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On The Postponement of Common Core Accountability

by Jose Vilson on February 11, 2014

in Jose

On Monday, New York State found out that its Board of Regents, the governing body for education policy in NYS, decided to postpone accountability measures for teachers and schools in all of New York State, paving the way for educators to get their Common Core ducks in a row. The five-year postponement came at the recommendation of Regent Merryl Tisch, who said,

This report is designed to make significant and timely changes to improve our shared goal of implementing the Common Core. We have heard strong support for higher standards, but we have also heard a desire for more time. The Regents work group put together a series of strong adjustments that will help improve implementation without sacrificing the high standards we’ve set for our students. These changes will help give principals, teachers, parents and students the time to adjust to the new standards without stopping our progress toward the goal we all share: college and career readiness for every student.

Of course, what I failed to include was the part where she (and NY State Commissioner John B. King) mentioned that they listened to the concerned parents and educators yadda yadda yadda. Because, until now, people thought direct protests, letter writing, and meeting interruptions wouldn’t actually make anything happen. To the contrary, this proves that all the interruptions en masse can affect change.

For moderates who prefer not to rock the boat too much, they think, by making logical arguments and talking about things over tea, we can come to a peaceful agreement, and that those in power will somehow relinquish it since they’ll have “seen the light.”As if good graces were enough to shift the locomotive of the CCSS implementation.

No.

We needed a plethora of methods for dissent in order to push back against such powerful reformers. The advocacy, the protests, the social media knocking, the letters to our elected officials, and the changing of the guard in NYC all came from a movement from people. Obviously, the work continues as we need to hold elected officials accountable, but, from my purview, it seems that this was a solid victory in the way of true reform.

Now, if I don’t get all the way through my curriculum, I won’t be too worried. I think I can teach much better this way.

Jose

{ 3 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.

Jose

{ 5 comments }

c/o bite.ca

Double Reading Rainbow

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.

{ 6 comments }

To Pretend Perfection, Sinful; To Aspire Towards It, Divine

November 22, 2010 Jose
Banksy Art, "Wall Art Swept Under The Rug"

Today, I sat with some fellow math teachers across the district to further investigate the new Common Core Standards. We’re looking through the new standards, creating questions and analyzing tasks (while I intermittently joke about my CoCoLoCo theory). We’re churning up great ideas while the moderator’s doing his best to moderate a bunch of rowdy […]

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CoCoLoCo for Common Core Standards [A Conversation in Earnest]

November 8, 2010 Jose
Sonny Coco

Let me say it straight up: I’m tired of the Common Core standards talk. No, I’m not tired of the Common Core itself, but the talk. It’s easily ran by the word like “differentiation,” whizzed all over the phrase “workshop model,” and is about to stomp all over the word “collaborative” to boot. Everyone’s talking […]

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