Why I almost drove off the road: The hullabaloo around the Common Core

I almost drove off the road this morning on the way to work. That’s right. Why? Not a deer crossing, not texting a grocery list to my honey, not updating my Facebook status. The culprit was a piece on National Public Radio.

I was listening to a report on Florida and the shenanigans, I mean discussions, circulating around the Common Core State Standards. Sounds like easy listening, right? It was anything but. It centered on public hearings that Florida facilitated last week and captured snippets from many of the speakers. Below are a few phrases that stood out, leading to my sporadic driving, the scratching of my noggin, and the bubbling of my redheaded blood:

  • The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) should be called the Communism core. (Really?!)
  • It borders on Marxism.
  • The standards will lead to brainwashing, Lenin-style.
  • And we can’t confuse our children with multiple pathways to problem-solving.

And I left out some of the more cockamamie comments.

So after I righted my vehicle and got my head on straight, I began brainstorming why there seems to be such craziness following the CCSS in the style of a Charlie Brown rain cloud (see Politifact’s debunking of some of that craziness here).

I’ll start by being upfront: I do strongly support the CCSS. That does not mean that I think it’s perfect–I am concerned about the implementation and the mismanagement of said implementation, but I love what it potentially can do for practice, collaboration, and learning. So my mind first landed on possible motivation for the nay-saying.  It seems that there is a myriad of confusion: possibly from misinformation, media and sensationalism, a fear of change, or simply ideological differences that have percolated through politics and landed in the realm of education (which happens more frequently than it should).

I then thought about conversations and writing from some of the best educators I know. I thought about why I believe in these standards based on that continuing dialogue with my peers. The following erupted.

Here is why I support the CCSS:

  • We are thinking about learning differently. There is a shift in teacher learning, which then is leveraging student learning. The standards seem to be a catalyst for this change, highlighting the necessity for teachers to have time and space to collaboratively develop curriculum and lessons around the CCSS. I experienced this last year, working with over 50 teachers from California to Florida on sharing best practices and lessons…see the multi-media product with resources, webinar audioclips, and ideas galore here.
  • We are thinking about our students differently. My colleague Michael Flynn stated this so succinctly. Our job as educators is to develop problem-solvers, not students who can perform rote computation. The CCSS, especially the Standards for Mathematical Practice, help shine a spotlight on this shift. We are thinking about our learners as problem-solvers, not answer-getters. We are focusing on the process of learning and thinking, not just the end result.
  • We can hopefully think about assessment differently.  This is the where I get heart palpitations. I know Florida has recently pulled out of the PARCC consortium (gasp), tasked with developing effective summative assessments for the CCSS (Read Governor Scott’s letter to Commissioner of Education Arne Duncan here). If we are looking at learning differently, we must also shift our thinking about assessment. This kind of real world problem-solving cannot be measured by bubbling in one of four letters, nor should it. Tests unfortunately end up being the tail that wags the dog, so we MUST get them right. Think performance assessment, portfolio…anything but a computer and those four little letters (A,B,C, or D for those who were thinking something else).

So let’s cut through the confusion in the hullabaloo, focus on finding solutions, and give our teachers the time and space to implement the CCSS effectively.