We have real problems.
We need real solutions.
But we get deceptions instead. And if anyone tries to complain, they get blamed for trying to avoid solving the problem!
Take Common Core.
Badly designed, unproven, flying in the face of human psychology. It is all that and more.
However, there’s a good reason for its existence – student mobility.
We have too many children attending our public schools that don’t stay put. They move from district-to-district and therefore miss valuable instruction.
And that’s no deception.
This is a real problem that we need to do something to fix. But before any experts in the field – psychologists, sociologists, or (God forbid!) educators – can speak, billionaire philanthropists chime in with Common Core.
If we just had national standards for each grade level in each core subject, they say, it would greatly reduce the amount of material transient students miss.
If an 8th grade student at School A moves to School B, for instance, Common Core would ensure that he misses virtually nothing. Both schools would be teaching the same thing.
Good try. But it doesn’t work.
Common Core only ensures that the same standards are taught in each school during a single year. If a transfer student’s old teacher hasn’t gotten to something yet and his new teacher has already covered it, he might miss the concept entirely – even with Common Core.
Take it from me.
I am a teacher in a state that has adopted Common Core-look-alike standards. I get many transfer students from Common Core states. There is a definite and often profound gap in their grasp of the material.
Pause for a moment and digest that.
Common Core – as it is now – does not solve the problem of student mobility.
However, if we reinterpret that concept, if we appeal to the spirit of the Core, we may find a “solution” to this problem. And in some places this has already begun.
Our billionaire philanthropist friend might look at this problem and say, we need to further homogenize the curriculum at both schools. Educators at both districts should teach the exact same things at the exact same times. On Sept 12, all 8th grade instructors should teach about figurative language. On Sept 13, there will be a lesson on text structures, and so on.
In fact, having the same curriculum at two schools is not enough. We need to coordinate the curriculum at ALL public schools.
But even if we do that at our public schools, there will be gaps for transient students. A student who left School A after Sept. 12 would have had a lesson on figurative language, but what form did the lesson take? It may have been ineffective. Perhaps the text used by the teacher was subpar. Perhaps the teacher didn’t explain the lesson sufficiently. There is just too much room for human error.
What we need, explains the philanthropist – who incidentally made his billions designing computer systems and is not known for mastery of the human psyche – what we need is uniformity. In short, we need scripted lessons.
Then-and-only-then will transient students miss the least possible curriculum moving from one school to another.
Of course this assumes the move from School A to School B is nearly instantaneous. Day 1 you’re at the old school. Day 2 you’re at the new school. But this rarely happens. Under the best circumstances it can take a week or two. Realistically, I’ve seen students who have been out of school months even a whole academic year between moves.
Yes, Mr. Gate… – I mean the philanthropist – may admit reluctantly, transient students will still inevitably miss some school work. The transition from School A to School B may take a couple days, maybe months, but scripted lessons will reduce the gap to the absolute minimum.
And here, he may be correct.
Common Core taken to its logical and extreme conclusion – scripted lessons – may solve student mobility.
Or so it seems.
But is the cure worse than the disease?
If all public school students have scripted, uniform, standardized lessons, what will happen to the quality of those lessons?
As the holder of a masters degree in education, as a recipient of a National Board Certification in teaching, as a teacher with over a decade of experience in the classroom, I say this: the quality of education will plummet under these conditions.
Everyone will suffer – transient students, non-transient students, EVERYONE.
The best possible learning environment is NOT one in which teachers read from a script. It is NOT one where teachers stick to the lesson plan come Hell or high water. It is NOT one where the educator has little to no say in what she is teaching.
It is important to have academic standards, just as it’s important to have lesson plans. However, these MUST be created by the teachers, themselves. Otherwise they imprison instructors in straight jackets and make them less – not more – effective.
Anyone who has spent any time in front of a class knows that good instruction necessitates instant changes in the lesson to meet the needs of your students. You can plan – and you should plan – but you have to be free to move beyond it.
For instance, if you’re teaching students how to write a complete sentence and you have some children who do not understand what a subject and a verb are, you need to adapt. Immediately. On the spot. Otherwise, your lesson will fail.
If you’re asking your students to perform a close read of a science text and they cannot read, you must adapt. Immediately. That very second. Or else you’re just wasting everyone’s time.
Rigid academic standards cannot do this. Sacrosanct lesson plans cannot do this. Only teachers can.
This is one of the major areas where Common Core fails.
But what of our transient students? Won’t we fail them if we repeal Common Core?
No. There is a better way. But more on that in a moment.
Say Common Core is the only way. Say scripted curriculum is the only manner in which to meet their needs. It would still be better to get rid of Common Core to meet the needs of the non-transients. Moreover, even transient children will benefit, because the education they receive when they are in a given school will be of a higher quality than the minimally interrupted lessons they’d receive with national academic standards and scripted lessons.
However, let us return to the better solution. Because there is one, and it is easy to see when you aren’t blinded by billionaire’s pet projects.
Instead of homogenizing everyone’s schools to help transient students, reduce the instances of transience.
That’s right. Reduce student mobility.
Stop so many children from moving from school-to-school.
That’s impossible, whines our billionaire savior.
No. It’s not.
You may never be able to stop every student from moving between schools, but you can greatly reduce it.
All it takes is an examination of the root causes.
Why are so many students transient?
It turns out this is a symptom of a larger problem affecting the majority of our public school students. If you can help alleviate this problem – even slightly – you’d greatly increase students’ chances of success.
That problem? Child poverty.
Students don’t move around to see the world. They do it because their parents can’t get a job or can’t afford to live where they are.
If you undertook programs to create more jobs for their parents, you would decrease student mobility. If you provided cheap, safe, stable housing, you would decrease mobility. If you started social programs to bring transients into a community and stop them from being eternal outsiders, many more of them would put down roots.
And if you helped reduce child poverty, you would actually increase the quality of education most children are receiving – even the ones not constantly on the move.
We used to understand that poverty isn’t a defect of character – it’s a product of circumstance. We used to understand that most poor people aren’t to blame for their own poverty. We used to understand that a helping hand is better than a pointed finger.
Common Core is just another great lie told to obscure these simple truths.
Student mobility is just another excuse given to justify this lie.
The time for deceptions and half-truths has passed. Instead, we need to roll up our sleeves and actually do something about poverty.
It’s time to leave Common Core to the pages of history’s failed social engineering experiments.
Because we don’t need national academic standards.
We need a shared morality.
NOTE: Thank you to all my readers who responded to my article “Data Abuse – When Transient Kids Fall Through the Cracks of Crunched Numbers.” Today’s article is the result of your efforts to push me to revisit this subject. Being a blogger isn’t just about writing articles and putting them out there. It’s also about creating a community and entering into a dialogue. I am so grateful to the people who read what I write and engage with it. I can’t do this without you.
-This article also was published in the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association blog.