Editor's Note: This is the second of a series of posts about Common Core from Westowne parent Kimberly Feldman. She taught high school English (and a variety of other subjects) for 10 years in Alaska, Georgia, and Maryland. She is currently a working on her PhD in Language, Literacy and Culture. Her current research focus is on the impact of educational policy/reform on student and teacher identity.
Common Understanding: What do we mean by Race to the Top, Common Core, and PARCC?
When people say they hate the Common Core, what do they really mean? In a careful analysis of blog posts, newspaper articles, and Facebook comments, I realized that most people were not actually against the Common Core at all. In reality, what people are against are things like corporate take-over of education, federal involvement in local schools, excessive testing, poor-quality curriculum and materials, and heavy control over teacher professional judgment and creativity.
In order to have a more productive conversation about the Common Core and people’s actual concerns (which are only tangentially related to Common Core), we need to have a common understanding of the terms involved.
Race to the Top — A federal grant program that required states to implement several major initiatives in order to qualify for the grant money. This initiatives included the following:
1. Adopt rigorous college and career ready standards. This did not have to be the Common Core, but the Department of Education approved the Common Core, so many states opted for that rather than re-invent the wheel.
2. Align assessments to the above Standards and create a longitudinal data collection system to track the progress of individual students toward achieving those standards over time.
3. Implement teacher evaluation systems that used student growth as part of the measurement of teacher effectiveness.
Common Core State Standards (CCSS) — Several states in need of new Standards decided to pool resources to create rigorous standards rather than each state creating them on their own. The result was a collaboration between the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to create common standards for K-12 in Math and English Language Arts and Literacy. These standards defined what students should know and be able to do, but do not dictate content (such as what texts will be read and in what grades).
Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) — A group of about a dozen states partnered to create high-quality Common Core aligned assessments for K-12 students. These computer-based assessments would be used in all of the partnering states to measure student growth and achievement.
Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) — These are measurable goals for a specific target population that teachers define and collect data for to measure student growth. In Maryland, this is used as 20-30% of the teacher’s evaluation and fulfills the Race to the Top Requirement for teacher evaluation to be tied to student growth. In some schools and districts, this has been a far greater stressor on teachers than the implementation of the Common Core.
Maryland College and Career Readiness Standards (MCCRS) — Following public protest against the Common Core State Standards, Maryland decided to change the name of our state’s standards from Common Core to MCCRS; however, the MCCRS are currently almost identical to the Common Core with the only difference being the addition of pre-K standards.
Common Core Aligned Curriculum — In the world of education, standards are the expectations for what students should know and be able to do while curriculum outlines the more detailed program of instruction that will enable students to achieve those standards. Traditionally, local school districts and state education departments have designed or purchased their own standards and curriculum. Now, local districts and state education departments are using the Common Core Standards to guide the development of new Common Core aligned curriculum. Because of the hasty implementation of the CCSS, many districts have opted to purchase pre-fab curriculum that is supposedly aligned to the standards; however, preliminary assessments of those curriculum documents and materials have found varying quality and alignment to the CCSS, possibly due to widely different interpretations of the Standards
“Common Core Aligned” Resources — One of the good things about having a Common Core across states is that it makes it easier for publishing companies to create high-quality materials that are aligned to Standards used across several states; however, one of the bad things about having a Common Core is that it also makes it easier for publishing companies to create poor quality materials that are marketed as Common Core aligned. There are currently no standards or processes in place for vetting “Common Core Aligned” resources and anyone can claim to have a Common Core Aligned or Approved products.
Who is to Blame?
Most people who claim to hate the Common Core (or Maryland College and Career Readiness Standards) have not actually read them. They have observed the media response and political banter surrounding the Common Core or witnessed the results of teachers and students struggling with new approaches to math and literacy (which may or may not actually be related to Common Core). As we move forward, we need to determine who or what the enemy actually is.
Is it the Common Core?
Is it the testing?
Is it SLOs?
Is it poor implementation?
Is it predatory textbook companies making easy money on the need for new materials?
Or is it something else?
Perhaps the actual enemy is the politicization of the issue. If we can get past that and focus instead on how to support and resource teachers and students no matter what policies or reforms are enacted, perhaps we can have a much more productive conversation.