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My First Days With Full-blown Common Core

August 8, 2013

In this post I write about my experience as a traditional public school teacher facing Common Core (CCSS). Before I do so, there are a few statements I must offer.

First, let me be clear that I am writing about my own experiences on my own blog using my own computer and sitting in my own home on my own time.

Second, I teach in a wonderful school for an administration that cares about their students. The atmosphere at my school is one of undeniable support. Our school is a strong community, one that is always seeking to grow. My district has a solid, established reputation statewide.

Third, if I am going to endeavor to teach my students to think critically and to act with conviction, I must first model as much myself.

And now, for my experience with CCSS.

In 2010, I attended my first department meeting in which I was told our district would be phasing out our curriculum and phasing in something called the Common Core. I was told that it would be simpler for having fewer objectives. We were to phase in slowly, with the transition being complete for the 2014-15 school year. I was also told that there would be assessments but that these were not written yet.

This was two years prior to passage of legislation that my job would depend upon student test scores, so that issue was not part of the discussion.

In other meetings, I was told that CCSS required that I teach differently; the example given then was about some new way to do math. I am not sure why this was presented in an English department meeting, but it was.

Last year was our first (and, it turns out, only) transitional year. The curriculum reminded me of moving from one house into a temporary residence on the way to Who Knows Where. Our curriculum specialist tried to help us choose materials for this curriculum in transition.  We used what books we had available. This was also the first year that teachers were evaluated using student test scores. I was very aware that I had little control over how my students fared on the End of Course (EOC) test. My goal was to teach; this I kept as my focus.

I learned upon returning to school this week that we were no longer “transitioning.” We were now completely CCSS. This year my students will take EOC; my job this year will be contingent upon EOC; PARCC will begin next year.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been on a crusade for states’ not dropping out of CCSS. Thus, it makes sense to me why John White dropped us in full-blown CCSS a year early: foot in the door. White figures that CCSS is less likely to be dropped in Louisiana if it is already instituted. Wait until the legislature feels the weight of that PARCC price tag. I think we might be following Georgia’s lead.

CCSS is a top-down adoption.  Notice how many times the word “told” occurs in this post. Obama and Duncan told states that they must adopt CCSS to be eligible for Race to the Top (RTTT) funding. At the state level, the “collaboration” came after CCSS was established; the word is that CCSS was adopted “with overwhelming support from the public and from educators.”  Our district told us what the new material was that I would use for teaching, and they told us that veering from the approved literature would require principal/district approval.

That brings me to the “telling” at the school level.

My first meeting during our three beginning-of-year teacher days was a meeting on CCSS. It reminded me of a time-share sales pitch. I was told that I had freedom in my classroom. I was told that my classroom was my “car” and that I “have the keys to my car.” I was told that CCSS would not require extra time or preparation.  I was told numerous times that if students did not excel, it was that I was failing the student.

I was also told more than once, “We are going to do this,” the unspoken message being, “Don’t even think of objecting.”

I was told that students would learn if only I would provide the opportunity.

I thought of the numerous students last year who told me, “I’ll just take the zero” on the periodic grading of their semester-long research project until they reached the point that they had to complete the work in order to earn a C or D.

I was told that I need to challenge students by bringing them to their “frustration level”– that doing so would challenge them to work and that they would rise to the occasion.

I envisioned students throwing up their hands in resignation and transforming into behavior problems.

I have been told that CCSS will make students “college and career ready.”

I remembered that CCSS had not been pilot tested.

In a second meeting on CCSS, I was told that we would focus on literacy across the subject areas. In order to do so, we were expected to regularly do an activity called a “close read.” In the two-hour meeting, I learned that the close read activity had a number of components and that it would take hours of class time to complete.

The activity was not suggested. It was decided, and I was “told.”

I imagined my classroom “car” to which I “had the keys” as being without wheels, on blocks.

I was also told that we would be regularly be expected to write “text-dependent” assignments using a template provided by a company called Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC). I was told that PARCC has a lot of text-dependent questions, so I needed to use this template to create a text-dependent writing assignment for students as often as (the unofficial expectation) once a week.

(LDC is a Gates-funded effort whose founder, Chad Vignola, a non-educator, was fired from the New York Board of Education for concealing an ethical breach but kept in the job with then-NYC Chancellor Joel Klein because “no one else could do his job.” The LDC website also mentions Vicky Phillips and Carina Wong, two Gates employees who announced CCSS four months before it was officially finished. As for Klein, he now works for Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify, the company that won the $12.5 million contract to design CCSS assessments.)

