Teachers Speak Up on Common Core
Negative reactions to the Common Core State Standards capture the headlines, but many teachers in the trenches of education reform say the standards are here so they have to implement them one way or another.
It’s the way that school administrators and politicians interpret the Common Core standards that some teachers feel is creating a sense of apprehension for their colleagues, students and parents.
In a panel discussion at EWA’s National Seminar in Chicago this spring, four educators shared their perspectives on the Common Core and how it’s playing out in their classrooms.
Other than tweaking curricula and putting more emphasis on assessment, the educators said Common Core isn’t drastically changing what’s going on inside schools.
Moderated by Emmanuel Felton of the Hechinger Report, the panel included: Mark Anderson, a special education teacher at Jonas Bronck Academy in New York City; Hen Kennedy, who teaches social studies at Carl Von Linne Elementary School in Chicago; Charlene Mendoza, an Advanced Placement English and integrated math teacher at Arizona Prep Academy in Tucson, Arizona; and Ray Salazar, who teaches English in Chicago Public Schools (and writes about his work on the White Rhino blog).
Anderson said he thinks the Common Core is overall a positive thing for his public middle school in the Bronx because it creates consistency and alignment beyond each individual classroom.
The Common Core standards in general attempt to link classroom lessons to specific skills, he said. For example, Anderson’s students are focusing on how text structure relates to literary meaning, further developing analytical skills.
“I think [the standards] can be very powerful in that sense to align content and skills,” he said.
Mendoza, of the Arizona Prep Academy, said the assessment piece of Common Core isn’t changing what teachers do in the classroom at her school. She said teachers have always embedded evaluation into instruction and used assessment to gauge student learning, but now it’s more uniform.
“It’s a great equalizer and offers a great deal of collaboration, not only in the community, but really creating opportunities for teachers to reclaim their voices as experts,” she said.
Teacher collaboration is central to implementing the Common Core, according to Anderson, who said that means teachers sitting down, analyzing standards, breaking them down and designing lessons and curricula. The degree to which that is happening depends on the school, the teachers said.
“It’s not a one-off workshop,” Anderson said. “In order to make this happen, it has to be ongoing, it has to be sustained and it has to be in the school.”
Mendoza echoed that professional learning must be ongoing, and job-embedded, which requires a shift in what districts do with limited time and funding. Many schools are still figuring out that part of the Common Core.
“We can’t create more hours in the day, and we can’t create more funding … but we can begin to re envision what exists,” she said.
The degree of that collaboration varies from school to school, depending on the leadership. Two Chicago teachers had differing experiences. Kennedy, for example, said she hasn’t seen any emphasis on such work in Chicago Public Schools.
Salazar said his schools were given a $6 million transformation grant to give teachers time to come together and collaborate while getting paid for their professional work.
Curricular materials that align wit theh Common Core must also be more accessible, the educators said.
Currently, Anderson said teachers at his school either use curriculum provided by the administration or create their own. He’s combined units from Expeditionary Learning, a K-12 focused nonprofit organization, with a curriculum teachers drafted.
The panelists said the primary challenge is that some teachers are viewing the standards as mandates and interpreting them literally.
Kennedy, the Chicago social studies teacher, said some educators are feeling more pressure to demonstrate student progress. Tracking such progress requires annual testing, and teachers are being held accountable for the results.
Salazar, the English teacher in Chicago Public Schools, agreed. He said discussions around standards, implementation, testing and funding cause educators and politicians to “lose sight of what the conversation we’re having is really about.”
“The biggest challenge in Chicago is … competing priorities that make it difficult for teachers at the classroom level to figure out what they’re supposed to do,” he said.
When asked why they think many parents voice opposition to the Common Core, Mendoza said people rely on their own experiences to judge the value of education – leading them to question the standards.
“I’m preparing students for college and jobs that don’t exist right now, so you can’t use your own education to judge that,” she said. “It’s the lack of experience, not the lack of desire for their children to do well.”