Sunday, October 12, 2014

How To Align Painlessly

(Originally post at View from the Cheap Seats)

The Dream

The ideal, as imagined by the Common Core Crowd looks something like this:

A group of fresh-scrubbed teachers gather in a room with a consultant (because, after all, they're only teachers and lack the expertise to do this work on their own). The CCSS expert teaches them how to "unpack" the standards, and over the course of many days, the teachers unpack a standard and decide how best to implement that standard in a well-constructed CCSS-aligned lesson. Depending on the consultant, they will probably also incorporate some features that are not actually in the Core, but which the consultant likes.

Once implemented, this new curriculum will totally revolutionize the way these teachers teach, and soon, awesome test scores will descend upon them like manna from heaven. Because once you align the to the standards, your students will automatically be prepared for the aligned standardized tests.

The Reality
Well, sadly, some peoples' reality will be a pursuit of the dream. If your administration has soaked too long in the special Common Core Coolade, the Dream will be your goal. Good luck with that.
For the earthbound districts, the process looks something more like this.

1) Spread out printouts on big desk. On one side, the printout of the Common Core National Standards (or the lightly edited version that your state is passing off as state-developed standards). On the other side, your pre-existing curriculum.

2) Go through curriculum, cross-referencing against standards. Look for standards that you can reasonably claim are being met by old lessons (e.g. "This paper I have them write about Great Expectations requires them to support their statements with evidence from the text. Check!") Check standards off of list.

3) Gather up standards you didn't meet. Make one last attempt to justify attaching them to pre-existing units. Rig up some new unit to meet those standards. Finish checking off list.

4) Go to PARCC/SBA/Whatever websites and gather up sample questions. Buy some sample question practice books. Schedule test prep units strategically through year.

5) Wait for High Stakes Test results. Analyze results to see what test prep units you need to beef up. Start collecting materials for next year. decide which units you can cut to make room for additional test prep. Do not forget to count your test prep units as part of your aligned curriculum.

Alternate approach

For the above steps 1-4, substitute the folowing:

1) Buy pre-aligned book and materials from dependable vendor like Pearson. Print out their alignment materials. Insert printout in alignment report for district.

Anyone Can Play

Slapping some Common Core numbers on the same old same old is a popular game these days. For instance, at a site called ELA Common Core Lesson Plans, we can find a deadly dull lesson on humor in literature that could easily be from ten, twenty, thirty years ago, except for the CCSS standards tags at the end. Or take this site that cheerfully plugs literature circles as a great CCSS technique, as if lit circles haven't been around almost as long as crop circles. Watch a video of a teacher using basic techniques that were actually well known long before CCSS. Or check out this lesson using song lyrics to teach figurative language, a technique used by every English teacher in the history of ever. But hey-- there are standards numbers attached to it, so it must be Common Core.

In fact, these lessons cover the other challenge of alignment-- what to do with the parts of lessons that actually contradict the Core approach. Teaching humor in texts? You're probably cheating by bringing in information from outside the four corners of the text, because humor's pretty hard to get in a context-free vaccuum. And we'd better hope that the fifth grade teacher working with the text about Harriet Tubman and slavery is not actually answering her students' questions about the origins of racism and slavery, because that would be contrary to the Core's love of Close Reading 2.0.

So painless alignment is not only about finding ways to line up things you already do with the Core-- it also involves ignoring the Core when it wants you to stop using tried and true successful practices you've used in the past.

Painful Alignment

There are of course more painful ways to align. Teachers who have been through a reality-based alignment in which CCSS has no major effect on their classroom may well wonder what the big fuss is. But the Dream described above is pretty painful.

Alignment by textbook series can be fairly painful until you have worked out your own unoffical editted edition of modern classics like the elementary math textbooks that require you to perform twenty sensless math activities in thirty minutes.

It can get worse. Core-soaked administrators may anticipate your roguish behavior, or may simply not trust you to behave yourself and stay within the lines. In that case, you may be subjected to the most painful alignment of all-- alignment by script, in which you are required to simply do exactly what is laid out in the pre-crafted modules. If you are in a scripted district, my condolences-- you work for dopes.

The Realest Alignment

All of these approaches bring us back to the bottom line. We've seen this movie before, under NCLB-- the ultimate alignment instrument for the district is the High Stakes Test. Advocates of the Core may swear that if you follow the standards, the test scores will take care of themselves. This is simply not true, and we all know it. Test prep was the order of the day under NCLB, and under the Core, the high stakes test will drive the curriculum bus once again. All other alignment is just doing the deck chair dance of doom.

deck chairs.jpg


  1. "if you follow the standards, the test scores will take care of themselves. This is
    simply not true, and we all know it."

    Yes, I know it. But I can't explain why it is "simply not true." Peter, I would love to read your explanation of WHY it is, in fact, not true.

    My gut feeling is that delving deeper into this issue may help illuminate an inherent flaw in the current Standards-based reform.