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OP-ED | Judged By Those Who Don’t Work With Kids And Who Have Never Written A Lesson Plan

by Barth Keck | Apr 28, 2014 9:54pm
(12) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Opinion

I’ve been raising concerns about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in this space for a while now, including their obliviousness to technology as well as their overreliance on standardized testing.

In addition, I’ve explained how anybody with “educational data” at their fingertips can “juke the stats” to make numbers say whatever they want.

I’ve even outlined how the standards were written with very little input from classroom teachers.

But now I feel silly because New York Times columnist David Brooks says people like me are basically clowns, members of an “ideological circus” that has descended upon a “sensible idea” — the Common Core — with “hysterical claims and fevered accusations.”

Indeed, writes Brooks, the Common Core is “a step forward. Yet now states from New York to Oklahoma are thinking of rolling them back. This has less to do with substance and more to do with talk-radio bombast and interest group resistance to change.”

In short, “the circus has come to town.”

Truthfully, I don’t feel like a clown. I feel like the teacher I’ve always been, passionate about my work and concerned enough to write op-eds that scrutinize a potentially damaging shift in education.

I won’t waste time debunking David Brooks’ column point by point because many informed writers have effectively done so already, including teacher Ann Policelli Cronin and educational blogger Mercedes Schneider.

Instead, I’ll explain why I continually question CCSS, despite the fact that the standards will very likely be implemented, regardless of growing resistance.

First of all, my op-eds are very educational — for me, that is. The research I’ve done to compose them has informed me more about CCSS than some “Common Core-aligned lesson plan” I might purchase from educational publishers. Therefore, writing these op-eds is self-serving, preparing me to teach under the Common Core.

Admittedly, I am disappointed I wasn’t among those selected for the “dream team”  of 97 teachers who will “help develop high-quality lessons and resources” for the Common Core. This team is part of a $1.5-million contract that Connecticut has inked with LearnZillion, a “for-profit Washington, D.C., organization that helps teachers and districts make the transition to the Common Core standards.”

In all honesty, I did not apply for the “dream team” because I prefer to collaborate with my own colleagues in school and draw upon my own experience to adopt this latest educational initiative — which brings up the second reason I write these columns.

After 23 years in the classroom, I’m weary — not from the teaching, but from the endless array of “paradigm shifts” and “groundbreaking research” that has forced teachers to change their methods or adjust their outlook.

“The pendulum swings,” my mentor told me in my rookie year. “The initiatives are always changing and if you teach long enough, that pendulum will swing back again to an ‘initiative’ you adopted years ago. The pendulum always swings.”

So the second reason I write is because I find the process therapeutic. My op-eds will certainly not stop the Common Core — the latest educational “revolution” — but at least they allow me to vent my frustrations in a constructive fashion.

Finally, I write because I feel exasperated. I’ve grown tired of the insults and disrespect directed at teachers now. Picture Howard Beale in the classic film “Network.”  I may not be as unhinged, but I share his indignation.

Do all of these business people and politicians really know how to “fix” public education? Do they honestly believe that most teachers have not been holding students accountable to any standards whatsoever before the Common Core arrived?

The authors of the Common Core proudly state their chief goal is to make students “college- and career-ready,” as if schools had never considered that objective before.

Let’s get real here. David Brooks’ suggestion that CCSS is “clearly superior to the old mess” is not just wrong — it’s insulting. I’ve always worked hard to be the best teacher I could be, and I’m not alone. I know my colleagues and I have succeeded in making the vast majority of our students “college- and career-ready.”

So that’s why I write these op-eds. I can no longer sit in silence and be judged by those who don’t work with kids and who have never written a lesson plan. Even circus clowns have pride.

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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(12) Comments

posted by: Joebigjoe | April 29, 2014  12:16pm

David Brooks is a liberal establishment tool so don’t let him get to you.

Common Core is a disaster, and in our state we are pushing educators to teach labor history but heaven forbid you try to teach the Constitution before that, or at all.

If kids today are not as smart as they were when I was a kid, and I had no internet, then the problem is not the teachers.

Before we ever heard of Common Core I was always saying “whatever happened to kids staying back?”

Why is that such a bad thing? I know some kids I grew up with that had that as a motivator, and did pass barely each year, and have done fine in life. They can read, write and do ‘rithmetic. They can never compete with the Indian or Chinese family whose child does 6-8 hours of homework a day, but their motivation to stay out of poverty is significantly greater than us.

Maybe the real issue is our government has taken away the motivation because the safety net is too safe.

posted by: ocoandasoc | April 29, 2014  12:16pm

Look at it this way…. Common Core is to education what Obamacare is to healthcare. In both cases, the folks who should have fixed the system did not. So now outsiders get to graft on their own very imperfect solution. Medical professionals, health insurance companies, education administrators, teachers and their unions can all bitch about it…. but they had their chance to make things work better without intervention… and they blew it.

posted by: Historian | April 29, 2014  4:12pm

Wrong. Most Americans have spent at least twelve, sixteen or more years in education - as students.. We are expert in parsing who is a competent teacher or a hack, what instruction works and what is B.S.    Most know that they were subject to inadequate instruction on a regular basis and Their time wasted and most can remember the times - on the fingers of one hand - the times they had a teacher who actually taught.
The teacher unions are desperate to maintain the status quo that permits tenure and inertia to maintain on board a large percentage of overpaid and unimaginative instructors dedicated to their present comfort level and pensions.

posted by: Barth Keck | April 29, 2014  6:59pm

I beg to differ, Historian. When’s the last time you were in a high school classroom? I guarantee that things have changed since then. Are there still bad teachers? Yes, just like there are bad plumbers and bad doctors and bad chefs. But the expectations of teachers have risen considerably, even since I began teaching 23 years ago.

