Struggling with Common Core

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Struggling with Common Core

By: Pat Austin

SHREVE­PORT — I am strug­gling with the Com­mon Core ELA cur­ricu­lum. We’ve been talk­ing about Com­mon Core nation­ally for sev­eral years now but it has only this year actu­ally trick­led down into my high school class­room with the new, man­dated Louisiana Believes cur­ricu­lum which is hosted on Learnzil­lion.

Appar­ently what “Louisiana believes” is that stu­dents don’t need text­books in many sub­jects any longer and stu­dents need lots and lots of stan­dard­ized tests.

The four­teen day test­ing sched­ule spread out through an August-​December block sched­ule has stu­dents break­ing down and sob­bing over their keyboards.

While the cur­ricu­lum has been praised in the press as “writ­ten by teach­ers,” some of the teach­ers who wrote the units have said they would not teach their own units as written.

In ELA, stu­dents spend the semes­ter work­ing their way through four units of one turgid graphic orga­nizer and work­sheet after another.

The cur­ricu­lum is 75% non-​fiction; stu­dents no longer read whole nov­els. In Eng­lish 3, for exam­ple, stu­dents read only one chap­ter of The Great Gatsby. Fic­tion is no longer rel­e­vant. The stan­dard­ized tests reflect this shift with stu­dents read­ing lab exper­i­ments, arti­cles on microbes, and Supreme Court deci­sions (and dissents).

Teach­ers have been told to do these units faith­fully, as writ­ten, with no devi­a­tion what­so­ever. They are not allowed to skip any of the Guide­book lessons. Because the lessons are not engag­ing by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion and because teach­ers feel they have lost their auton­omy in the class­room, many are frus­trated and leav­ing the class­room if they can. Oth­ers are hang­ing on until retire­ment. Teach­ers are no longer allowed to make deci­sions that affect the stu­dents they spend so much time with.

On the other hand, there may be some teach­ers who embrace the new cur­ricu­lum for the very rea­son that all the think­ing and plan­ning is done for them. All they have to do is pull up the Pow­er­Point slides, read the script (yes, it’s scripted) and pass out the worksheets.

There seems to be some sup­port for this new approach. In Edu­ca­tion Week mag­a­zine, Dr. Bill Hughes writes:

Research con­tin­ues to demon­strate that cur­ric­u­lar choices mat­ter. Accord­ing to a recent studyby Johns Hop­kins’ David Steiner, not only is cur­ricu­lum a crit­i­cal fac­tor in stu­dent aca­d­e­mic suc­cess, but “the cumu­la­tive impact of high-​quality cur­ricu­lum can be sig­nif­i­cant.” And Louisiana Believes is demon­strat­ing early suc­cess: Louisiana 4th graders achieved the high­est growth among all states on the 2015 National Assess­ment of Edu­ca­tional Progress read­ing test, and the second-​highest in math.

But all that means to me is what we’ve taught a kid how to take a test. Is that all that mat­ters, now?

As an edu­ca­tor, I’m torn because I’m basi­cally a rule-​follower and do what I’m told with regard to my job, but I feel like all we are doing as edu­ca­tors now is teach­ing kids to take a test. I look back fondly on my own high-​school expe­ri­ence when we read clas­sics like To Kill a Mock­ing­bird, The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prej­u­dice, short sto­ries by Alice Walker, Shirley Jack­son, and Edgar Allan Poe. We are rais­ing an entire gen­er­a­tion of kids who won’t know about Julius Cae­sar, will never under­stand “the Ides of March,” who won’t know about Atti­cus Finch, Tom Sawyer, or Eliz­a­beth Bennett.

Frankly, it makes me sad. Maybe the world of edu­ca­tion has passed me by. Maybe I’m too “old-​school” for my job. But, I still believe kids are kids and that chil­dren respond to an adult who loves and cares about them. I still believe I can make a dif­fer­ence in the lives of my stu­dents. So, I’m torn.

We’ve been told as teach­ers that we will never return to read­ing full nov­els and short sto­ries again in the ELA class­room. We were told that if a stu­dent wants to read more than one chap­ter of The Great Gatsby, they can read it “on their own.” I will, how­ever, con­tinue to stock my class­room library with engag­ing fic­tion and mean­ing­ful lit­er­a­ture that I will share with my stu­dents and will encour­age them to explore.

I will con­tinue to make a dif­fer­ence where I can.

I will not quit.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — I am struggling with the Common Core ELA curriculum.  We’ve been talking about Common Core nationally for several years now but it has only this year actually trickled down into my high school classroom with the new, mandated Louisiana Believes curriculum which is hosted on Learnzillion.

Apparently what “Louisiana believes” is that students don’t need textbooks in many subjects any longer and students need lots and lots of standardized tests.

The fourteen day testing schedule spread out through an August-December block schedule has students breaking down and sobbing over their keyboards.

While the curriculum has been praised in the press as “written by teachers,” some of the teachers who wrote the units have said they would not teach their own units as written.

In ELA, students spend the semester working their way through four units of one turgid graphic organizer and worksheet after another.

The curriculum is 75% non-fiction; students no longer read whole novels.  In English 3, for example, students read only one chapter of The Great Gatsby.  Fiction is no longer relevant.  The standardized tests reflect this shift with students reading lab experiments, articles on microbes, and Supreme Court decisions (and dissents).

Teachers have been told to do these units faithfully, as written, with no deviation whatsoever.  They are not allowed to skip any of the Guidebook lessons.  Because the lessons are not engaging by any stretch of the imagination and because teachers feel they have lost their autonomy in the classroom, many are frustrated and leaving the classroom if they can.  Others are hanging on until retirement.  Teachers are no longer allowed to make decisions that affect the students they spend so much time with.

On the other hand, there may be some teachers who embrace the new curriculum for the very reason that all the thinking and planning is done for them.  All they have to do is pull up the PowerPoint slides, read the script (yes, it’s scripted) and pass out the worksheets.

There seems to be some support for this new approach.  In Education Week magazine, Dr. Bill Hughes writes:

Research continues to demonstrate that curricular choices matter. According to a recent studyby Johns Hopkins’ David Steiner, not only is curriculum a critical factor in student academic success, but “the cumulative impact of high-quality curriculum can be significant.” And Louisiana Believes is demonstrating early success: Louisiana 4th graders achieved the highest growth among all states on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test, and the second-highest in math.

But all that means to me is what we’ve taught a kid how to take a test.  Is that all that matters, now?

As an educator, I’m torn because I’m basically a rule-follower and do what I’m told with regard to my job, but I feel like all we are doing as educators now is teaching kids to take a test.  I look back fondly on my own high-school experience when we read classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, short stories by Alice Walker, Shirley Jackson, and Edgar Allan Poe.  We are raising an entire generation of kids who won’t know about Julius Caesar, will never understand “the Ides of March,” who won’t know about Atticus Finch, Tom Sawyer, or Elizabeth Bennett.

Frankly, it makes me sad.  Maybe the world of education has passed me by.  Maybe I’m too “old-school” for my job. But, I still believe kids are kids and that children respond to an adult who loves and cares about them.  I still believe I can make a difference in the lives of my students.  So, I’m torn.

We’ve been told as teachers that we will never return to reading full novels and short stories again in the ELA classroom. We were told that if a student wants to read more than one chapter of The Great Gatsby, they can read it “on their own.” I will, however, continue to stock my classroom library with engaging fiction and meaningful literature that I will share with my students and will encourage them to explore.

I will continue to make a difference where I can.

I will not quit.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.