Friday, January 9, 2015

Sigh. Another Teacher CCSS Love Letter

I feel as if I've become a connoisseur of the teacher-to-Common Core love letter. It is, at this point, a noble genre with a rich and varied history. And by "rich and varied," I mean they've found a lot of fairly similar people to say exactly the same thing. Sigh.

So, anyway, today's entry comes from Tennessee via the 2014-2015 Teacher of the Year (so, kudos to Tennessee on figuring out who's going to be awesome this year before this year is even half over), and it hits all the right notes.

Our TOTY kicks things off with a personal touch. After introducing herself, she says, "I am ill at the thought that these standards could be repealed." So that's an extra touch. After that, it's the usual required portions.

Claim that doesn't exactly make sense? Check. "We have data showing our students are performing at a rate faster than any other state in the nation." I am the last person to cast aspersions on an apparent lapse in proofreading, but I'm betting this isn't what she really means, unless Tennessee's big achievement is students who rip through tests really fast, which, when you think of it, is one possible solution to the problem of tests taking up too much of school time.

Standing up for localism? Check. "We (Tennesseans, not the federal government) made decisions about how the standards would be implemented and how our educators would be trained." But not what the standards would be or whether they had value. But nobody, she insists, mandated curriculum and materials, though in the same graph she asserts that TN teachers received extensive training in just how to apply the standards. So, TN teachers were completely free to do exactly what they were trained to do?

Senseless critical thinking plug? Check. When she started teaching, she just taught students to pass tests. "I would ask questions, a student would reply correctly and I replied, “Good job”, and moved on." But the Common Core standards fixed that:

The beauty of the standards is they allow teachers and students the opportunity to delve deeply into concepts.

Sigh. So I will ask for the six gazillionth time (because I'm going to keep asking until someone provides an answer) -- what is it that kept you from doing this before? You say that the standards "allow" this opportunity-- exactly who was forbidding it previously? And are you saying that if today the standards were thrown out of Tennessee, tomorrow you would not be able to do any critical thinking stuff in class?

This teacher appears to be no slacker. She teaches at an "option" K-5 school (the Memphis equivalent of a magnet school). She is National Board Certified. She throws in some anecdotes that would seem to indicate that despite the picture she paints of herself as clueless when a newbie, she is now a fine professional educator.

So why give the Core credit for simply doing her job well? Here's her own description of reaching one challenging student: "I pushed his thinking when he solved problems by expecting him to justify his solutions. When he saw my excitement he wanted more, and he got it." Which part of that has some direct basis in the Core? Was it only the Core that made it possible for her to push his thinking? Was the Core responsible for the excitement that he saw in her? Would she be a dull, uninteresting, unexciting teacher tomorrow if the Core were taken away today? She also advocates student centered learning-- was she unaware that such a thing existed before she was Core trained?

Concluding with plea to stay the course? Check. Despite "growing pains," she believe that the Core will lead Tennessee to the land of awesome.

Teachers have received and will continue to receive training, but it takes time to learn and implement a methodology representing the most sweeping reforms in education history.

Sigh. First, what exactly is this sweepingly new methodology? Because critical thinking is not a new invention. Neither is displaying excitement. And student centered learning is not something David Coleman made up (nor, honestly, do I think there's much of anything in the Common Core Standards that requires or encourages it). And why are we talking about methodology when the standards are supposedly a list of things students are supposed to know? Why are we talking about methodology when the Core is supposed to be completely devoid of any directions about methodology?

This love letter is built on the usual assertion of connections for which there is no proof.

Are you using good teaching practices in your classroom? That's great-- but what does it have to do with the Core? Are you suggesting that the presence of the Core is somehow necessary for those practices to be followed? Are you suggesting that those practices are so mysterious and groundbreaking that only people who have been Core-trained can grasp them? Are you suggesting that if the Core were rejected by your state, all teachers would have to stop using those practices tomorrow?

Furthermore, what reason do you have to believe that the Core will lead to excellence? Can you point to any use of similar standards anywhere in the world that has led to excellence? Can you point to a research base for the standards themselves to suggest that there's some reason to expect them to be linked to excellence?

