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home : opinions : opinions December 17, 2014

6/4/2014 9:20:00 AM
Why teachers should hate Common Core
By Dillon Jones

“Common Core has nothing to do with curriculum, instruction, or testing.” No matter how many times Common Core’s most prominent supporters make that claim, it’s still false. Like any set of strict academic standards, Common Core standards directly affect these areas – and thus remove the ability of teachers to use their talents to the fullest. Academic standards are benchmarks of what students at different grade levels should know. When standards are changed, then curriculum, instruction, and assessments all must change to align with these new standards. If, say, you decide that every fifth grade student must know how to waltz, the curriculum must change to accordingly.

But Common Core affects curriculum choices in explicit ways, too. Official state and federal documents outlining Common Core repeatedly reference curriculums. Take a look, for example, at the Education Oversight Committee and State Board of Education report on the Common Core – dramatic curriculum changes are referenced throughout. If Common Core affects curriculum decisions, so too will it affect instruction practices. For example, former Senior Policy Advisor with the U.S. Department of Education, Ze-ev Wurman, has expressed serious concerns with the standards.

Wurman argues that: Common Core replaces the traditional foundations of Euclidean geometry with an experimental approach. This approach has never been successfully used in any sizable system; in fact, it failed even in the school for gifted and talented students in Moscow, where it was originally invented. Yet Common Core effectively imposes this experimental approach on the entire country, without any piloting. Common Core excludes certain Algebra II and Geometry content that is currently a prerequisite at almost every four-year state college.

This effectively redefines “college-readiness” to mean readiness for a nonselective community college, as a member of the Common Core writing team acknowledged in his testimony before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Common Core fails to teach prime factorization and consequently does not include teaching about least common denominators or greatest common factors. Common Core, then, isn’t just unrelated to curriculums. It’s largely dictating them. As curriculum and instruction are restricted by Common Core standards, so too will assessments. Whether South Carolina uses Smarter Balanced, ACT, or anything else as its mandatory assessment to evaluate students and teachers, any test will need to be Common Core-aligned.

And since students and teachers are assessed on how well they do on these tests, it follows that textbooks, curriculums, and specific teaching practices will all have to be aligned with Common Core. To further counter the argument that these standards have nothing to do with curriculum or the freedom to teach,South Carolina school districts have spent millions of dollars on professional development in regards to Common Core. If curriculum and teaching aren’t affected, why would districts need to spend millions to bring teachers up to date on the Common Core standards and train them on how to best teach to these standards? Not only will teachers be restricted in their instruction practices by these standards; they’ll be assessed on how well they will do under these restrictions.

The Smarter Balanced contract with the federal government states that the tests will produce data that will be used to determine the effectiveness of teachers, principals, and schools. Now, even if South Carolina doesn’t use Smarter Balanced assessments, the test the state chooses will be used to grade teacher effectiveness on how they teach to the Common Core standards. Even more explicitly, the Council of Chief State School Officers (one of the main creators of Common Core) provide these recommendations for practice: Require that definitions of high quality teaching practice used in teacher evaluations be aligned with the Common Core.

Insist that assessments used in the evaluations of teachers measure the Common Core. As a complement to teacher evaluations, develop principal evaluation criteria that highlight the importance of implementing the Common Core with fidelity. If teachers value flexibility in teaching, if they worry that they’ll be judged by how well their students do even as teachers’ hands are tied by restrictive and unproved standards, they have much to fear in Common Core. And it’s not just Common Core. Any federal and state mandates that restrict teachers’ ability to teach to the best of their abilities will operate in the same way.

More “vigorous” standards have never produced better outcomes for students, and neither has increased funding for the current broken system. Standards can’t produce better results for students, but teachers can. Students deserve to have teachers that can be more flexible in their teaching because not every child learns the same way. Common Core’s one-size-fits all method of testing to specific standards greatly restricts teachers’ ability to cater instruction to individual student needs. So Common Core has everything to do with curriculum, instruction, and testing. That’s the whole problem. Dillon Jones is a policy analyst at the S.C. Policy Council

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