(Un) Common Core

It’s perfectly normal for our educators to be constantly looking for a better way to prepare our children for life’s challenges in an increasingly competitive world. I expect them and want them to do that.

As our kids go up through the grades, our school system tests our kids to try and understand the effectiveness of our teaching styles. With all the technology we have today, it seems that our school system should be turning out 100% rocket scientists. But sadly, that is not the case.

Test scores vary but they are not where we want them to be. Our kids don’t seem to be coming away with the skill sets needed. This has caused folks in the profession to take a hard look at current approaches to teaching and some changes are being proposed in Wakefield.
Here are some score charts that were sent home to parents this past summer. Below the charts are numbers that represent our school's average test scores by grade compared to the NH averages.

ELA

Math

Our Grades       vs      NH Avg.

If we set the wayback machine for the 1960’s when I was in grammar school we can see that new approaches to the “three R’s” (readin’,writin,‘rithmatic) were being tried even then. We had something called the “new math”. It differed slightly from total memorization of math tables. I seem to remember that it focused on teaching us that it was more important to understand what you were doing rather than to get the right answer. It didn’t take me long to scrap that method after I’d been given wrong change a few times and didn’t notice it. To this day, I can still calculate in my head the amount of money I will receive in change at the lunch counter. Unfortunately, the young person who is serving me lunch can’t seem to do that without the help of a machine. So much for better teaching methods!

Back then, we were also told that the whole USA would be converting to the metric system of measurements “in a couple years” as we were forced to learn meters, liters, centimeters, milliliters and more. We know how that went. It’s been 60 years!

I heard that for a while they had stopped teaching cursive writing. This probably has something to do with computers and keyboards, emails and web sites as the primary way of communication these days. I only have one question about that: How do you sign your name if you don’t know how to write it?
If you don’t know cursive writing, can you read the Constitution?
These are just some funny examples of how making a better mousetrap doesn’t always work.

Getting back to our local educators…… whose pay rates seem to be continually going up….., It’s a fact that they’re feeling pressure to improve the test scores that indicate what’s being learned at school. A recent school board meeting presentation by our very own “Miss Know-it-all” , Tracey Kolb, showed some colorful, confusing charts that supposedly supported statements that “…..the state of New Hampshire scored higher……” than most states when this relatively new teaching and testing style called Common Core has been used. But Wakefield does not use that style of teaching and testing. She states further that we still use the older “Massachusets standard that has been discontinued……it may have been excellent at one time……but it is no longer used by the State of New Hampshire…..It has been archived…….it also does not align with the State of NH.”  What's all this talk of "alignment"??
This sounds like our “massachusets” teaching and testing style is being blamed for our lower test scores.

It’s being stated that Wakefield’s approach to curriculum is “not aligned” with State standards but no explanations of this are being presented. It might be best to watch the School Board 9-17-19 meeting (jump to 1 hr 18 mins) to experience the confusing information that is being presented as a sales pitch to quickly move forward with a new approach that was:

1: Soundly rejected by the community a few years ago.
2: Could take several years to implement.
3: May not be as effective as is being presented.

I have many questions that I feel need to be answered before I can make a decision whether to support this change:
1: What exactly is Common Core? This term appeared to be mostly avoided during the SB presentation, possibly because of the pushback and bad vibe associated with it. The only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that the “Common” part of it refers to the desire for every child in every classroom across the State and country to be proficient in the expected skill set as they complete each grade level. Our Superintendent stresses that using these standards will create a “level playing field” for our students compared with other school districts so that our students have the “…..ability to participate and compete…..” with their peers. This idea has merit on a national level. There are areas of the country that do not embrace the value of education. However, that is generally not the case in New England and New Hampshire. You only need to look at your tax bill to be reminded of just how much support we give to our educators.

2: Another concern about “Common Core” standards is that it is yet another Federal Government intrusion into our lives. Supporters say it’s not. However, you don’t have to look very far back in time to find that another government program called “no child left behind” did not live up to its promise and was ultimately abandoned in favor of yet another government program called the Every Student Succeeds Act. Depending on who you ask, it appears that the Feds do have a hand in Common Core, however small. Part of the objection to CC is based on the belief that it’s really important to keep local control over what our children learn.

3: Is Common Core just a new way of “teaching to the test”? I can’t tell because there is so much confusing information being passed out. Our Superintendent stated “…(common core) it’s not, here’s how I’m gonna teach it. Here’s the book we’re going to use. Here’s the methodology…….” What???
Everything I read says that it is all about new tests, new textbooks, and new teaching methods.
CC is being sold to us with confusing information. We’re being told that we’re the only ones who haven’t embraced this better mousetrap and it’s keeping our kids from receiving the knowledge they need. Now that CC has been around for about ten years the evidence and opinions of its effectiveness are mixed. Test scores are not increasing according to predictions. Some school systems are actually dropping CC.

