Education in America is an evolving thing: After 14 years of No Child Left Behind, President Obama replaced the much-loathed, standardized, test-heavy law with one that allows states to set their own benchmarks and standards. Now it looks like Common Core will soon follow NCLB into the dustbin, with states like Massachusetts and New York planning to either drop or overhaul their own Common Core standards at the state level.
But is this something to cheer?
We already know what most parents think about Common Core. Whether from genuine frustration or simply because it’s trendy, you’d be hard-pressed to find a nice word about the curriculum from parents. But one group of people we don’t get to hear from as much are teachers — despite the fact that they are so often invoked by parents and politicians as being just as fed up — so naturally we were very curious to hear what they had to say on the matter.
SheKnows spoke to five educators from multiple states, who offered to give us their unfiltered thoughts on the subject.
Melissa, an educator who lives in Colorado, says she barely noticed a difference when the new standards were implemented:
“I hardly noticed any changes in my curriculum (eight-grade language arts) after Common Core was put in place in my district. Mostly it felt like, yeah, I’m already doing all this. The length of the standardized tests has increased, but the number of times per year students are tested in my content area has remained basically the same.”
David, a 10-year teaching veteran in New York, says the problem lies in a misunderstanding of what Common Core actually is:
“Common Core is a term that is often misunderstood. Common Core is a set of standards or topics that should be covered at each grade level. We had these same standards when we were in school.”
One seasoned educator with over 20 years of experience who wishes to remain anonymous says the problem lies not in the standards themselves, and in fact the math portion — the one most highly criticized by parents — can be extremely beneficial:
“I believe that the premise of the common core learning standards is a good idea. In math especially, I see children who are able to break down numbers to understand them better, they understand how to perform problems in many ways … I like the fact that the standards are countrywide and a child that moves from another state will have the same knowledge as students in my class and I do not have to remediate as much to catch them up.”
Sue, a Colorado educator, agrees that math gets a bad rep:
“The math Common Core is getting beat up by those taught math in a very different way — procedural. The math Common Core approach is much better. It’s very different — conceptual — which is why it intimidates or confuses those who were not taught math that way. However, it should have been implemented at the K-1 level and worked its way through the system.”
Sam from Rhode Island is pretty firmly in favor of the Common Core standards and doesn’t understand the backlash surrounding them, saying:
“One of the things I love the most about Common Core State Standards is that they are broad enough that teachers can tailor their teaching to their students while working towards the academic benchmarks that the standards set. The standards offer a great opportunity for personalizing learning. They are broad enough for teachers to write lesson plans that target benchmarks while incorporating student and teacher interests for maximum engagement.”
The not so good
It wasn’t a Common Core lovefest, though. Melissa admits that she’s heard other teachers have had to change their curriculum dramatically:
“Even though I didn’t notice much change in my area, I do remember some teachers saying their curriculum changed dramatically — seventh-grade social studies and seventh- and eighth-grade science — with Common Core… ”
While Sue disagrees with the idea of a nationwide curriculum:
“I’m not in favor of a national curriculum, which is essentially what the Common Core is. The U.S. is too geographically, culturally diverse to have a national curriculum, one size fits all. I’ve done work in large urban to remote rural contexts, and the educational needs/purposes of those communities are very different.”
She went on to outline what she sees as the problem with the Language Arts portion of the Common Core:
” The standards are ridiculously developmentally inappropriate. It couches desired outcomes as abstract skills to be attained rather than in terms of world knowledge — knowledge of what — and specific procedural knowledge — knowledge of how. The focus on informational text and close reading is ridiculous.”
David maintains that the problem lies not in what’s being taught so much as how:
“I think the problem that most people have is how schools choose to deliver those topics. There are modules, Pearson textbooks, Singapore Math … I think as teachers/schools, we need to make educated decisions on what makes sense when delivering the information.”
One thing almost all of our educators agreed on was that there’s a bigger problem than Common Core plaguing schools right now, and that’s the heavy-handed use of standardized testing in the classroom.
Our anonymous educator felt that the tests are responsible for turning happy kids into anxious ones:
“What I don’t like is the pressure that the high-stakes testing has placed on schools, teachers and children to perform at high levels. My third-grade students are just learning skills, and they are being asked to perform tasks that they are not ready for. I have seen more students with anxiety issues currently, and the only common thread I see is the testing.”
Sue had strong words for the practice too:
“The standardized tests associated with the Common Core are stupid and a waste of instructional time. They do nothing to improve student learning, as evidenced by the recent NAEP — National Assessment of Educational Progress — results of U.S. fourth- and eighth-graders.”
While Sam finds that the testing stands directly in opposition to what Common Core is attempting to achieve in the first place:
“There is one aspect that, in my opinion, takes away from all the good that the CCSS are trying to achieve and that should be totally scrapped: The standardized tests used to evaluate them … The standardized testing movement is incongruent with the principles of the CCSS and with learning in general. Get rid of the standardized tests, and let’s see if education in this country can actually change for the better.”
Even Melissa, the teacher who didn’t notice much of a change, pointed out that the testing is the biggest sticking point in her district:
“Standardized tests for science and social studies were added, and that extra testing has not been popular with teachers, parents or students.”
Well, it’s pretty much a draw.
Sue says that the time has come to put these standards and their accompanying anxiety-inducing assessments to bed:
“In my opinion, the Common Core needs to go away, as does the crazy standardized testing practices that consume way too much instructional time and place undue stress on teachers and students.”
While Sam urges us to not throw the baby out with the bathwater:
“Should they be reviewed and revised? Absolutely. Should we throw them out entirely? No!”