Friday, June 6, 2014

Why We're Not Celebrating -- Yet

Common Core is repealed! Yay!

Common Core is repealed! Oh dear.

Common Core is repealed! Now what?

The two teachers collaborating here represent other educators...we know most of our colleagues immediately went to the third response: Now what?

We saw all these responses and more in the past few days. There’s an old curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Man, have we been cursed.

Christie Paradise and Claudia Swisher are teaming up on this post and one more. We have forged a strong friendship based on some strong differences in political leanings. Often we are in agreement, and equally as often we are not. Christie often says that if you look at the facts, we should really not get along.  But instead of focusing on those facts, we have spent years talking, listening to each other respectfully and with open hearts and minds, and over that time, we have learned much from each other.

Christie is an elementary teacher and has taught 5th, 4th and 3rd grades.  She has been involved in Oklahoma’s adoption of CCSS as part of the Oklahoma Educator Leader Cadre (ELC).  Originally, this was part of the PARCC implementation, but as the state pulled out of PARCC and began moving to Oklahoma Academic Standards, the team stayed together to help Oklahoma teachers and administrators find their way through the changes. She proudly continues to serve on the ELC and will be working to address some of the issues we discuss here.  Christie neither supports nor opposes CCSS and feels that any needed changes could have been done through the normal revision process for state standards.  As a relatively new teacher (now going on 10 years in the classroom) and alternatively certified at that, Christie has found that collaborating on curriculum and standards both at the state level and the district level has been extremely valuable.  Her biggest disappointment in the last few years has been that many politicians do not share that willingness to collaborate with teachers, parents and administrators.  This has resulted in bills that may be good intentioned but are poorly implemented and cause chaos in the school system.

Claudia retired before CCSS would be an issue in her classroom. But, as a 39-year teacher, she has seen the appearance and disappearance of many reforms that were going to be ‘the answer.’ As a teacher, she loved being in the middle of innovations in the classroom, and would have worked to make CCSS applicable for her students. But, she’s grateful she’s on the sidelines for this reform effort. Her concerns with CCSS include the fact classroom teachers were not allowed to participate in writing the Standards, only ‘responding’ to them after they were written. She objects to the narrow focus in the ELA Standards of close reading without context, to the use of excerpts at the expense of longer works. She is deeply skeptical of the involvement of Bill Gates and his money. She agrees with Senator John Brecheen, who called CCSS an ‘experiment’. The Standards and the assessments that accompany them, are untried. No district or state has piloted and researched the effectiveness of this grand experiment. Most troublesome is the fact that these assessments, when they come online, will be high stakes -- for students or teachers or schools, or all of the above. This seems to be a disastrous course to her.  She has out-lived many other hunches of non-educators who just knew THIS idea was going to work. She is deeply skeptical of CCSS, and has been vocal with that opinion.

So, HB3399. One would think Christie would be an opponent and Claudia would be a supporter. But, the issue is much more complicated than that.
As educators, we both see the rush to repeal as a mistake which will leave schools and teachers with more questions than answers, more doubts than reassurances. We see this issue with schoolteachers’ eyes. The eyes of teachers who have the obligation to provide quality lessons regardless of the quality of the standards. The eyes of teachers who are accountable to our students and their parents.  The eyes of teachers who feel the responsibility for reaching every child, no matter where they come from, and for helping them love learning.tweets.jpg

We have watched social media activity and want to share other educators’ concerns. Educators will be charged with making standards work, with educating students for ‘college and career,’ with preparing them for high stakes assessments. We share these concerns with the hope of furthering conversation and finding common ground. We know there are only 2-½ months on the calendar before students return to classrooms. Until they have the expectation that teachers will be ready to teach.

Some teachers are wondering what they’ll be teaching next year...not just the grade, but the standards, the objectives. Teachers are deeply practical folks. We want to know how to plan, what to plan for. We want the certainty that we’re going in the right direction. But at the moment we are in an alphabet soup of ‘what the heck?’

"Not a laughing matter but kind of funny that we teachers were asking each other the same question at the beginning of the school year last year. PASS? OAS? CCSS? The last I read was that we are back to PASS."

“Okay, Yeah! Fallin signed 3399. But my question is... if we are to use our current PASS over the next 2 years, WHAT will our OCCTs look like in the Spring? Don't we have a contract with Measured Progress already for CC like tests? I am thrilled CC is tabled, but WHAT am I suppose to prepare my students for in the Spring 2015??? Anybody? Please Help!”

“So, what does this mean in my classroom? Will it change anything at all?”

