Sunday, July 24, 2016

It's About The Implementation, Not The Standards

This weekend Diane Ravitch shared a reflection in the NYTimes Op-Ed section about the Common Core Standards and the negative impact they have had on children and the fact that they have cost billions of dollars. In her piece Diane writes specifically about the opportunity gap and the negative impact the Common Core has had on schools in communities impacted by poverty and racial segregation. She also writes about the billions of dollars dedicated to this national effort could have been better spent to have a direct and positive impact on the ones who matter most... our kids.

Well, Ms. Ravitch, thank you for sharing your take on the entire Common Core issue and please know that I agree with much of what you said. The last decade in education has been a dismal time and the current landscape of public education continues to be a negative one. 

With that being said, I do think the piece was a missed opportunity. I think it perpetuates the deficit mindset that plagues education. Yes, Ms. Ravich framed the problem for us but the fact of the matter is that those of us who currently work in schools and send children to schools have been discussing the problem for years and we can list the unending problems that exist...

1) The ridiculous high stakes tests;
2) The ridiculous amount of money spent on new Common Core aligned materials;
3) The misinterpretation of the standards, which caused flawed implementation;
4) And the list goes on and on. 

The real issue we are still struggling with is the lack of a solution - how do we make things better for our kids today? So, while I applaud Ms. Ravitch for openly admitting she was wrong for supporting this initiative at its inception, I do wish she would have used her platform to focus on some of the potential positives of a national standards and some of the ways we could improve things moving forward. The bottom line is that our kids deserve better and it is our responsibility to help improve education and change the narrative. 

Although I am not necessarily a fan of the Common Core Standards (I know they are flawed in parts), I would like to offer my take on how we can make things better and how we could possibly make national standards work to the advantage of our kids...

1) The Common Core Standards should be a living document so that they can be revised and improved. Aren't we always working towards a better iteration of ourselves? The standards should be doing the same. Educators, students, families should be able to reflect on the standards and how they are working and possibly tweak them when necessary so that they are developmentally appropriate and are supporting our students. The tweaks can happen every three years so we can assess how the previous tweaks impacted learning and teaching.

2) Instead of spending billions of dollars on materials that are "Common Core Aligned" we should be spending the money on professional development for our teachers so that our practices and techniques are "Common Core Aligned." You see, while I agree with Ms. Ravitch that our teachers should be given autonomy to do what is best for their own students, I don't think all educators are equipped with the skills to actually do what is best for kids. I don't think all educators have a sense of "best practices" and research based instructional techniques that are proven to be effective. We cannot go from one extreme (scripted curriculum) to the other (complete autonomy) and expect different results - we know that doesn't work. If we all agree that our children deserve the best instruction then we should fight to ensure that our educators have the best too - the best on-going professional development that will empower them with the basic skills they need to tailor instruction to best meet the readiness levels of each of their students. The next step in this process is professionally developing the educational leaders in this country so they, too, are aware of best practices and can best support the efforts of teachers.

3) National standards, if implemented correctly, could help lead to vertical alignment within buildings and horizontal alignment across the country in terms of the learning and teaching within our schools. I worked in schools before the Common Core Standards and in many instances, the instructional practices were fragmented across grade levels and children were learning the same things over and over again yet not at a depth where the learning experiences actually resonated with the learners. These are problems that national standards could address with the proper support and appropriate implementation.

4) The Common Core Standards should not be about standardizing HOW we teach and what resources we use to teach. I would argue that we don't need a scripted curriculum because of the Common Core Standards. The standards offer us the "floor" for what all kids should know and what skills they should be working towards mastering; the standards do not offer a "ceiling" so how they unfold in our schools and classrooms and impact our children is up to us. We should give teachers, in conjunction with the above mentioned PD, the opportunity to make the standards come to life in their classrooms in a way that is most meaningful for their students. The standards do not have to equate to standardization. 

5) If we want to address the opportunity gap, which in my opinion is the real issue in our society and not the superficial achievement gap, then we must be willing to acknowledge and accept that racism is a systemic issue plaguing our schools today. Standards won't fix that problem; high stakes testing won't fix that problem; and "Common Core Aligned" materials won't fix that problem. Racism exists in education today and we must deal with that first if we want to make things better for all of our students.

Thank you Ms. Ravitch for spotlighting some of the issues that exist with the Common Core Standards and their implementation over the years. This conversation is one we must continue having because we need solutions. Let's dedicate our energies to finding solutions and contributing positively to education so we could change the narrative of public education and make our schools better for kids, our country, and our future.