“A Realistic, Pragmatic Approach” to Rejecting CCSS

“Should Teachers Resist the Common Core?” asks a blog post at Education Week, continuing the debate about CCSS among Larry Ferlazzo, Stephen Krashen, David Cohen, and me.

This posting highlights a point made by David that I want to return to (again) because I agree strongly with David’s focus: “And as for the critics I’ve cited, to my knowledge, none of them is currently a K-12 teacher. That fact does not invalidate their criticisms, but I think it colors their perceptions regarding a realistic, pragmatic approach, here and now, for those of us trying to serve our current students and schools most productively.”

I have argued repeatedly that the central flaw with the current education reform movement and its major elements—CCSS, new high-stakes testing, Teach for America (TFA), value-added methods (VAM) of teacher evaluation, and charter school advocacy, such as Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ)—is that these reforms-as-solutions are not based on any clearly identified problems and that the leading advocates themselves have no (or very little) experience and expertise in education.

Let me repeat: I have almost thirty years of combined public high school teaching (18 years), college teaching, teacher education, and scholarship in education that all have occurred during the thirty-year cycle of accountability-driven education reform.

I have ample experience with state standards, state and national (SAT) high-stakes testing, teacher certification, and education accreditation. A central thread of my scholarship over those years has included the negative impact of accountability, standards, and testing on literacy instruction (notably writing) and high-poverty students and schools.

Also let me repeat my answer to the blog title above: Yes, teachers should resist CCSS.

I have already argued for our resistance as part of our teacher agency so I want here to address the obligation teachers have to resist CCSS grounded firmly in our classroom experiences.

I began teaching in the fall of 1984, the exact academic year South Carolina first introduced accountability based on state standards and high-stakes testing. Over the next thirty years, SC has revised those standards three or more times, as well as reformulating our testing at least three times—from BSAP to PACT to PASS (with part of that testing reform driven by a desire to move beyond “basic” [the "B" of BSAP] and to the glory of “challenge” [the "C" of PACT]). In education, it seems, it is all about the branding.

SC and virtually every state in the nation has had decades and multiple versions of standards and high-stakes tests implemented. What is the result? Today no one is satisfied with the outcomes, and the dominant solution is to try the exact same strategy, except at the federal level.

And here is where I wish to assert David’s point as support for my argument: Teachers across the U.S. know from their lived experiences as educators that the bureaucracy of implementing and revising standards and tests over the past thirty years has wasted a tremendous amount of time and funding as well as inhibited our ability to teach and ruined learning opportunities for students—especially in high-needs schools.

Three decades of the accountability era with its standards and high-stakes testing have not improved teaching, have not increased learning, have not closed the achievement/opportunity gap, have not solved the drop-out problem, and have not succeeded in a single claim of made by political advocates of any aspect of this movement.

Why? Because the accountability model built on standards and high-stakes testing is the wrong solution and a complete failure of acknowledging the problem. Educational problems in the U.S. are not a lack of accountability, a lack of standards, or a lack of testing. In fact, increasing all three has increased the real problems because they are distractions from facing the tremendous inequity of opportunity facing children in the U.S. both in their lives and then in their schools.

Teachers must reject CCSS, and we must do so in a collective voice of our experiences in the exact environments of accountability that we know have done more harm than good to the children we serve every day.

Nothing is more real or practical than that.

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One thought on ““A Realistic, Pragmatic Approach” to Rejecting CCSS

  1. Paul, I hope my comments about being in schools never called into question your qualifications and perspective in understanding the problems. It’s only on the question of exactly how to proceed where I suggest the difference in our positions would make a difference. I’m trying to picture my options going forward. I agree with you that past initiatives have failed for a number of reasons, but I don’t conclude that disengaging from anything relating to CCSS will improve my school and district.
    So, I’m picturing the asst. supt. coming to my school and saying it’s time for us to get into CCSS transition mode. I could be organizing my colleagues to reject this initiative, and begin an active defiance of the implementation, but I doubt that we could compartmentalize that battle and maintain a good working relationship already in place that is serving my school, students, and colleagues. We need to work together on a number of fronts. Another option would be a more passive resistance, going through the motions and waiting it out, a quiet sabotage of CCSS. That seems the least productive – advocating nothing and just riding it out in simmering frustration. Then we arrive at the point that I think will be most helpful. Teachers knowing the standards well, prioritizing and bending where we can, and assuming as much leadership as we can. Let’s have teachers involved in every discussion, asserting our expertise, advocating for as much autonomy as we can, trying to work out productive options – rather than have non-teachers take their best guess, operate based on their priorities alone, and then tell us what to do. And in most cases, I think the same administrators we work with on CCSS are those we have to work with on curriculum, professional development, technology plans, school improvement plans… I just don’t see teachers coming out ahead if we disengage and resist the entirety of CCSS. At the same time, I think the vociferous, well-reasoned and supported opposition to CCSS will strengthen the hand of teachers who are on the inside working it out. Look at it this way: many schools and districts are going to have teachers helping lead the process. I’d rather be doing the work than have it done to me, or against me. I’d want a teacher like Larry Ferlazzo effectively advocating for an implementation that takes into account his expertise, experience, and commitment to his students. I’ve seen younger, less experienced, more compliant and “data-driven” teachers step into those voids and gain influence. It’s not pretty.

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