standards Archives - The Jose Vilson

common core state standards


I was recently asked to write for the Education Funders Research Initiative, a collective of education funders and researchers from around New York City, and their first question was, “Is New York City ready for Common Core implementation?” Of course, I saw plenty of problems with this statement:

Right now, however, I don’t see how New York City, much less our state, can meet or exceed the expectations laid out for us as a result of the Core nor get students “college and career ready.” Academic standards are only as effective as the organizational standards we hold for our system, and currently, we still have far too many structural issues. For one, curriculum publishers still work under the auspices of the previous way of thinking about instruction: “If we slap a sticker on our textbooks and say they’re Common Core, districts will pick it up and they won’t know any better.” Developing coherent curriculum is far more than just following the textbook. Teachers have to develop their own materials to accompany and bolster any textbook, new and old.

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Are Common Core Arguments Too Coddled? OMGLOL Yes.

by Jose Vilson on November 24, 2013

in Jose

Drake Laughing

Drake Laughing

Since the last time I spoke on the Common Core State Standards, people have started to stockpile arguments for or against them. Everything from “suck it up, life is tough” to “kids need recess, and a recess from CCSS” have been put to the fore, with the occasional #corespiracy coming from libertarians and people who hate anything Barack Obama brings as a solution, and I mean anything. I’ll hear nonsense like “The CCSS is like what happened to the Tuskegee Airmen” or “I don’t know why I don’t like the CCSS, but I’m just doing God’s work” and laugh because of the privilege this assumes. I’m also not willing to negotiate with Teabaggers over any sort of protest, even if I find even a strand of agreement with them.

Hence, my lens, my bias, is towards those who otherwise don’t get to speak, who actually want a solution that makes sense for all students, not just the students we treat like lab rats for our little experiments.

For example, I see lots of people use the term “developmentally inappropriate,” which Dan Willingham breaks down rather well here. Then I got to thinking about why I first supported Common Core, too. Sometimes, “developmentally appropriate” sounds like code language for “These kids can’t do this work.” Thus, you could have a situation where some teachers are doing multiplication tables with certain students as an in-depth activity in the eight grade, or never exposing certain students to Baldwin or Shakespeare in high school because “they just won’t appreciate it.” In my head, I find myself snickering, saying “How do you know?”

On the other end, a columnist like Frank Bruni will call our children “coddled” by adults who want everyone to win and never or fight for anything. From my purview, it negates the 1.4 million homeless children in our school system, and the privilege of knowing that, for some children, when they lose, they have enough safety nets that it doesn’t really feel like failure. In one neighborhood, when a child fails, they get tutoring and their parents have the means / influence to speak up as one of their last resorts in case their child doesn’t get a good grade. In another, when a child fails, they’re seen as just another victim of their environment, not worth saving, with tiers of bureaucracy meant to temper down influence, especially if they don’t look like they have anything to say.

I want the best possible education for my students. I want higher expectations, rigorous and thoughtful discussions in classes, and a baseline curriculum that grants access to all students to jobs, learning, and freedom via knowledge. My argument will always be that you can’t make history without having known it. However, learning for proficiency is not the enemy of learning for learning’s sake. Friend Steve Lazar once told me he wants to teach a student something first and foremost because it’s damn good, then because it matches some pre-ordained objective.

Our current CCSS obsession proffers arguments that sound like we’re reading off pamphlets, less like we genuinely have read the standards and the accompanying documents. If you’re going to make a good argument, make it. Please. If you’re for or against the exorbitant amount of testing, accountability measures, and wayward curriculum this comes with, say that. If you’re just trying to make it work because you’re in the classroom and you feel like you can’t do anything about it, that’s fine too. The average teacher feels this, and not enough of the people making these arguments take this into account.

As colleague Michael Doyle has said, “Searching for “the middle” is pointless–search for truth and let it fall where it will.” Let’s have a disagreement, but make it make sense for the people on the ground. Otherwise, you might be coddled into your corner, too.


Changing The Language From Anti-Testing To Pro-Whole Child

by Jose Vilson on September 12, 2013

in Jose

I like getting into discussions with people who like saying “Jose, why are you against testing?”

