As an educator but also as a parent I have been struggling a bit with how I feel towards the education reform with common core. First, people that don’t understand exactly what common core is needs to first understand that common core is the new set of standards. It is not the curriculum or even the actual exam. These standards are then being used to create new curriculum and new benchmark test that we are calling PBAs or Performance Based Assessments. These PBAs are to prepare students for the new upcoming standardized test called PARCC that will be replacing the previous No Child Left Behind assessment which were the HSAs here in Maryland.
I want to clearly state that I am not against the common core. I do not see common core as the enemy. In fact, as an educator I feel for the first time I am working with something that makes sense. As a teacher of ten years, all I’ve known is the No Child Left Behind Era, in which case I thought testing students with a multiple choice test especially for Language Arts was one of the most meaningless assessments ever.
In order to succeed in college and the adult world there are things students need to know but the former HSAs were not really measuring those things. First, yes, everyone should know how to read, write, and do math. But even more so than content skills they need to know how to think critically; problem solve; fail, reflect, and retry, and the assessments with common core I believe can measure those things. The projects are relevant in the way that they present students with a task that usually over the span of days or sometimes even weeks they must complete. I think there can be some improvement with the type of tasks or assignments they give them with the PBAs but I do feel that long range projects and assignments is the right direction to be moving. Students are going to have to problem solve, think critically, and tackle problems in their adult life within their role of family, career, and as a citizen. These are hard and challenging tasks, which might be what has some people frustrated, but that’s what the adult world is, a task or problem and working our way through solving it. Students need to know how to push themselves to work through a challenge if they have any hope of succeeding beyond their school years.
But here is where the problem lies. These assessment really show who has the potential to succeed and sometimes it’s based more on a student’s work ethic and persevance rather than their intelligence. But I have always felt that work ethic will lead an individual to success more so than intelligence. There is clear line within a class who has the potential and the drive and who doesn’t most of the time due to laziness. The problem with the current data driven education system we live in is everything will be focused on the kids who aren’t succeeding. The majority that aren’t succeeding though will be because they’re lazy. Again because of the laziness of a few and the complaints of those that don’t want to push their child harder, we will possibly lower our standards and continue to put band aids on our broken education system. In the past, we have enabled laziness by lowering the bar, caving into parental complaints, giving passing grades rather than what students rightfully earn. If we continue to do this than common core won’t be the improvement for our education system and society that it has the potential to be. Students have to know how to push themselves through a challenge; we are not doing them any favors by not letting them fail. This also ties in to the need to eliminate the fear factor in our education system. Teachers can’t be afraid to push students and give them the failing grade they earn. Some are too afraid to challenge students, let them fail and struggle, for fail of the repercussions he or she will face. Struggle and working through something is how we truly learn. Pushing ourselves to our limits is when we grow. We can’t keep blaming teachers for the laziness of others.
However, another problem is this one size fits all mentality. The problem I’m seeing with the curriculum is it is designed more for the elite rather than with the diverse needs of our population in mind. I don’t feel that more is always better either. As a parent with only a preschool I am already conflicted with the horror stories I am hearing from elementary parents of students coming home with hours upon hours of homework. Children should have homework but throwing too many things at them at once is only going to overwhelm and discourage them from the learning process. All students are not going to be doctors and lawyers. And an even bigger truth that no seems to want to say is they are not all going to college.
Some will lead successful lives without a college degree because they prefer to work with their hands in trade career fields. Giving them all the same test would be like giving doctors and carpenters the same test to enter their fields. As a child that comes from a hard working, blue collar family who lives very fulfilling lives I get quite annoyed with this college is the direction we need to push everyone. If everyone in our society had a college degree, our society would fail to function without the diversity of interest and skills we need in our workforce to function as a society. They should all complete performance based assessments but the tasks given to them to complete should be more appriopriate to their individual strengths and interests. However, deciding that would have to fall to individual teachers, not some policy maker in some high office that has no idea what we’re working with in each individual classroom.
I understand one of the goals of common core is to eliminate the inconsistency for students that move and change schools frequently, but if we take away a teacher’s ability to create assessments that work for her students for her to measure their individual growth throughout the year, then I feel we may just be creating a new set of problems rather than working with common core to be the improvement that it could be.