As you may have heard, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel had some sharp words to say about the rollout of the CCSS. He called the implementation “completely botched.” His assessment is apparently based on feedback he’s received from NEA members over the past year. There’s no way to interpret this as anything other than a major blow to proponents of the Common Core. The NEA – our nation’s biggest teacher organization – has been one of the strongest supporters of nation-wide standards and has consistently pledged to use classroom teachers as “ambassadors” to spread support for CCSS.
I certainly can’t speak for all NEA members, but I can speak for myself. When I first started teaching, thirty years ago, standards were effectively hidden; curriculum companies seemed to know what students should know and be able to do at each grade level and they used that information to write and publish textbooks. Teachers were simply consumers; we used what they wrote and didn’t ask too many questions.
There was an attempt in the early 90s to create a common national set of standards, but it was defeated by conservatives who argued for local control over education. Each state subsequently began to write and implement its own educational standards.
Then came 2001. With NCLB, our lawmakers decided that every school had to get every kid “up to standard” within twelve years, something not even Finland could ever achieve. Making it even more ridiculous was the fact that by that time every state had its own standards and assessments. Actually, some states didn’t even have standardized assessments.
As the sanctions required by NCLB began to loom large, Obama became president. He decided to use the threat of those sanctions as leverage for his own reform agenda, which included the Common Core. Not surprisingly, 45 states and DC signed on, partly because they liked the standards, but partly because they wanted a waiver from NCLB sanctions.
As a teacher, I embrace the standards from an instructional perspective. The standards themselves make sense; they’re narrower and deeper and for the most part seem developmentally appropriate, at least from my perspective. But what really appeals to me is the fact that they’re (mostly) national standards. Not only will curriculum publishers have more consistent targets, but it opens the door for collaborating at a scale never imagined before.
But with the standards came the assessments. When I first started scrolling through the fourth grade SBAC language arts assessment, I remember thinking, “Wow, this will be challenging for my students. But I’m sure there will be support and with that support I’ll be able to get my kids to achieve something remarkable.” And in my state and my district, that support has started to materialize. We’re focusing on CCSS-related instruction in district professional development time, and I hooked up with an awesome training in an instructional model called Literacy Design Collaborative.
But there’s a problem. The implementation of Common Core and its attendant assessments are unfortunately occurring while teacher evaluation is undergoing a major shift. Teachers are, for the first time, being assessed in part on the basis of student growth; student growth which is – or soon will be – measured by brand-new assessments based on a brand-new set of standards.
Teachers are, quite predictably, freaking out over all this. It’s one thing to change the standards and the tests used to measure those standards. It’s another thing altogether to use those tests for teacher evaluations before teachers have a chance to fully delve into those standards and understand what the assessments are actually demanding from our students.
That’s exactly why Dennis Van Roekel is calling for a “course correction.” It’s a simple request to slow things down to a manageable pace. Let us get to know the standards. Let us understand the tests. And then, down the road, maybe we can use those tests as part of teacher evaluation. Or maybe not. But to press on both fronts right now is counter-productive. The only way to ever successfully implement the Common Core is to get teacher buy-in.
And the only way to insure that the Common Core is not successfully implemented is to alienate those same teachers. And that seems to be what’s happening.