Monday, December 26, 2016

Is Common Core Gaining Ground with Teachers?

In October, a bit over 500 registered readers of the EdWeek website took a survey about the Core. The results from these elementary, middle and high school teachers are not earth-shattering, but we might tease a few conclusions out.

You want me to do what??!!
First, it's worth noting that using EdWeek registered readers means a certain amount of self-selected bias. While I'm not particularly put off by the magazine's history and backing, many are-- EdWeek gets plenty of money from the reformy industry and, like every publication out there, occasionally blurs the line between "real" content and content-flavored advertising. But I worked for EdWeek for a year and found them to be nothing but supportive, including giving me a nice chunk of Bill Gates money to pay me for a piece attacking the Core. They never told me what I couldn't say. They were also long-time hosts of Anthony Cody's work, and they continue to host Nancy Flanagan, one of the most important pro-public ed bloggers out there.

So I don't think they are corporate shills in the back pocket of the enemy. At the same time, they are a business that knows which side their bread is buttered on, and there is a certain corporate air to it (as well as an actual paywall), so its readership does not necessarily represent the full spectrum of teacheriness. And this article, which consults only Core boosters are expert opinions, is trying had to spin positive for the Core.

But I digress. What did the survey say?


39% of teachers report that they feel "well-prepared" to teach the standards. That's almost double the 20% reported in 2012, but it's not very impressive. If I found that only 39% of my students felt well-prepared to take a unit test, I would figure my teaching needs some work. That figure drops considerably when the survey asks about ELL, special needs, or just plain at risk students. So, I don't know-- 39% feel very prepared if they're just going to be teaching those kids who learn whatever you put in front of them?

And student preparation? Only 10% said their students were ready to master the standards, which is still double four years ago, but still way less than a lot. On this I have to agree with quoted reformster Morgan Polikoff, who blames the word "master," a word that sets the bar mighty high.


Only 18% of respondents felt that classroom resources are well-aligned (double the 2012 response). Teachers who think their professional development is swell come in at about the same number, which seems... high. One of the Great White Whales of education is a school district that does professional development well. In some cases, the state has hamstrung everyone by declaring that all PD must involve some specific list of features, guaranteeing that PD will be useless for everyone except the vendors making money by providing PD.

The popular solution is to go to sharing websites (Teachers Pay Teachers is a popular solution) to get ideas and materials from other teachers.

Do we even know what we're talking about?

Those two areas raise some questions. For instance, when 39% report that they are prepped and ready to implement the Core, do they even know what they're talking about?

When asked to explain how they know if something is Common Core aligned, 51% teachers said, "Well, I got it from a repository of supposedly-aligned stuff." If that repository is, say, a state operated website, or a publisher's bin labeled "Common Core Ready We Swear" then that's only slightly more accurate than a ouija board. Other methods included using expert rubrics and asking either peers or supervisors of some sort at your district.

So if we're asking, "Is there are any reason to believe that all these Common Core-aligned claimants are actually Common Core-aligned?" the answer is, "No, no there isn't."

This is no surprise. One part of the hash that was the Common Core roll-out was that we were supposed to change nothing at all about the Core (and only add 15% to it) but then people pushed back and the Powers That Be said, "Well, okay, do what you want," and so the Core was distributed through a loose network of folks who all added their own interpretations and publishers who just slapped CCSS on anything, and all of this happened against the backdrop of Common Core creators who unleashed their creation and then left the building before anyone could ask questions. Do you want someone authoritative to ask the question, "Is this really Common Core aligned?" Too bad-- there is no such authoritative voice anywhere to be found. So everyone is reduced to just making shit up (which is only fair, since that's basically the research basis for the Core in the first place).

The CEO of Achieve, a big CCSS clearinghouse and advocacy, had a chance to respond. "It's good that they're thinking about alignment," was the best she could come up with. Meanwhile, teachers are logging onto websites and telling each other, "Yeah, I can make this fit with those standards-aligned waste-of-time lesson plans we have to do. Is it really Common Core? Who knows? Who cares?"

PD woes

This may be my favorite finding from the survey. A large number (the actual data in this article is frustrating, as is the lack of a link to the actual findings) of teachers agreed that they have "had some training and do not want more." Similar findings have been reported with ten-year-olds regarding spinach.

And another interesting result-- most teachers feel they are more knowledgeable than their administrators.

Politics and the Standards That Do Not Speak Their Name

Less than half the teachers use the term "Common Core" freely and without restraint. Most are guarded when talking to students or parents. That may be because only 7% report getting positive feedback from parents about the Core.

So what have we learned?

The Common Core are not exactly a giant snowballed, barrelling down the mountain and gaining strength and speed as it comes. More like a hamster trying to drag a rusted Studebaker up the mountain. More teachers are used to the hamster, recognize the hamster, and know how to walk up the mountain without letting the hamster get in their way. But hardly anyone is stopping to help the hamster, and the chances that the hamster is going to get to the mountaintop before it drops dead of exhaustion or old age-- well, it's not looking good. And I don't think encouraging press is going to help. 

1 comment:

  1. I found it noteworthy that the survey omitted questions about PARCC or SBAC testing and use of scores to evaluate teachers and schools.

    Here is a Common Core (Pearson) testing update from New York State

    CC Math and ELA in grades 3 to 8:
    Currently de-fanged and neutered in grades 3 to 8 under Cuomo’s walk-back (moratorium).
    as these scores cannot be used to evaluate teachers.

    CC Algebra I (grade 9) and ELA (grade 11):
    Currently de-fanged and neutered in these two HS Regents tests required for graduation.
    NYSED’s decision to implement ludicrously low cut scores for high school testing has reversed the ludicrously low pass rates of grade 3 to 8 assessments (30+%) – something that the folks at NYSED
    seem hesitant to advertise.

    Testing pressure and test-prep practices have been greatly diminished by the use of “shared” (distributed) scores by just about every school district. This year, 50% of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on the combined average scores of high school Regents tests which can be re-taken repeatedly in order to earn a passing score. So yes, the vast majority of teachers in NYS will now be evaluated using the scores of students and subjects that they did not teach. This has been one very expensive trip to nowhere.