Saturday, October 11, 2014

Common Core, What is it we truly hate about it?

The Picture Book Teacher's Edition common core

I have been reading many articles and opinion pieces about Common Core. I recently read and shared this opinion piece on my Facebook page called Why I Want to Give Up Teaching by Elizabeth A. Natalie.

Natalie writes about wanting to quit teaching because teaching is not what it used to be. It is now filled with data and a teacher’s worth based on that student data. She states that “…in English, emphasis on technology and nonfiction reading makes it more important for students to prepare an electronic presentation on how to make a paper airplane than to learn about moral dilemmas from Natalie Babbitt's beloved novel "Tuck Everlasting."”
This statement makes me sad. Don’t we want to teach children to love reading? If we just concentrate on nonfiction aren’t we going to lose that? What happened to moral, social and emotional conversations that come naturally from reading the same book as a friend. I know I enjoy reading more when I have someone to discuss the book with. The emphasis on Nonfiction texts leave us nothing but facts to process and sort and understand. Too much of that and boredom is sure to set in.
Natalie also says, “I no longer have the luxury of teaching literature, with all of its life lessons, or teaching writing to students who long to be creative. My success is measured by my ability to bring 85 percent of struggling students to "mastery," without regard for those with advanced skills. Instead of fostering love of reading and writing, I am killing children's passions — committing "readicide," as Kelly Gallagher called it in his book of that title.”
I have a friend that was talking about Common Core and she said that all they are now teaching children to do is “regurgitate facts” and not think for themselves. It’s true, my new mantra now is “Where’s the evidence?”, “Where’s the evidence?” I am not sure how many times a day I say it.
When I get done with Natalie’s opinion piece, I am sad and frustrated at how and where education is moving. Then I read an article like this one called What’s Right About Common Core by Robert Pondiscio.
Pondiscio says “…I come neither to praise nor bury the Common Core State Standards, now widely regarded as a “damaged brand” and a political piñata. But I do wish to point out that the standards enshrine several sound education ideas…”
The first idea is Reading to Learn. Being able to read is key to getting by in the world. We all wish we could just spend our time reading the genre of our choice but the truth of the matter is we have to read a plethora of different genres. We have to read recipes, instructions on how to put something together, a contract, medical news, political views, sales ads and disclaimers, and reasons for or against something. My day is usually filled more of this than what I want to read. It just makes sense to have students read more nonfiction.
Pondiscio also says “Broad general knowledge of the world correlates with reading comprehension — the more you know, the more you take from reading.“ We as teachers see this every day, our low income babies are definitely at a disadvantage when it come s to exposure to vocabulary, conversation, and experiences. Shouldn’t we as teachers expose children to everything, rather than limiting it to one genre?
The second idea is Content Matters. One of Common Core’s main purposes is to achieve a knowledge rich curriculum. Now, you have to remember that Common Core is not a curriculum; they are just the standards that are common across the states in which districts develop and mandate a curriculum for teachers to teach. Ask yourself this, has your district given you quality content?
The last idea that Pondiscio talks about is Show What You Know. He writes, “If kids enjoy writing, the theory goes, they’ll write more. But too many teachers tend to be far more concerned with “voice” than with structure or grammar.” The “show what you know” is very hard for some kids; it takes too much effort to add that in. They know what they are thinking but they don’t show what they are thinking. What would happen if this becomes the “norm” expectation starting as early as possible? I would love to start hearing “David always gets into trouble because he doesn’t follow the rules at school” instead of just “David always gets into trouble”. Adding in the “why” as early as possible simply makes a more literate, knowledgeable person and just imagine what could be produced if this was the “norm”.
Common Core also focuses on phonics, a very important foundation for our young emerging students. It is probably safe to say that without a good solid phonics curriculum our babies will struggle and hopefully that is an already established curriculum in your district.
Math standards within Common Core probably are pretty similar to the old State Standards with the biggest change on how to solve the problems. The complicated, convoluted, abstract way of solving simple problems is mind boggling. Why are we making things so confusing? But when I really think about it and look at the different ways our minds work it starts to make sense. A few years ago our district had a math program that taught each concept one way and one way only, that way when they got to the next grade the teacher would review the same way the concept was taught the year before. The problem was, that one way didn’t make sense to all of the kids. We as teachers ended up showing the kids multiple ways to solve a problem. Isn’t that what Common Core is asking us to do? I was taught one way to solve multiplication, and that is how I still solve multiplication. My husband on the other hand can do math in his head, by grouping and sorting and making 10, etc., etc., etc.,. He always tries to explain it to me but it is all gibberish. He was never taught that way, he had to figure out on his own how it all went together, that is just how his mind works. So looking at Common Core math I realize that I may not understand all the “strategies” for solving a problem, but shouldn’t I share all those strategies with my students so they can find the one that makes sense to them? Won't this help make math easier for them?
So, after reading both of these articles, I am a bit more confused about Common Core.
Do I hate the Common Core Standards or the curriculum (or lack of) my district has given me?
Do I hate the Common Core Standards, or the data that my district, the state, and the government are requiring me to track?
Do I hate the Common Core Standards, or the fact that I have to teach areas and content in which I am not used to or uncomfortable teaching?
After talking to a teacher that I highly admire, I have come to one realization, the truly great teachers regardless of location (low or high income schools), take what they are given; the Common Core Standards, the district curriculum, and their passion for teaching and learning with their students, and they make it all work. They take the standards, the curriculum and what they know is right and they just teach. They are having meaningful discussions about fiction books, they are using technical vocabulary when reading nonfiction texts, they are talking through different strategies for solving one math problem, and they are showing what they know in their writing and answers. It is truly an awe inspiring sight. These teachers have not given up on what they know is good teaching, they have just incorporated what has been handed to them and made their teaching even better.
My daughter who wants to be a college English professor read the first article and came to me concerned. She was concerned about what kind of students would be coming to her in college English. She said, “If nonfiction is the focus, what kind of work and discussions am I going to get when we have to analyze a piece of literature?”. Let me first say that I love being able to have these kinds of conversations with my own daughter. I told her what I thought. I think the good teachers are still going to teach and discuss literature, but now with Common Core they are requiring students to always prove it. I think the fact that students are being exposed to many different genres will add more interesting layers in the discussion of literature. I think students that are shown multiple strategies to solve a problem will be able to creatively think outside the box when it comes to analyzing the nuances of literature. I think regardless of a child’s mastery level in elementary and high school, if they had teachers that used the Common Core standards and what they know is right, the students taking your English class will give you a run for your money (she was not taught under the Common Core standards).
So, I go back to this question, Is it truly the Common Core Standards that I hate?
Just my rambling, wondering, two cents.