In our grade-level meetings, the faculty was told to write a close-read assignment and a template task for the first teaching unit. We were told to do so as a grade-level collaboration, with all teachers having the same task. We were told to make copies of the result to include in our professional folders.

I did as I was told.

I understand that this is the nature of top-down “leadership.” The only one with the freedom is the one at the very top. All others have some consequence, the outcome of which they seek to determine by controlling the actions of those lower than them in the chain. So I understand why my district is so prescriptive in telling me as an English teacher the specific literature I am to use and why my school administration is telling me not only what to teach but how to teach it, down to the exact lesson template. They are grasping for control.

One might object and say that it isn’t actually CCSS that is controlling my classroom. I say, yes it is. First, CCSS is top-down, and by its nature, CCSS drives districts and school administrators to micromanage their teachers. Second, a part of CCSS is the CCSS assessments, which in this reformer world are high stakes for teachers, administrators, schools and districts. The punitive nature of the CCSS assessments virtually guarantees micromanagement of the classroom.

In a meeting the second day, I was told that our district would increase the number of standardized tests to include one at mid-year. I was also told that I would be provided test data on my students to better inform my teaching.

More tests to accommodate an untested, high-stakes curriculum engine.

My administration is not micromanaging all of my teaching decisions. However, I understand that as PARCC draws nearer, both district and school administrators will feel increased pressure to control the “top-down” levels below them– the teachers and students.

In instituting this unpiloted CCSS, I realize that my classroom has become one high-stakes experiment.

My goal is to walk the CCSS tightrope as best I can out of respect for administration while continuing to guard and exercise my professional judgment.

27 Comments
  1. patriciahale permalink

    The third highest spending state in the country miserably failed on tests created by test makers. Are children failing, or is the corporatist leaning of education policy in America failing children? I know the answer.

  2. Michele permalink

    I thought of you when I read this ED blog post.
    http://www.ed.gov/blog/2013/08/help-ed-improve-how-we-evaluate-state-assessment-systems/
    As an expert in assessment, do you have any thoughts for them? I know you do!

    • Michelle, here is my response for Arne:

      Stop implementing massive programs without PRIOR piloting!

      CCSS needs to be scrapped– it is “top-down,” and as such, it cannot work. Enlist teachers; build CCSS according to their expert decisions; take the years necessary to test it; refine it, and make adoption truly “optional” (i.e., no funding attached). And DO NOT connect high-stakes tests to it!

      –M

  3. That response, though exceedingly useful, appropriate and clear, would not be acceptable under Arne’s top-down control format :

    “We encourage –

    all interested parties to submit opinions, ideas, suggestions, and comments pertaining to how best to measure the quality of educational assessments. Respondents are encouraged, but not required, to address all of the questions above. All responses should be emailed to ESEA.Assessment@ed.gov by September 30, 2013. Please use the subject “Title I Peer Review” in your email. Please clearly identify the question(s) to which you are responding.

    The fine print: Responses must be related to Title I assessment peer review, should be as specific as possible, and, as appropriate, be supported by data/relevant research. All opinions, ideas, suggestions and comments are considered informal input. ED will not respond to individual comments or emails, will publicly display all those that are appropriate, and may or may not reflect input provided in the policies and requirements of the Department. If you include a link to additional information in your response, please ensure that the linked-to information is accessible to all individuals, including individuals with disabilities. This is a moderated site. That means all responses will be reviewed before posting. Additionally, please do not include links to advertisements or endorsements; we will delete all such links before posting your comment.

    ED intends to post all responsive submissions in a timely manner. We reserve the right not to post comments that are unrelated to this request, are inconsistent with ED’s Web site policies, are advertisements or endorsements, or are otherwise inappropriate. To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information such as Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. For more information, please be sure to read the comments policy.

    Thank you for helping ED consider how to better evaluate and support states as they develop the next generation of assessment systems.”

    ******

    Note this last sentence. “. . . support STATES as THEY develop the next generation of assessments systems.”

  4. jean sanders permalink

    LDC is a Gates-funded effort whose founder, Chad Vignola, a non-educator, was fired from the New York Board of Education for concealing an ethical breach but kept in the job with then-NYC Chancellor Joel Klein because “no one else could do his job.” The LDC website also mentions Vicky Phillips and Carina Wong, two Gates employees who announced CCSS four months before it was officially finished. As for Klein, he now works for Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify, the company that won the $12.5 million contract to design CCSS assessments.)