This lady seems like a nice person and is probably a swell teacher. I am sorry that she somehow became involved in making this sad, empty pitch for the poor, doomed Common Core, and it is not my intent to pick on her in any personal way. But if people are going to keep writing these ridiculous love letters to the Core, somebody has to keep pointing out how poorly they make the case.


  1. Yes, it would be nice if somebody answered those questions. Sigh.

  2. As "Teacher of the Year" she should be able to have her work reviewed and critiqued. After all, feedback is a gift.

  3. Teachers have received and will continue to receive training, but it takes time to learn and implement a methodology representing the most sweeping reforms in education history.

    SSC Date Sheet 2015 BISE Board

  4. ALWAYS keeping me in stitches Peter!

  5. One positive--comments are now much more anti--common core than they would have been a year ago.

  6. Nice post. I appreciate the passion you share for education on this site. I'd agree with you, that the TOTY's article reads more like a commercial for the Common Core instead of a profile of a successful teacher.

    I would also like to humbly provide an answer to your question, "What is it that kept you from doing this before?" As an elementary principal with a school-wide perspective, what the CCSS has helped accomplish is to create an equal playing field. It isn't about Tennessee"s TOTY; it is about that proverbial teacher down the hall from her, performing at the bare minimum of expectations. The CCSS won't help that teacher become better, but it does provide some benchmarks of quality to hold the outcomes of his/her instruction at a proficient level. Unfortunately, standardized tests are the most commonly used tools being used to determine this. We can do better.

    The CCSS also provides a common language about what successful student learning looks and sounds like. In our schools, teams of teachers develop units of study and common assessments to determine how well students are progressing in their writing. No, the standards do not improve teaching, but they do create a positive sense of urgency to improve practice. These results also help our leadership team determine what type of professional development might be needed in the future.

    In conclusion, I believe this teacher you highlight would still be TOTY in Tennessee without the Common Core. But it is not about her. It is about all of the other educators who need some level of proficiency so kids have better access to effective learning environments across the grades. It's not just a great teacher who makes a difference in students' lives; it is the number of years they have access to consistently great instruction.

    1. I've never taught elementary school, but I've been teaching high school and college math for over 30 years. I wanted to like Common Core -- thought I was going to -- "fewer concepts covered more deeply" -- no math teacher would be opposed to that. But I read and read and -- to my total disappointment, couldn't find it. So I reached out to others -- many of them, locally, and then, nationwide. I got an appointment to receive instruction on the Common Core assessments from Smarter Balanced. I was told "fewer concepts, more deeply taught". I held up my copy of the standards and said "Can you show me where ?" No one could. I persevered, because that's what I do: "maybe, I offered, I just don't understand what "deeply taught concepts" is -- you know, I'm pretty smart and all, but this edu-babble is too deep for me, maybe". But then it turned out -- no, no one has been able to show me one single thing that is "concepts deeply taught" that wasn't something done everywhere . . . . long before Common Core was a gleam of "money and fame" in David Coleman's eye....
      I've come to realize that Common Core is Crony Capitalism masquerading as the same old math. I don't believe that anyone should be giving it credit for good teaching. Indeed -- its proponents' talking points still insist that it "isn't a curriculum" and "doesn't tell teachers how to teach".
      And when did the "burden of proof" change ? It used to be -- in my estimation still should be and is -- the burden of a marketer to show that its product is good, not the burden of the taxpayer-resistor to show that something isn't good. I want and believe in good teachers and good teaching as much as anyone. But Common Core is a pig in a poke.

    2. Agree....I teach high school math and the curriculum has only increased with topics and the level of the test questions are high. A mile wide and a mile deep is expected....and there is not enough time to accomplish that and the kids can't all handle the level expected. Some can of course but we are expected to get them all to that level. Even if they understand a concept, the test questions are posed in as complicated and confusing manner possible so as to guarantee poor results.

  7. "The CCSS won't help that teacher become better...."

    "It is about all of the other educators who need some level of proficiency so kids have better access to effective learning environments across the grades."

    Okay, I'm confused. CCSS won't make better teachers, but we need CCSS so that kids have access to better education. Must have been a logical step in there somewhere that I missed. How can CCSS not improve teaching yet still improve learning?