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OP-ED | Already Feeling Squeezed As I Attempt to ‘Align’ With Common Core

by Barth Keck | Feb 4, 2014 6:37pm
(9) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Opinion

Little did Elizabeth Natale know that her Hartford Courant opinion piece would not only go viral, but also set off a chain reaction that essentially put Connecticut’s education reform on hold.

Natale’s op-ed appeared on Jan. 17 under the headline “Why I Want To Give Up Teaching.” The piece has been read by nearly 500,000 viewers, according to the Courant.

Ten days after Natale’s op-ed appeared, veteran Connecticut politico and blogger Jonathan Pelto published a comprehensive post summarizing the reactions of politicians and pundits.

The real bomb was dropped on Jan. 29 when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy effectively put the brakes on education reform in Connecticut.

Shortly thereafter, Madison Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice pled with state legislators to “listen to the teachers, administrators, parents, and even the students, to make the necessary course corrections” to school reform.

In truth, the issue of education reform has been smoldering for a while. Connecticut, however, has been slow to react because most Nutmeggers — especially parents — had not truly contemplated the “Common Core” until Natale’s personal and lucid reflections brought CCSS to the forefront.

Veteran teacher Stan Karp has written perhaps the most comprehensive and informative article on the issues surrounding the Common Core State Standards, starting with the hasty implementation of its untested principles.

“These standards have never been fully implemented in real schools anywhere,” writes Karp. “They’re more or less abstract descriptions of academic abilities organized into sequences by people who have never taught at all or who have not taught this particular set of standards.”

As a high school English teacher for the past 23 years, I consider myself, well, experienced. But not even my own professional experience could prepare me — in one year’s time — for the voluminous standards which, under Connecticut’s plan, comprise 22.5 percent of my performance evaluation.

Take the English Language Arts Standards for 9th and 10th graders as an example. There are six “strands” such as “Reading: Literature” and “Reading: Informational Text.” Within each strand are standards, many of which have numerous sub-standards.

The strand of Writing, for instance, has four categories: Text Types and Purposes, Production and Distribution of Writing, Research to Build and Present Knowledge, and Range of Writing. This last category has just one standard, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10: “Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.”

All of the other categories in the Writing strand, meanwhile, have multiple standards. Text Types and Purposes alone has 19 standards and sub-standards, including CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1c : “Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.”

All told, there are 75 standards and sub-standards that I must teach my students to prepare them for the computerized Smarter Balanced test — the final details of which are still being worked out.

It’s not that I haven’t been teaching “standards” for the past 23 years. In fact, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing in a personalized and creative fashion — all within the framework of my school’s English curriculum.

For example, I have always infused my personal knowledge of history, media, and music into many of my lessons for To Kill a Mockingbird. While still requiring students to read, write, and listen competently and critically, such lessons also include elements of my own personality.

Now, however, the process of planning lessons encourages English teachers to first consider the 75 codified CCSS principles before making the lesson “their own.”

Supporters of the Common Core contend that the methodology is still a teacher’s choice, so long as the standards are met. But will I really have the flexibility and time to address 75 standards while simultaneously planning unique, innovative lessons? Truth be told, I’m already feeling squeezed as I attempt to “align” with the Common Core.

The requirement of teaching 75 Common Core standards in order to prepare students for a standardized test feels, quite simply, like formulaic teaching.

Is this really how Connecticut wants to “reform” education? I believe the answer to that question is embodied by the impassioned reaction to Elizabeth Natale’s op-ed: “No!”

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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(9) Comments

posted by: 27Reasons | February 4, 2014  10:44pm

Teachers and parents across this state are waking and rising up against this corporate reform agenda that’s been jammed down our throats. THANK YOU for speaking out! Too many of us fear speaking out, and risking the ability to put food on the table for our families. I’m getting closer and closer to a major editorial with each passing day.

posted by: Joebigjoe | February 5, 2014  12:15pm

This statement is exactly right. Nets it out nicely.

“The requirement of teaching 75 Common Core standards in order to prepare students for a standardized test feels, quite simply, like formulaic teaching”

It’s also bringing us to common mediocrity.

posted by: Linda12 | February 5, 2014  4:43pm

Barth,

Have no fear, Stefan Pyror and his website, which was supposed to be a webinar, are here. However, each lesson and unit comes with cautions. Check it out…most copied from engageny. See link or google ct core standards ELA.

http://ctcorestandards.org/?page_id=913#9to12

posted by: Castles Burning | February 5, 2014  9:19pm

Thank you, Mr. Keck.  I join 27 Reasons and most likely many, many others in gratitude for you speaking out.

The links are helpful to readers.

I would only clarify that Common Core and its testing are indeed “reform”—in that politically-motivated alignment with the pressure of the Duncan/Obama “race to the top.”

None of these mandates and money held out to schools as carrots are about improving education but allowing for the privatization of education and the defeat of public schools in America.  (Read charter schools and school choice, etc. etc.)  Be aware that this is a political and corporate take-over of education (can you say Bill Gates?) and not about what is best for the children of the nation.

I hope that these writings encourage others to speak while we might be able to stop what was never created by educators.  Despite all of what you hear, educators did not create this system.

posted by: Barth Keck | February 6, 2014  6:20am

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Your link was amusing, Linda12; I especially liked the sample unit that I tried to access but couldn’t because the link was broken. And I agree with you, Castles Burning, about the corporate nature of education reform. A few columns back, I addressed the lack of teachers involved. Here’s the link.

posted by: Castles Burning | February 6, 2014  9:04pm

Thanks for the link.  I missed that column and will catch up!!

posted by: Linda12 | February 6, 2014  10:55pm

Barth,

Read this column from Colin McEnroe

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | February 7, 2014  12:06am

DrHunterSThompson

Linda12, i must say, providing a link to a column by Witless is a risky undertaking.  However, this time I must admit that he is on the mark.  It was a column lacking in the usual grandiose use of obscure events, references, and words for the sole purpose of attempting to impress somebody - never been sure who.

To me, Pryor’s appointment was the strangest of the Governor’s term so far.  Equally bizarre is Malloy’s faith in him.  It’s a mystery to me, especially considering the Guv’s emphasison education.

HST

posted by: Barth Keck | February 7, 2014  5:22am

Thanks, Linda12. Great read! Colin McEnroe couldn’t be more right.