    ————–
    It is important that we share this information in every state. Deutsch29 thank you for this. I taught at the teacher preparation level in Massachusetts all through the years MCAS was being put in place. In the coursework at Northeastern U., at Fitchburg U., at Lesley, I know the person in charge of reading; the person in Fitchburg U Reading Department prepared the whole NCATE/IRA reading program master’s that was approved. We do not support the way you are being told to teach that “close” stuff. Even the name is foolish let alone the practice. I wish there were some way I could help you. I want the IRA and NCATE to stand up and tell the bullies that this is the wrong way to go about it. When I speak up I am often told “we don’t do it that way anymore” so the faculty my age are called “dinosaurs”. I will do everything in my power to help you get this message out. I called Governor Patrick and told him to stop beating up on Georgia; I told Elizabeth Warren’s office I withdraw all support from A. Dunccan and the democratic party (all I had to give was shoe leather). Let me know if there are other things I can do to help (I’m going to a wedding in Albany Sept. 13 and will speak with every parent there.) I am going to speak with each parent at the wedding and tell them “for 2 dollars I will write you a two page report based on your child’s test scores, GPA and academic record.” Then encourage the parent to take the report to the school, the school committee, the elected representatives etc. If we go back and claim that each child is now eligible for special education funds , and do it through the elected representatives???? Just a thought but I am serious about speaking with every parent at the wedding because they have been “bamboozled” ; it is immoral , unethical and irresponsible what these people are doing to the kids. (jean in massachusetts jeanhaverhill@aol.com)
    P.S. my friend is Professor Emerita (taught reading) at the University ; she did a thorough report for a student in NH and her report was deemed not acceptable because her license is in MA. I think this is the whole story — even faculty members who have credentials and 50 years of experience are being vilified and the teacher preparation programs that went through IRA/NCATE are being savaged. I called Senator Ayotte’s office in NH and said “I refuse to even buy an ice ream in NH this summer.” (jean in massachusetts jeanhaverhill@aol.com)

  5. jean sanders permalink

    P.S.S. A good book Plutocrats tells what Gates does in the medical field.

  6. Bryan Alleman permalink

    Mercedes, I can’t help but think of the 1960’s and the failed effort to get middle school math student in our country to speak and do linear algebra in hopes we would create code-breaking teenagers to help crack the Russian’s cryptic messages. Remember the book, Why can’t Johnny do math? If that ‘New Math’ was a single subject failure, I’m pretty sure CC will mark the failure of all schooling. No wonder veteran teachers typically say, the pendulum will swing back, just give it time.

  7. Linda permalink

    Mercedes,

    The CCS document states, “The Standards do not mandate such things as a particular writing process or the full range of meta cognitive strategies that students may need to monitor and direct their thinking and learning. Teachers are thus FREE to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards (NGA, CCSSO 2010, pg. 4).

    I read that statement and I have been granted the autonomy to figure out how to teach my students as well as craft my own assessments to determine how well they’re learning.

    Their portrait of students who meet their standards contain these four aspects (of seven).

    They demonstrate independence.
    They build strong content knowledge.
    They comprehend as well as critique.
    They value evidence.

    And so should their teachers. We are not robots following orders. We are professionals and should be treated as such.

    My two cents. Thanks for writing.

    • MissGary permalink

      I loved your statement. It sounds like after the standards were released as an example of college and career ready standards and adopted by states, administrators totally disregarded the statement that you quoted and the professionals that were to use their knowledge and skills to implement.

      That statement is also a key reason why “piloting” the standards or researching the standards is pretty much impossible. The standards say WHAT students need to learn, not HOW they will learn it. The HOW is just as important as the WHAT. Each educator could do the HOW differently and as they see fit for their students, thus could get different results with the same standards.

  8. Lafayette Ann permalink

    What is PARCC?

  9. Neal Anderson permalink

    God have mercy on your and your students’ souls. I can’t imagine having to deal with all this beaurocracy. I really feel for you.

    It’s for these and other reasons I’m so glad we homeschool. We pick and choose the very best curriculum based on our son’s learning style and aptitudes for each subject. As a result he has developed into an incredible student, a fastidious reader and is even studying subjects we never have such as Latin. We truly are blessed and grateful to have never had to deal with these kinds of pressures. Our eldest son is 14 and in addition to having consistently tested in the 99th percentile throughout his schooling is close to getting his Eagle Rank and will be competing in a national piano competition in November. The freedom to choose a specific curriculum that challenges him as well as makes up for our lack of mastery has been one of our biggest keys to success.

