By PEGGY GODFREY
Have the teachers who protested on December 9, 2013, in 60 locations across the country reached a point of no return with the Common Core standards imposed upon them? When New York State tested students using these new standards much lower achievement scores resulted this year. On December 11, 2013, Catherine Gewirtz reported in Education Week that the New York City Council had asked Governor Cuomo to take a serious look at public school accountability and "develop a system based on multiple forms of assessments" instead of on a lot of standardized testing. Several Westchester schools have even opted out of the Race to the Top that include use of these Common Core mandates.
Could it be the recent publication of a book, "Reign of Error" by Diane Ravitch, has spurred on this discussion? Ravitch clearly states that the Common Core curriculum was initiated during the Presidency of George W. Bush. He recommended the adoption of the mathematics and reading Common Core curriculum standards although these standards had never been field-tested. This was also the time that support grew for the expansion of charter schools and vouchers. Ravitch states both political parties now favor this approach.
The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) said some improvements in students' achievement scores had happened in the 70's and 80's. But Ravitch, citing research in the field, explains that using test scores to rate teachers doesn't work because it causes teachers to spend more time on teaching these basic subjects and less time on other subject areas such as social studies or science.
While charters and programs such as Teach for American can be cited as solutions to the problems of improving education for students, there is plenty of evidence these approaches are short sighted and inadequate to allow the real problems dedicated teachers face in the classroom. The damage caused by demands to rate teachers on student scores and closing schools which have low standardized test scores in Ravitch's view could be called "an admission of failure by those in charge."
Efforts are usually made before a low achieving school is closed to give extensive training to teachers and additional classroom instructional time in the core areas of reading and mathematics which will be tested. The cycle continues as teachers are blamed for their failure to raise student scores. Why are those in charge of closing schools asked why the only solutions they offer are new public schools or charters? Ravitch warns that all this choice in schools has not produced equality. Rather it creates inequality and intensifies race and ethnic segregation and produces class segregation.
Therefore, it is no surprise to view the teachers protesting Common Core. The protest in Yonkers reflected teachers' concern for the Common Core requirements in the schools and its heavy reliance on standardized testing which was causing stress for parents, students and teachers. Legislators were going to be asked to stop this testing and to slow down the implementation of the Common Core standards. The requirement to place student test scores in a "portal" which will necessarily track a school district's Common Core results is very controversial with many parents as children's scores will be recorded and tracked on these difficult tests.
However it is important to note that these portals became mandatory when New York State accepted $700 million in federal “Race to the Top" funds in 2010. Also in accepting these funds higher achievement level mandates were placed on children and teachers. The low state test scores this year reinforce the pressure and stress that even good schools are experiencing. Most schools had willingly adopted these standards when the Obama administration in 2009 suggested some of the states complying could win grant money in the “Race to the Top” program.
A significant thrust of the Common Core mandates was to prepare students for "college and careers." But not all students are going to college and the thinking skills promoted may not be relevant for all of them. The response to this observation has been that no matter what kind of job a person has, "skills can help them to perform better in their job."
In New York State some of the most difficult conditions to comply with were the evaluation of teachers. Criteria mandated were that these evaluations must be based: 20% on their students' test scores, 60% on classroom observation, and 20% on locally chosen assessment criteria. The plight of limited English proficiency students is very severe, as there are no waivers on the mandated achievement scores that must be taken. Similarly, no matter how poor or handicapped children are, they must all meet the states' test standards. Making this situation worse was a lack of communication on the criteria teachers must use. This places the school district in a very disadvantaged position. Common Core was promoted by businessmen and philanthropists who had not worked in public schools.
To prepare students for the future, this country needs creative, innovative problem solvers. There have been warnings to those districts that want to remove themselves from the federal “Race to the Top” program that even if they do not want to comply with “Race to the Top” mandates, the district will still have to commit to the in Bloom (computer program to record students' scores) and adopt the Common Core curriculum.
Peggy Godfrey is a freelance writer and former educator.