Let me lay out the argument and the reason why, instead of referring to myself as anti-testing, I’m calling myself pro-whole-child.

The argument is that testing isn’t bad. We should have experts who look at the lay of the education land, help set standards for what children ought to learn at every grade, and then help develop assessments that help us get a glimpse as to whether students learned that material. Testing seems more stable, and less prone to error since these guys spend their working hours on developing precise problems and test them on children and adults to make certain that the problems absolutely mean to assess what they mean to assess. Plus, having these common assessments between grade levels could make for interesting longitudinal studies and provide critical feedback for teachers, parents, and students about student and teacher performance.

I hope I got that right because, as it turns out, I think there’s something inherently wrong with this.

To a certain extent, I do agree with having a viable, thorough curriculum from K-12 that expands on content knowledge, helps students question, and goes beyond teaching students how to multiply in high school. Often, it’s the students in the lower-income brackets that get tossed into the least demanding classes with the teacher who likes to say, “Well, at least they’ll learn something!” I have a thing for high expectations, and I can’t shake it no matter what others say either. Plus, in my classroom, I give exams rather often. Outsourcing this task to the experts seems like a good idea because it’s less work for me on many levels.

Yet, that’s just not how this plays out currently. In fact, the current status quo strips away any real teacher expertise and potential for creating curricular equity. For one, students, educators, and parents at this juncture don’t worry about learning the standards; they worry about passing the test. The ramifications for passing the test include loss of funding, an overabundance of visitors who critique more than help, and eventually a process for shutdown that often dismisses the students who go to the school. Schools in these situations become less like cultural centers and more like test factories, churning out kids who can pass tests but can’t imagine or create without being given the answer outright.

Also, people who advocate for the Common Core State Standards miss the bigger picture that people on the ground don’t: The CCSS came as a package deal with the new teacher evaluations, higher stakes testing, and austerity measures including mass school closings. Often, it seems like the leaders are talking out of both sides of their mouths when they say they want to improve education but need to defund our schools most in need of a demanding curriculum, if that’s the argument. It makes no sense for us to have high expectations of our students when we don’t have high expectations for our school system, especially when it comes to funding.

Lastly, and most importantly, “testing” isn’t the same as assessment. We have plenty of things we can assess and test, of course. The way we talk about testing, however, is mostly a math and English-language arts third through eighth grade game. I don’t want that. I prefer we emphasize math, ELA, science, social studies, arts, (daily) physical education, and anything else that would give our students an experience that makes them better for having done it. In other words, I want more than what they’re getting now.

I prefer people don’t refer to me or anyone else who thinks like me about these things as “anti-testing.” I’m not anti-testing. I’m pro-whole-child-assessment. We don’t have a fancier name for this, but it’s more appropriate than the drivel attached to the “anti-testing” label.

I want less tests and better assessments. There. And I wear the “pro whole child” label proudly.



Short Notes: With Tears and Cheers

July 7, 2013 Short Notes
Mona Eltahawy

A few notes: Edutopia highlights five, count em, FIVE books I think you should read. Just go. Read em if you haven’t already. [Edutopia] When discussing the path of citizenship, this is what really matters. Five fifths human. [Los Angeles Times] The New York Times editorial board thinks there should be changes made to the […]

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Short Notes: On The Backs of Black and Brown Children

April 7, 2013 Short Notes

A few notes: Sherman Dorn highlights some misconceptions about the Common Core State Standards. [Sherman Dorn] Rania Khalel says public education reform is being done on the backs of Black and Brown children. I tend to agree. [Dispatches from the Underclass] William Hood’s story about Dr. Martin Luther King gave me the jitters. [New York […]

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Short Notes: What Is The Political Future for Teachers?

March 17, 2013 Short Notes
The Rock Says, "Do You Like Pi?"

A few notes: How are the Common Core math standards helping or hurting our most disadvantaged students? Anthony Rebora asks a few teachers … including me. [Education Week] Arthur Wise and Michael Usdan take a look at the landscape of teaching and politics from a bird’s eye view. [Education Week] And this article says that […]

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