Thursday, March 26, 2015

Embrace the Core

You know, perhaps we're looking at this the wrong way. Perhaps we are missing a golden opportunity.

After all-- at this point, very few people know what the hell the Common Core Standards actually are. We've learned that the vast majority of Common Core textbook materials are actually not aligned at all. We know that the Common Core tests are a random crapshoot. We know that what Common Core looks like tends to depend on who's interpreting it for your district.

If the Common Core Standards were supposed to create a common, shared framework that would put students and teachers across this country on the same educational page, then they have failed spectacularly and completely. (I make that point at greater length in an article in the new Education Week, which is available behind a paywall here and in the current print edition.)

Pushers of professional development use the CCSS brand to push their favorite ideas. Teacher-advocates describe their programs, based on nothing more than their own best teacher judgment, and give all the credit to the Core. Opponents of the Core blame it for every dumb homework paper ever created, whether that assignment has anything to do with the Core or not.

Those last groups are the ones we can learn from, really.

It's so simple, I can't believe I didn't see it sooner.

Do whatever the hell you want, and blame it on the Core.

Teaching students to research material before reading it? I'll call that core-aligned. Forbidding students to research material before reading it? Also core-aligned. Want to do writing-based assessments? Why, that's totally core. Drilling reading assignments with bubble question quiz at the end? Also complete core. I have a great new idea for a program that integrates research, literature and video presentations. Pitch it as aligned to the core.

My home ec students have to read recipes, so I'm a core teacher. I'm a band director? Create a new tweak to the program-- web-based video pre-reviews of works as concert advertisement. Declare it aligned to the Core. Increase in the budget? I need it for Core-related stuff. Teaching students to make a souffle? It's a Common Core souffle. 

Teacher core advocates and publishing companies have shown us the way-- there is literally nothing that can't be claimed as a Core-aligned program. Slap "common core" on anything-- there is nobody who can tell you you aren't allowed.

I'm going to have an extra order of fries-- for the Common Core. I am going to get the red Porsche instead of the mini-van because I need it for the Common Core. I did not have sex with that woman-- we were just aligning some Common Core. Please put more frosting on my cupcakes-- it's required by the Core. If anyone tries to question you, just exclaim, "Critical thinking! Alignment! Why are you against higher standards?"

If you happen to be deep in red state Common Core hating territory, just flip the script. Anything you dislike can be blamed on Common Core.

I'm not going to teach Herman Melville because he's part of the Common Core. Don't order that cheap recycled papers-- it's part of the Common Core. Don't you dare put any of that low-fat dressing on my salad-- that's just another way to promote Common Core. I had to punch that guy; he looked like he was going to talk to my kids about Common Core. If anybody questions you on this, just holler, "Communism! Indoctrination! Why do you hate freedom!"

The Common Core, primarily through the efforts of its alleged friends, has been reduced to a meaningless ball of mush. In hindsight, this seems like a completely predictable result-- there is no hard underlying structure of solid sound education ideas based on research and professional experience. Just blobs of personal preferences slapped together by educational amateurs. There is no solid framework, no sturdy skeleton to stay standing when bits and pieces are chipped away. When you dig into CCSS, there's no there there. And so under stress, exploitation, and just being passed along like a nonsense message in a game of telephone, the Core is being reduced to its most basic parts-- nothing at all.

We can take advantage of that by raising the CCSS flag over any and all territory we want to explore (or want to forbid). We were worried that CCSS would be a concrete straightjacket, but as its allies have tweaked and twisted and slanted and squeezed until it's a soggy mess of nothing, a document written on unobtainium with a unicorn horn dipped in invisible ink. And then, with rare exceptions, they've run off so that they don't have to defend the weak sauce they've left behind.

Now, there's no question that on the state and local level, we still have officials doing their best to slavishly enforce their version of the core-- but the vast majority of them aren't enforcing the standards as actually written, either. Andrew Cuomo would be the same size tyrant whether CCSS existed or not. If your district is in the steely grip of Test Prep Mania, the core really doesn't have anything to do with your problems-- the Core can go away, but until the Big Standardized Test goes away, your troubles will remain.

So do whatever you like and use the Common Core as your excuse. Slap the Core justification on every single thing you do in the classroom-- all the cool kids are doing it. Not only will it give you ammunition to defend your teaching choices, but you will help hasten the ongoing disintegration of the standards into a mushy, meaningless, irrelevant mess. The Common Core Standards are over and done. If we do embrace it, perhaps we can embrace it extra hard and help finish it off. I would say to stick a fork in them, but you'll probably need a spoon, and it will be much more fun to use a blender.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post! I've not read a better description of the Core than "blobs of personal preferences slapped together by educational amateurs." Mind you... I am ready to admit that an awful lot of what passes as professional "knowledge" in *any* field really consists of blobs of personal preferences, slapped together, if not by amateurs, then by persuasive experts propounding their Big Idea. Still, whatever possibly tentative research exists on the ways in which young children learn, the Core certainly ignored it in spectacular fashion.

    I've been re-reading Neil Postman recently. Here he is in the "End of Education:"

    "Schooling can be about how to make a life, which is quite different from how to make a living. Such an enterprise is not easy to pursue, since our politicians rarely speak of it, our technology is indifferent to it, and our commerce despises it. Nonetheless, it is the weightiest and most important thing to write about.... In tracking what people have to say about schooling, I notice that most of the conversation is about means, rarely about ends. Should we privatize our schools? Should we have national standards of assessment? How should we use computers?.... Some of these questions are interesting, and some are not. But what they have in common is that they evade the issue of what schools are for.... Without a transcendent and honorable purpose schooling must reach its finish, and the sooner we are done with it, the better. With such a purpose, schooling becomes the central institution through which the young may find reasons for continuing to educate themselves."

    The Core's purpose, like that of the last two administrations, seems to be "Get to the top of the heap (like everyone else) so you come out a WINNER in the New Economy!" Which is about as crap a reason to spend fourteen years behind a desk as I can think of.