What will our policy makers say to these teachers? Remember, 2-½ months and classrooms are filled with kids ready to learn.  Also, summer is a teacher’s time to plan for the next year.  Lesson plans are being made, curriculum is being studied.  For teachers changing subjects or grade levels, this is the only time they have to prepare before they are surrounded by students who rely on them to know what they are doing.  Are they supposed to spend their (unpaid) summer time and effort getting ready for PASS, but to be tested like OAS?  Teach PASS and be tested like PASS?  Or should they bide their time and save their money, knowing all of this will change in 2 years?  Those 2 years that are vital for our students, the only two years they will spend in those grades.  

Another concern we have seen deals with the changing of content from one grade level to another when changing from PASS to CCSS and back.  For example, if Grade 5 was responsible for teaching fractions under PASS, but it moved to Grade 4 in CCSS, a school transitioning to CCSS would have taught it this last year in 4th grade.  Now that we are back with PASS, that same skill will be a 5th grade skill.  Do you teach those kids the same content again because the standards changed?  Do you invest your time and money in resources that are more advanced, knowing they will only be used this year?

Other teachers voiced deep frustration at the time, effort, and money they and their districts have invested in the past four years, getting ready for a CCSS party that will never happen. They feel betrayed. They’d done what was expected of them, got on board with CCSS, prepared, collaborated. Now everything changes. With very little time to change directions.
“You know this whole education system is a complete mess! What's ironic is that 4 years ago when we started working our tail ends off by aligning our curriculum to common core and having tons of meetings, and spending countless hours figuring out how and what to teach... I said the words,"this is all a waste of time because it will never come to fruition." People said "oh it's happening!" Well, I'm saying it.... I told you so! What a complete mess!”

“I have been going to trainings and doing research for 4 years preparing for this. Back to square one. Will we have these standards before school starts or back to PASS? What will the test be like? We changed our entire organization of language arts for next year so that each teacher teaches English and Reading in a block to better accommodate CCSS. If it is back to PASS, we are better off staying split like we were before.”

“Well, I'm sooooo glad I spent so much money on Common Core resource books... And I get to do it again when we get new standards! Yea...not. But in all seriousness, I hope people realize the real problem was not with the standards as a whole, it's with the how and why of the assessment process. Of course, this is my opinion and I'm giving it free of charge.”

“Though I don't love them, the CCSS for High School English are not impossible or inappropriate. (The CC testing, however, is a completely different story!) I'm obviously not qualified to comment on other grade levels or subject areas, but we have been transitioning to these standards since they were adopted. MILLIONS of dollars (and COUNTLESS hours) have been spent throughout this process.”

“Now, we go back to the standards we abandoned years ago, then re-transition to OAS...or whatever they will be called next (and they will most likely be VERY similar to CCSS).”

“So many school districts spent money on new books and training for teachers also. I want to know how the state is going to pay for these, once again, 'new standards' to be written and researched.”

"And yet again, Fallin and Barresi cause millions of dollars of problems, years more of uncertainty for Oklahoma schools, and more years of discontinuity for the children who are being taught during this time.”

All these frustrations come from teachers’ deep commitment to their students. Teachers want to do the right thing. They want to contribute to a positive learning experience. They think first of kids and how to teach them.

“Be careful of what you ask for, it can and probably will get worse. The main concern I have what is best for the student. This is not a race to see who can come up with the hardest test, to show who is the best in the US. How about we measure growth. Keep in mind research shows that no measurable gains can be made for 3 full years after implementing a new program. Again, 3 years before you begin to see growth.”

I have complete faith in teachers to keep teaching what students need to know to be successful, but it frustrates me that my own children will go through HALF of their PK-12 education without clear standards for their teachers to focus on! When will our students and their education become more important than political games?”

“I hope the people who asked for this get what they wanted, because what they did was put the state legislators 100% in control over what the children in our schools will be learning. They have made politics the number one factor for setting curriculum.”

HB3399 was passed and signed after schools had dismissed for the summer. Children have left for vacation; teachers have cleaned up their rooms and turned in their keys. But HB3399 now changes everything for those teachers and those students, with only 2-½ months before they’ll reunite. The responses we shared here are those first, “How will this affect me and my classroom and my students” thoughts.

Many of these issues/questions/concerns could have been addressed with a more gradual change both to and from CCSS.  Underlying these first thoughts, however, is the law itself, and our leaders’ public comments. Do we really know what it says, beyond waving a magic wand and making CCSS disappear in Oklahoma? Are there surprises waiting for us?

Our next piece will look more closely at the law and possible ramifications, as well as the Governor’s and State Superintendent’s public responses.


  1. Death to Common Core! Long Live Failed Education Policy!

    1. Wow, the world doesn't want me to thank you! I thought I'd replied here and on YOUR excellent post earlier. I read this as Christie and I were working together...and you identified my concerns with such clarity, I had tears of recognition in my eyes.

      This 'fight' is meaningless -- but what a show. What crowing and back-slapping.