My initial impression of the panelists, after they each gave a 10-minute presentation, was that they were too political, too intense, and too conspiratorial. My head exploded multiple times at inflammatory statements. Then they opened the floor to questions from the audience, and I had to leave the room. It got too hot in there for my comfort.
But...I went back and stayed to the end. I'm glad I did. Several people noted that the type of conversation held in that auditorium between education policy experts and parents should have happened as the idea for common standards was formed, as the standards were being written, and as states were deciding whether to adopt them. I started to wonder - what if the Common Core standards were developed before No Child Left Behind became law?
Would people be this concerned? Would they have the same reasons?
Backtrack with me...
No Child Left Behind came about in part because some states had troublingly low standards for educational achievement. In many school districts across the country, certain student groups were being under-educated. No Child Left Behind had seemingly good intentions - make sure every child is given a quality education - but the implementation procedures and system of enforcement (mostly stick, hardly any carrot) created perverse incentives and damaging educational practices. Yet, it "raised the bar" in many places.
Maryland wasn't necessarily one of those places. I've heard that Maryland's pre-NCLB instructional standards and state-mandated assessments were superior to those enacted after the legislation passed. In other words, MSPAP was better than MSA.
Yet according to Dr. Stephen Wilson from Johns Hopkins University, Howard County's MSA-aligned curriculum was better than it's Common Core-aligned curriculum, at least in math. The problem with Common Core isn't that the standards themselves are horrible. They're not horrible, but they're not excellent, either. The problem, though, is that states and school districts have little-to no curricula developed to support the standards.
There are so many changes happening at once, and they're all being attributed to Common Core. Even worksheets you find on the Internet are labeled with "Common Core" even when they clearly do not support the standard they purport to address. It reminds me of throwing the label "all natural" on food or nutritional supplements. Arsenic is all natural but you don't want to ingest it. Common Core is being used as a label just as inappropriately.
Yet, that's getting the attention of people. They're asking why they don't understand their kindergartener's math homework, and they're told "It's Common Core". Dr. Foose's proposed operating budget requests money for expansion of a world language program and the restructuring of the elementary school teaching model to become one of departmentalization and, in the absence of transparent detail from the Superintendent, people attribute that change to Common Core. Why are students taking tests on computers? Common Core. Why does my high schooler have four hours of homework a night? Common Core.
Common Core. It's easy to say, easy to hear, easy to remember. Easily served up as the cause of whatever ails you. Yet, the reasons for why schooling is different now than before are more complex than that.
After the panelists presented, audience members came up to address the panel. Every one I heard was upset. Narrative after narrative passed with few questions asked, save for the "Ma'am, do you have a question for our panel?" interruptions from the moderator. What was my impression from this portion of the forum? Well, it's clear that the voices of parents and teachers have been left out of the major decisions and planning processes around education. It's left out at all levels; federal, state, and local.
It doesn't have to be that way. There are leaders who want to hear from parents and teachers and who will also weigh those perspectives seriously. You can't be at every meeting or serve on any committee, but you can go to one meeting. If your child's school has an information night, go. Ask questions. Share your stories. If the school system or the PTA or the teachers' union has a forum, go. Ask questions. Share your stories.
But we don't have to wait to be asked our opinion before sharing them. Write a letter to the Governor. Seriously. He appoints
Ask your questions. Share your stories.