Here’s a Forbes article about this:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/nealmccluskey/2018/10/18/common-core-doesnt-seem-to-be-working-that-may-be-just-fine/#547c0ed96993

I see the need for Wakefield to go very slow before we make changes for several reasons. There are many questions that need to be answered and many pieces of the puzzle that need to be fitted into place before we leap into a whole new curriculum style.
First, we have an inexperienced Superintendent. He still has his training wheels on but he seems to be determined to “boldly go where no man has gone before” and he’s towing his cheerleaders, several school board members along with him. I mean, what the hell is a “NON-meeting” that the School Board, recently prodded by the new Superintendent, can go into, without public observance? He thinks it’s a good idea. I’ve never heard of such a thing.

And why bring these issues forward now when there is so much more to do? In the last year, the School Board has had many challenges thrown at them. Their track record of problem solving and communication is poor. Instead of reaching out for help and support by involving the community, certain members of the SB and administration have created division and separated themselves from those they serve. I believe their credibility to be at an all time low. Solving budget issues, getting a new teachers contract approved and regaining public support should be a high priority right now.

I’m very confused about what Common Core is designed to accomplish. They say the goal is to have all kids know the same things when they complete each grade…… but we all learn at different rates. It seems like there is an emphasis on conformity, not diversity. Kids learn best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents. Will there be any room for creativity or individuality?

And then we have this huge emphasis on testing….and scores. Testing has its place as a diagnostic tool but I have concerns that the focus of educators has strayed away from teaching and learning and places too much emphasis on testing. The proponents of the Common Core insist that it is simply a set of “standards” and not a “curriculum.” It is, in fact, very much a curriculum. * The Common Core standards are finely detailed, grade-by-grade specifications for what should be taught, how it should be taught and when it should be taught. * The content of the exams inevitably drives what the teachers teach. * That’s because the teachers want their students to succeed, but it is also because the teachers themselves will be judged on the basis of how well their students perform on the tests.

Another disconcerting issue is the distance that Common Core may create between parents and their children’s education. You will probably no longer be able to help with your child’s homework because you may not understand any of it. You still rely on the time tested “granny method” of math as one example. It’s like having a nightmare where you’re trying to help your child over some hurdle but you’re given foreign instructions. This is reason enough to rethink any fast moves that are being proposed.

I highly doubt that we can somehow squeeze better educational “performance” from students by imposing a national regimen of standards and tests. * Using a system of command and control to turn out carbon copy human beings is never going to work because education doesn’t go on at board meetings. It goes on in classrooms where teachers must use individual approaches to stimulate a thirst for learning to a diverse variety of learning styles. If you remove that discretion, it doesn’t work. Education can never become a mechanized process that will become improved through better data.

I have some ideas that might help bring the whole community into a comfort level of support for any future changes in our teaching approaches. If the Administrators really want this and feel it is the answer to low test scores, they will first need to educate ALL of us. Making a change of this magnitude should be a slow process. After everyone knows all the details, it will be time to make a decision.

1: Bring us verifiable examples of towns where this has worked……and where it hasn’t.
2: Show us why it worked in one town but didn’t in another so we can avoid pitfalls.
3: Show us how the old way and the new way relate. Allow the public to digest the new textbooks and teaching styles before this is implemented.
4: Teach parents the skills they will need to help their children at home.
5: Have some presentations at meetings with educators who explain in detail the different approaches used when teaching to Common Core standards.
6: Offer classes and additional help for parents with any struggles they have understanding this new teaching approach.

It’s time to stop making children learn……. and start helping them want to learn.

J.M.

Note: I took some text and paraphrased a few parts of my post from these web addresses. They are all worth a further look.
A quick google search for "is common core working" will produce as much pro as con results on this issue.

(* is used where I may have used some text from these articles)

https://www.forbes.com/sites/nealmccluskey/2018/10/18/common-core-doesnt-seem-to-be-working-that-may-be-just-fine/#547c0ed96993

https://nypost.com/2015/04/11/common-core-tests-take-the-imagination-out-of-education/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX78iKhInsc

 

 

One Comment

  1. Priscilla Colbath said:

    I went to the School Board meeting tonight..I lasted 45 minutes. At their last meeting, the Board decided, with prodding from the Chairman Bob Ouellette, to have a Public Forum to get input from the community, parents, and teachers on member Tracey Kolb’s presentation to the Board about changing from their present Standards to Common Core Standards. Now this is the first I’d heard of this and I watch all the meetings. This is a huge decision and Tracey was ready to make a motion to implement these Standards at the last meeting without hearing from others in the community. By Board consensus, there was to be nothing on this agenda except this one item and possibly a non-public for a negotiation discussion. After seeing the loaded agenda I wondered how and why this had been abandoned and changed to public comment under Old Business. I wrote an email to the Superintendent and asked and when I did not receive a response I decided to attend the meeting. Some teachers were in attendance and a handful of community members and I don’t believe there were any parents. Mr. Ouellette set down some ground rules, you will have three minutes and if time allows you may speak again after everyone else has that opportunity. One audience member asked if they planned to actually have an advertised Public Forum and was told it was up to the Board. For the next 25 minutes, the Board argued amongst themselves. I said point of order and asked if the public was going to be able to speak. Their board discussion continued until I and another audience member got up and left saying this is a waste of our time. This is not the way to treat the public. This is not being transparent. But this appears to be the way this board conducts business

    October 1, 2019
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