    I truly hope this turns out better than it seems. God help you.

  10. I think it’s time to start a homeschool network and an underground school system.
    I’m out of K-12 now, but vividly remember top-down admins who would talk to us at length about how “empowered” we were going to be… which was to say they gave us more of their responsibilities, but none of the authority or resources to do the jobs. Oppressors & bullies often fail to perceive their roles…
    I *like* a lot of what’s in the common core in the math stuff. The skill with which these gleaners have taken over it is astounding.

  11. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    PARCC stands for Partnership for College and Career Readiness. It is one of two federally funded consortia hastily assembled to develop tests for the CCSS, extending the the myth that the CCSS is a grass roots phenomenon. The other consortium is SMARTER the Smarter Balanced something…. States signed up to participate in one of these groups, either a lead state working on policy details, or just wanting to get some tests for not much investment in time or money. All this transpired in haste between June and December of 2010. A few joined both groups, hoping to save money by getting online assessments of the CCSS.
    The initial funding for the two test development groups was $300 million. About $60 million was added in no time when the dumb dumbs in Arne’s office were told you cannot do test development without any reference to curriculum materials. So there you go on the first step toward doing exactly what the CCSS were not supposed to do, prescribe curriculum materials.
    In one of the first progress reports it was obvious that neither group could do the online accommodations they had promised, and in recent field tests, computer systems crashed from an overload and software glitches. The testing time for kids is outrageous, but necessary for any claim
    to reliability. The consortia are supposed to produce tests with scores that are “comparable.” I interpret this as an attempt to do two versions of the same basic test (known as form A and form B in testing). These convoluted structures for developing national tests of the CCSS allow the USDE and Arne to thread a legal needle that prevents feds from requiring standards, curricula, tests and the rest. The fiascos are beyond belief. Diane Ravitch has nailed it in the title of her forthcoming book “Reign of Error.”
    Thanks for the info on the new role of these two consortia as big time subcontractors for the one-size-fits all federal agenda. In addition, check out the subcontract to IRS International– four years, $46 million–to create the “Reform Support Network,” a means to give states scripts for implementing the RttT agenda with “quality controls” designed to “calibrate” the work of teachers. The RSNs experts are economists, statisticians, testers (ETS), and communication experts brought in to help sell pay for performance and the architecture that will support it.
    Related information. The “close reading” thingy was promoted mid-century last under the umbrella of “new criticism” in literary analysis, and known as formalism in the visual and performing arts.The premise that you could determine the intent of the writer or visual artist by close reading/analysis was rejected by a bunch of other critics who said that the analytical methods of the new criticism, aimed at understanding the artist’s intentions from the structure of the work, were a good case of affirming the intentional fallacy. In a nutshell, the new criticism was overwhelmed by folks who said any work is a co-creation of the artist and the reader/viewer/listener with a huge amount of cultural and personal knowledge in play to make any sense and find meaning in the work.

  12. Bridget permalink

    I think it’s time for a lesson on what the law says about the federal government’s role in public education. Read Diana Ravitch’ recent blog on the subject. I think Mr. Duncan and our President need a civics lesson. I am sure RTTT is carefully worded, but the end game is still the federal government mandating our state curriculum. We are caught in a tug of war. We know these mandates and state laws are a bad experiment, but we can’t break the law. I blame our elected officials for not doing their homework and voting for this mess. What’s a teacher to do? Damned if we do, Damned if we don’t…

  13. Bridget permalink

    BTW, my school district is undertaking the massive task of trying write a district curriculum aligned to CCSS. Our teachers leader teams spent their entire summer on this with guidance from district supervisors. It’s a shame that we weren’t given the time to pilot this curriculum first. Mr. White doesn’t have a clue about how education initiatives should be rolled out. It is horribly unjust for both students and teachers to be subjected to CCSS with no research to back it up. How is it that hedge funders and Ivy League kids with no education credentials are allowed to impose this on our children? Shame on our LA Legislators!

  14. If I had the time and English background I would be working on the “Common Core Fix”. I can see a need for it in a few years. Perhaps a group of teachers can get together and offer an alternative. I’m game. Anyone else?