Come visit the school where I teach and I dare you to find any example of “inadequate instruction on a regular basis.” And that’s my point in this op-ed: My colleagues and I have too much pride in what we do every day and too much concern for our students to rely on our union to “maintain the status quo that permits tenure and inertia.”

posted by: Historian | April 30, 2014  6:00am

I neglected to add in the twelve years of my child’s educational experience and the games I found being played since she was dyslexic. And my comments are just an echo of the reasons given to have “common core”, etc in the first place. If there was not a constant whine for more and more investment in the school process - now we have “preschool” - we would not be having this discussion.

posted by: ABC | April 30, 2014  8:45am

Barth, 

Historian nails it.

Why does everybody always seem to second guess teachers? 

Because the system in which you operate leaves us no other choice.  It is a monopoly - and we taxpayers are forced to pay for it.  The only option your system has left us is to voice our opposition, sometimes loudly.

Let us have choice, and I daresay that all the loud criticism will diminish.  And the imperfect effort to implement top down reforms like CCSS will dissipate as well.

And to agree with Historian, many of us have spent a good portion of our lives in public schools.  And those of us who are old enough, have children who have gone through public schools.  It is disingenuous and insulting for union backers to constantly call into question the “expertise” of people who call for change. 

If only unionized teachers had all the answers then we wouldn’t be falling in the international ranks of acadedmic achievement and we wouldnt have the largest achievement gap in the country.

posted by: Joebigjoe | April 30, 2014  12:04pm

I do agree that teachers are too protected. However I’m in my early 50’s and personally can only recall one bad teacher from elementary school through high school graduation. They got much worse in college.

Today I see my kids (2 that are in college) and one middle school, have more “questionable” teachers and that really bugs me. Now I see it through the prism of being a parent doing the right thing with the right expectations of my children, and I see some great teachers in the public school system that dont make enough money for the value they provide, and some that should be working at Starbucks.

I also see alot of parents in this semi-affluent town that need parenting school. My youngest shows me texts and instagram postings that he wakes up to that were posted in the middle of the night by his classmates. His phone is not allowed in his room once it’s time for bed so you want to improve test scores then start parenting and stop enabling.

posted by: Chien DeBerger | April 30, 2014  4:24pm

Barth-
These are the same people who have taken over the medical system and say they know better than your doctor and you. Let’s hope the American voter wakes from their coma.

posted by: Barth Keck | April 30, 2014  9:12pm

ABC and Historian: I’m truly sorry to hear about your negative experiences with the public schools your children attended. I can only speak firsthand for the two districts in which I have taught and the one in which my two grown boys were educated, and I have to say that the individual needs of kids and the concerns of parents have consistently been addressed in these districts. In fact, I believe the special-education services and parental communication of the district in which I teach compare favorably to those of most schools, public or private. Certainly, this is a district-by-district situation, so I’m not sure how national initiatives like the Common Core are going to: 1) strengthen all schools, and 2) solve issues that are unique to individual districts.

As for ABC’s assertion “f only unionized teachers had all the answers then we wouldn’t be falling in the international ranks of acadedmic [sic] achievement and we wouldnt [sic] have the largest achievement gap in the country,” I respond in this way: 1) My opinions are my own and not influenced by any union, and 2) international rankings and achievement gaps are two issues addressed through several hyperlinks in my op-ed. For example, Ann Policelli Cronin explains that “Shanghai ranked #1 on the 2012 PISA but prohibits at least a quarter of potential test-takers from taking the test since the children of under-educated migrants are excluded. Also, in this country, children in poverty scored low.  U.S. children attending schools with less than 10% living in poverty, however, score 1st over all nations in reading and science and 5th in math.”

Bottom line, the challenges of public education are numerous and complicated. I just don’t see how the Common Core and the accompanying standardized testing are the solution.

posted by: RogueReporterCT | April 30, 2014  9:49pm

RogueReporterCT

Just the right tone.The pusillanimous Connecticut media enforce a zero tolerance policy on anger.

posted by: Historian | May 1, 2014  7:38pm

I understand the frustration of teachers being in the middle of the ambitions of parents for their children and administrations eager to please - especially high salaried superintendents and state bureaucrats.
  The real problem is that too many “professionals” feeding the frenzy by telling parents the children can all be made perfect. That is the source of all the education experiments with new buildings, new teaching plans, new math, we will do this and “Oh, We have to measure performance”, etc, etc. When does it stop? We are changing everthing over and over since the mid 70’s with no system “working”.- a plateau is reached and in come the consultants, book writers and critics and all of a sudden new lesson plans, more teacher conferences, more data forms for teachers and staff to spend hours filling out, new leadership and the cycle goes on and on. Who is going to finally stand up and say “Enough”?

posted by: Michele | May 5, 2014  7:28am

I think the concept of the common core is necessary: a return to core subjects as the primary focus in education. The use of computer testing, or any testing at all, is misguided. These kids need a break from testing. Teachers need a break from testing. All testing does is create a set of statistics that legislators can them use for whatever purpose they like. Statistics are not truth. They never will be. Something needs to change in education, and testing might be the first item up for discussion.