Monday, April 28, 2014

The Common Core crucible

Can we talk for a second about that kindergarten show that was canceled so kids could cover the academic imperatives outlined in the Common Core? Here's the letter to parents:*

There's a lot of angry scoffing going on in my Twitterverse about this. It's held up as Exhibit A of the  Common Core's hatefulness.

This letter does not show us that the Common Core is bad or inappropriate. It shows us that the school principal's judgment is awful. Yes, a main principle of the Common Core is to prepare high-school graduates for college and career. Yes, there must be a continuum of learning from K to 12. But obviously best practices for teaching kindergarten include providing a developmentally appropriate curriculum. Having kindergarteners do a show for their parents is developmentally appropriate. Having them "study" for academic readiness is not developmentally appropriate.

The Common Core does not ask that educators make kindergarteners study. The Common Core asks that educators provide environments for kindergarteners to play, draw, ask questions, listen, experience art, and relate to others.

The Common Core is a core. A starting point. It leaves ample room for teacher expertise--its point is to leave ample room for teacher expertise. The roll-out was handled badly.

The assessment component has been handled naively. They should have recognized that standards that ask for deep, authentic, critical thinking cannot easily be captured in a standardized test.

Implementation and training has been handled bad, bad, badly. This should be local, in my opinion--but god knows schools, districts, states needed the time, space, and money to come up with something intelligent and helpful, and none of those things were forthcoming. MONEY is needed. TIME is needed. TRUST is needed. SPACE is needed. Legislators and educational-services providers need to understand this and step back. Like everything else in our country's operations, we have forgotten all about Process and gotten distracted by the shiny parts of Product. Then we don't understand why complicated things break down.

The Common Core is not evil or stupid. It seeks to emphasize critical and deep thinking.  It prioritizes children. It prioritizes teachers' expertise. Except for some insanely difficult exemplars at the lower grade levels (where'd they come up with those?), it is reasonable. It's not perfect. But it's a framework, not a prescription.

Here's an idea: Screw the tests. Have kids take the PISA and let all the rest of the standardized tests go; instead spend the next two years developing an intelligent, respectful, and fully funded roll-out of the Common Core. Don't have politicians do it. Don't let educational publishers get involved. Find master teachers and curriculum directors and pay them to take the time to do this. Make the Common Core implementable.

Then, after that, like five years from now, or ten years, THEN come up with tests, if we must. But I bet by then we'll find they're unnecessary, a dangerous and useless appendage left over from NCLB, like an infected appendix.

Educators know what's good for kids. AND the Common Core is not evil, but rather a lightning rod for the helplessness that both educators and parents feel right now, for different reasons. AND the people who run that kindergarten made some weird and terrible decisions. All these things are true. Can we stop yelling now?

*Courtesy of Washington Post; at least, I hope so.

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