I've asked (and answered) the question before-- is there any conceivable argument that a teacher could muster in favor of the Common Core? I remain certain that the answer is, "No." But I've now read one that makes a lightly better attempt.
A friend sent me a copy of a guest editorial for the Association of Mathematics Teachers of New York State (teachers belong to all the best-sounding organizations) by teacher Michael Siuta, who wants to make a case for staying the course. Siuta is in his 22nd year of teaching, which means he counts four different high school mathematics curricula in his career. And he would like not to change again.
This is the inertia argument that is often made for the Core-- we've already come so far and invested so much. It's a weak argument, like riding in a car, discovering you're on the wrong road, and deciding that you'll just keep driving in the wrong direction because you've already come so far. And Siuta echoes the worst part of that argument:
Change is not always a bad thing; change just for the
sake of change, however, is never a good thing and does more harm than
Yeah, I've heard that argument before, somewhere, some-- oh, yeah. From every single person who fought against the implementation of Common Core in the first place. It was supposedly a terrible argument then, but apparently it has improved with age.
But there is a more interesting point hiding inside Siuta's plea.
It is the nature of
education; the ever present underlying question being, “How much of this
topic do students need to know?” which leads to the next question of,
“To what depth do I need to teach it?” These are questions that can
never be answered by simply looking at a set of standards on a
piece of paper; they can only be answered by teaching the course, seeing
the state exam, revising it for the following year, seeing another
state exam, revising the course again … and repeating this pattern for
another 4-5 school years. While this is not something that NYSED,
parents, or administrators want to hear, it is reality. No amount of
training or consultant-led workshops will ever take the place of
experience, but constant change has prevented us from ever gaining the
amount of experience needed to refine our courses into well-oiled
machines. Just when we start to get a feel for the best way to teach a
course, we begin working on a new course. How many times over the past
few years have you or one of your colleagues uttered the phrase, “I feel
like a first year teacher.” That, in and of itself, speaks volumes about the state of education in New York.
But there is something that happens as the Common Core and any clump of pedagogy and content and curriculum are passed through the meat grinder of experience-- each teacher edits, rewrites and revises what has been handed them.
This has been my argument for a while now-- the Common Core, as originally conceived and created, simply doesn't exist any more. What we have is a wide range of various educational stuffs, all carrying the Common Core label and all completely different in style, content, focus, and implementation.
One of the goals of Common Core was to get everyone on the same page. It has failed, failed utterly and completely and absolutely, to do that.
A text publisher reads the core and filters it into a textbook, which come packaged with a curriculum guide attached, both representing the writers' interpretation of the Core. These are handed off to the district mucky-mucks who buy them and "implement" them by laying over them the district's own ideas and priorities. Finally these materials arrive in a classroom, where a teacher adds 'experience."
Here's what that process looks like. Open book to lesson. Teach lesson. Collect immediate first-hand data from students, and adjust accordingly. The books explanation of this sucks. These examples are bad. This test is crap. The time set is too short. Teachers rewrite these programs on the ground. Who wants to guess in how many Common Core-infused math classrooms, teachers have added units teaching students how to do certain functions "the old way" so that they can "get it."
"Implementing" Common Core was like dumping a barrel of deep red food coloring into Lake Erie. At first, it creates a shocking new coloration, alarming and disturbing. Then, as time passes, the coloration disperses, and the lake restores its own equilibrium. Now, dump in too much, too often, and the lake gets truly hurt.
But that's the implementation process. Everybody but teachers shows up with a new barrel of baloney. They dump it into the classroom, and teachers slowly but surely get back to What Actually Works. Siuta isn't really arguing in favor of the Core-- he's just pleading not to be hit with one more barrel of food coloring.
While there are topics in the standards that I do not think should be
there, and some that I think are inappropriate for a specific course,
in the end I don’t believe that really matters. I truly believe that we
as educators can handle any curriculum, but without the time and
experience needed to adapt to the change in pedagogical approach, we
will never improve our system.
So here's a real argument that UI almost buy for not "getting rid of" the Common Core (not that anybody is really doing it, but that's another essay)-- just let us keep pretending that we're implementing the Core while we figure out how to do what we know works in the classroom in spite of whatever baloney paperwork the state requires.
It's not a great argument, and it doesn't address the deeply wrong practice of districts that require teachers to stay in lockstep with a pacing guide or teaching script, or the many ways that teachers are being kept from doing what works in the name of one version of Common Core or another. Those are ultimately fatal weaknesses in the argument. But it's the closest thing to a real argument for staying the course (or at least pretending to stay the course) that I've seen.