  15. Danielle permalink

    Mercedes, thank you for writing about your experience. I am a teacher (and parent) in a high achieving suburban Philadelphia school district. We start our in-service a week from Tuesday and I have a sense of dread that I have never had before, and I started teaching in 1994. I teach middle school English and find the micromanaging unbearable. I get a knot in my stomach when I hear people wanting to home school or move their kids to private school. I am sick about all of the retirements we have been experiencing because good teachers and administrators don’t want to drink the common core Kool aid. The English curriculum coordinator for my district is sweet, but seems to think she has to act like all of this is the greatest new thing. I wish administration would simply say that this would have potential if it weren’t high stakes, or connected to evaluations, etc.
    I wish they would be real with us and acknowledge the game that is being played. I know the reformers are finding success because I have wanted to pull my own children out of our once creative, hands-on, critical thinking focused district. If I want that (and I work there), they are pushing all of the right buttons. I am not pulling them out, but I am opting them out. We will see what hoops they make us jump through for my daughters to graduate. It is a maniacal and brilliant plan to push teachers to the breaking point, to push parents to pull their kids out of their once beloved schools, and to end public education as we know it. Any teacher worth his or her salt will slowly shrivel to death under these conditions. Those of us who love what we do are the kind of people who need autonomy to use our knowledge of psychology & our creativity to get our students excited and intrinsically motivated to learn and to enjoy it. The CCSS suck the joy out of learning. I have poured over many books and workbooks this summer to try to prepare for this big “shift.” The CCSS are suggesting things like asking my students to write an argumentative essay about wearing uniforms in middle school. They are designed to bore the kids right into private schools. I think I will have them write about standardized testing. I know they have a lot to say about that topic. Too bad no one is asking them.

  16. jerry blalock permalink

    This is how Nazi Germany started out, slight changes in the materials and a teachers career being determined by the students test scores…Major companies are doing the same thing, by starting programs that make the crew supervisors micromanage each individual.No teaching time is allowed.You are mechanics, just fix it. You also have to fill out a job assessment document before the job begins to consider all things that might happen to harm the person doing the job. At the bottom they signed it to show they participated in the briefing….then if they do get hurt, it is their fault and they are fired…We kept quite, but did not support the new program, but learned the equipment and its individual characteristics. This produced employees that could and would work on anything. We won awards for being the best maintenance crew in a multi-state company while I spent my time appeasing the system….we call it pencil whipping it. This countries hierarchy is trying to destroy a persons ability to excel and use his own mind to work out problems. They are trying to make us into ignorant sheepeople that follows the one in front of us into the furnace. Get the parents on your side, they in turn can get the school board to do what they say and we reverse the flow of power. All must be commited and see the reward at the end of a long hard fight. Never give in and never give up.

  17. Ginny3 permalink

    First, I LOVE your blog. I am a Louisiana teacher forced to use CC. You are spot-on. Please proofread for grammatical errors. States in paragraph 11 does not need an apostrophe. As your blog goes viral, critics will assassinate you for this, Blog on! You are providing a great service. Feel free to delete my comment as needed.

    • Hi, Ginny. Thank you for your concerned comment.

      In para 11, the apostrophe is correct. The gerund phrase that
      follows “states” “belongs to” the states; thus
      “states” is possessive.

      –M

  18. Greg permalink

    Understand Common Core for what it is: the unholy communion of Fabian socialism, fascism and cronyism. Just look at the required reading material, and you’ll recognize the hand of these, and the iron fist in a velvet glove known as gay radicalism.

    Our son was his school student body president last year and loved math and languages. He ‘tolerates math’ now.

    Now instead of teaching formulas for determining the Greatest Common Factor or Least Common Multiple, they use Venn diagrams, which are suitable for only two or three numbers.

    Fortunately for him, I and his mother are educators, and we work with him nightly. Many of his felliw students are failing, former A and B students.

    Now instead of having to get the answer right, you only need show your work and method.

    Would you fly on an airliner designed by engineers who only needed to show their work but not get the calculus right on the aerodynamics or metal strength?

    When I studied Russian at DLI, we learned that every military unit had a Zampolit, that is a “Teacher of Political Studies”, a propagandist and minder who reported anyone who questioned the corrupt Marxist doctrine. That’s Common Core at it’s heart.

    I don’t trust Obama to lead national education, nor to manage health care for all of us. He’s a shill for bankers, a fake, a fraud, a phoney, and a Fabian socialist.

    • Greg permalink

      Sorry for typos – small iPhone keys and fat thumbs🙂

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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