Some thoughts on Common Core and Expectations of Teachers

December28

I’m attending Common Core training/planning in my district. We’re being  told that the district will not be purchasing curriculum, but would like teacher to develop it. There are pluses and minuses to this. One of the things I’m hearing constantly at these meetings, is that  finally we’ll have standards that will prepare kids for college, as though our current/last set of standards were not aimed at preparing kids for college. The problem was not in standards, but in what we asked the kids to do and that was dictated by two things, the curriculum we used (and how it was implemented) and what the kids were actually assessed on.

The biggest difference between Common Core at this point, and the current curriculum is that currently the emphasis in Common Core is on having students produce writing, and doing high level analysis in that writing.  The old standards have writing and analysis, but the elementary curriculum that held sway for the last decade emphasized decoding and phonics to the point where kids are given tasks in that domain up through sixth grade (a waste of time after fourth grade if you kids reading on grade-level). Meanwhile, the writing program was an afterthought, tacked on with little thought or support provided. Why would you worry about writing? Kids only got tested on it in fourth and seventh grade? The rest of the assessment has been bubble-test. The standards asked for writing, they emphasized expository (informational) writing, and reading of expository text from 4th grade on. That sounds like Common Core to me. The lesson here is that if your curriculum is not aligned to your standards, and I mean really and truly aligned, not just a box on a form checked by the publisher’s rep (which is how the last Language Arts adoption “passed” muster with the state) Also the fact that there really weren’t any other texts that were well aligned led to it being the one-eyed-man-in-the-land-of-the-blind bind, a problem that could well happen with the Common Core roll-out.

So that is the downside of “buying” your curriculum for new standards. The alternative is the approach my district is taking, which is to have teachers create their own curriculum. And that brings its own problems. Without a lot of work, you risk quality. But in addition to this,  there is the problem of expectations. We have a generation of teachers at the elementary level, who have come into the profession with “complete” curriculum available. In many cases, they have been “punished” if they do not teach that curriculum. They have not been asked to create curriculum. They may have learned in their teacher preparation programs, but they’ve had no opportunity to do this in their own classrooms, and if it’s not required, why would they bother? Some points in this post from Wolk seem a bit hyperbolic (yes many fifth and sixth grade teachers don’t have single subject math certification, they do have to have subject matter competency to get their credential — and the alternative would be moving down the subject balkanization that is decried in secondary, and that Common Core is supposed to get rid of), BUT he is spot on about this being a huge shift for many in the profession. I don’t think it would necessarily take the two-decades he quotes, but I think it took a good 5-10 years for California to digest the last standards roll-out, and considering how quick everyone is expecting Common Core to be implemented, this is a sobering thought.

The thought that is coming up for me is this, is it reasonable to expect teachers to create their own curriculum? I like doing it but I’m not everyone. I know many co-workers who are good teachers, some better than I, that look at this as a chore they’d prefer not to have. I like writing up units of study both using texts, and pulling together my own materials, but I really don’t feel like spending the summer developing curriculum for the next year (the husband wouldn’t like that too much either). How will this play out in the current battles over teacher evaluation? Right now, we’re fighting about how much test scores that should never be used for this purpose, should be included in teacher evaluation, but hovering on the horizon is a fight about the role of teachers in curriculum development. Here are the questions I have:

  • Does every teacher need to write their own curriculum?
  • Does every teacher need to be able to write their own curriculum?
  • Is it fair to expect teachers to teach without given them the tools (like textbooks, materials, curriculum) to do the job?
  • How much is too much when pushing curriculum development down to teachers? What supports do we need as professionals to get the job done?
  • Is the push to have us create “materials” an attempt to do the job on the “cheap”?
  • If we don’t “adopt” a curriculum, how are we supposed to come up with materials? That process is automatic with text adoptions (especially in a state and district as large as mine), but can become much more haphazard without an “official” adoption.
  • If we’re doing this on our own time, who “owns” it? In my district we have no provision for teacher ownership of intellectual property in our contract, so according to current law, it belongs to the district.
  • Do California schools risk violating the Williams consent decree/settlement by not having an adopted text?

Believe me, I am under NO delusion about the texts on offer. They have NEVER met our state standards. As an example, SaxonMath had Math65 (intended for 6th and 5th grade) assigned to fourth grade, Math76 (for 7th and 6th grade) to fifth, etc. to meet California standards. If they did, i.e., the current MacMillian/Glencoe adoption, they’re a pedagogical  error-filled mess, but throwing it back to the teachers is hardly the answer.

2 Comments to

“Some thoughts on Common Core and Expectations of Teachers”

  1. December 28th, 2012 at 3:45 pm      Reply David B. Cohen Says:

    Thanks for sharing, Alice. Your experiences shed some light on the issues playing out around the country right now. If your district is motivated to give teachers that responsibility because it’s the right thing to do for teaching, and because authorship brings essential buy-in, then hopefully the same kind of recognition will apply to the issues you raise: i.e., this requires time and support, and it will not be accomplished easily or quickly. Still, I hope that with “authorship” comes “authority” – and that this might be a positive development.


  2. December 31st, 2012 at 3:50 am      Reply Aspdotnet Says:

    Good Blog..In an effective classroom students should not only know what they are doing, they should also know why and how.


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All of Ms. Mercer's work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Howdy! I teach sixth grade at an elementary school in Sacramento, CA. I started my career in Oakland, Ca, and moved here to Sacramento in 2001.

My goals are:

  1. To reflect on how I am teaching, and how effective my practices are;
  2. To reflect on my profession, and how effective various practices are;
  3. To understand the political and cultural context that we teach in; and,
  4. To network with other like-minded educators.

To help me reach my goals, I use this blog as a place for me to reflect on best practices, and the practices I’m (trying to) putting in place in my classroom.

I can be contacted here.

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The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not those of Sacramento City Unified School District.