WIll Common Core Standards Lead to a Standardized National Curriculum?

ira-home-studyIn November, on NPR, there was a program on how an educational corporation was trying to provide low cost education for areas in Kenya where there was little money to pay for it. The educational approach worked by having all the teachers in each grade read the same lesson, from an E-Reader, as every other teacher. At one point in the radio program an American educator said, “If somebody suggested that kind of an educational model in this country, they would be laughed out of the educational community.” I gulped. I wondered if this is a lower cost model of exactly what is being pushed by educational corporations in the U. S..

In my local and other Gannett Company newspapers there was an article stating a goal heard in several school districts: “One Common Core goal is standardizing the sequence of the curriculum so students will be able to switch schools, districts, even states and not be out of sync in a new classroom.” Anthony Cody, in his blog on the Common Core quotes Bill Gates, “When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well.”

Some officials and educators disagree and say the standards just set the goal, not how to reach it. The goal of having schools use the same materials at the same time is not an agenda necessitated by the Common Core. Yet, if there are grade level expectations for each child and these expectations are specific and comprehensive enough to be tested, don’t we wind up with a standardized curriculum? If teachers have to coordinate their instruction so students from one classroom could easily jump into another, isn’t this a push for a national curriculum? In order for the standards not to prescribe a curriculum, they would have to be greatly simplified. This hasn’t happened as yet.

Even if the standards do not necessitate the implementation of a prescribed curriculum, there might be other pressures for this to occur. Two different teachers I know from New York State, one from an elementary and the other from a middle school, said their administrators gave them teaching modules to use. These modules included standardized lesson plans produced by an educational corporation with a script to read to each class. I quickly scanned a module for Middle School English. It was complex and offered some diversity in teaching methodology. It certainly did not fit my style of teaching. If teachers are pressured into using mass produced and prescribed modules, isn’t this an example of standards being used to create mechanization of instruction? Where is the support for teacher creativity? Besides helping kids, the creativity is one of the most satisfying aspects of teaching.

I think the emphasis in the standards on critical thinking is a positive step. To develop critical thinking, however, takes time, energy, and creativity. Teachers need to be able to adapt instruction to individual needs and pacing. If the Common Core is used to push an agenda of schools marching in lockstep, it will undermine such instruction and teacher satisfaction. Since when do all teachers teach or students learn at the same pace or need the same approach?


Testing Teaches, But What Does It Teach?

I recently talked with a teacher who said she felt stressed and boxed in at school. The problem was a familiar one: testing recently enacted with the Common Core.  Standardized testing contributes to a climate of anxiety and fear. This is not just a response to something new, but is inherent in the psychology of such tests. Any test can be stressful, but when students know that their grades, the school standing, and teacher evaluations are based on them, the level of anxiety is raised considerably.

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Concentrate on the Quality of Mind

When you do something, if you fix your mind on the activity with some confidence, the quality of your state of mind is the activity itself. When you are concentrated on the quality of your being, you are prepared for the activity. Shunryu Suzuki

We need to teach ourselves and our students that if our quality of mind is good, what we do will be good. We feel more at ease with learning, more focused than confused, more peaceful than agitated, more energetic than lethargic, more open than resistant. The ultimate result I think most teachers look for is not the essay or test score or work of art our students produce: it is the emergence of a young adult. But, can we teach in this mindful manner and keep our teaching jobs? Yes. Students will be able to concentrate, score better on tests and learn more when they find the work meaningful, enjoyable, and connected to their lives. To enjoy learning students need to feel heard and be seen as people, not as test scores.

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The Corporations Create the Crisis and then Sell the Solution

Reign_of_ErrorI have been reading Diane Ravitch’s book Reign of Error. It is an extremely illuminating book. The title evocatively sums up her analysis of the implementation of a new wave of educational change including the privatization of schools, the Common Core Standards, the standardized tests based on those standards and the accountability process based on those tests. Instead of serving the educational needs of students, Ravitch claims these changes as a whole undermine those needs. One clear example is the proposed spread of standardized tests to children in kindergarten through second grade — grades where such tests are developmentally inappropriate.
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