  1. Thank you for sharing both articles and your thoughts. For inspiring teachers and parents to really analyze where the problem is. I have been saying this all along. It is not the standards that are the issue but the way they are interpreted and implemented by the districts and the resources they are or aren't giving teachers. I love the advice you got from the teacher you admire. She is right on! A good teacher will take what they are given and incorporate it and TEACH! Don't get me wrong, my district has a lot of issue, mostly through their interpretation of Common Core and their misunderstanding of the word rigor. Again, Thank you for sharing your ideas!

  2. We used to teach for answers, but in today's age, we MUST teach them to question, right? I'm so glad that my state isn't a Common Core state. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Shawna.

    I'm thinking we must change Common Core to Common CARE and move our future in the right direction.

    Sharing two cents from the south,


  3. I'm the author of the "What's Right About Common Core" piece. I couldn't have asked for a better, more thoughtful response. It's deeply appreciated.

    Robert Pondiscio

    1. Hi Robert,
      Thank you so much for leaving a comment. Your piece opened my eyes and really made me think and for that I thank you.
      Have a great week,

  4. Thank you for your piece of looking at both sides of the issue of Common Core. There is so much about the teaching of Common Core that is good teaching; thinking about what you are reading not just the teacher answer, Defending your thinking by "proving with evidence" why you think that, are 'life skills' that kids are not learning as we go forward in a world of texting and not talking for example. So many just absorb what they hear and don't think "Does that make sense?" If the Politics and those outside of teaching would stop thinking of kids and teaching as statistics to be gathered and analyze and remember we are teaching and molding our future from kids from ALL walks of life, we could do our jobs. The Common Core Standards are not the problem. Thank you for allowing me to 'vent' a little.
    First Grade by the Sea

  5. The Common Core mathematics standards leave American students three years behind their peers in China and two years behind everyone else in east Asia. Perhaps you don't care about this; if all you care about is how you "feel" with regard to the standards, in comparison with the previous, you may safely ignore the comparisons. But if your students have to compete with foreign students eager to take the ACT or SAT, which they can ace since they are so easy in comparison with what they have been trained to do, and if our cash-strapped state universities accept those foreign students who can afford to pay full tuition while American students are rejected, perhaps your grown-up students will wish you had paid a little more attention to the competition than you did.


Thoughts and comments are always welcome!

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