This coming August, teachers will report to school a full week before the students to be indoctrinated into the “data driven” world of Common Core, post-pandemic. If you’re a fly on the wall, you will observe nail-biting teachers, with their legs nervously pumping up and down under the cafeteria tables, already fearful about having to perform and making sure that their “data” from computerized assessments (given frequently) are being used to drive their instruction. What should be a happy day, filled with joyful expectation and celebration of a new beginning, will, most likely, be anything but, for many of them.
Welcome to the nightmare of most teachers. Common Core drives every instructional decision they make.
I spent most of my adult life as an educator.
After twenty-three years, I could have become a school principal, but instead, I quit.
Although I never taught in Mississippi, I felt compelled to write about this national education reform initiative, which has impacted every state in the union. It’s the tenth anniversary of Common Core, and I’ll be sharing my first-person perspective on how it has impacted our education system. I cannot speak for every teacher’s feelings regarding Common Core. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools shifted their focus from adherence to Common Core to just being able to survive an unprecedented year of online instruction. This coming school year, most schools will be back to face-to-face instruction and the focus on Common Core. All I can do is share my story– and I have a lot to say about why Common Core hurts kids.
Once upon a time, I was a creative, idealistic young teacher. I was passionate about being the best I could be. I certified in multiple subject areas beyond my English grades 6-12 certificate. I also got certified in English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), Elementary Education, Exceptional Student education (K-12), Family and Consumer science (more commonly known as Home Economics), and Educational Leadership (K-12). I moved from teaching in parochial schools to public schools, and taught in mostly Title One schools, serving largely minority and impoverished populations, because I felt that is where I could best use my talents. I was awarded the Disney Teacheriffic Award for creating and implementing innovative curriculum that I co-created with other teachers at both the elementary and middle school levels. Standardized scores of my students always reflected significant gains, largely, in part, due to my emphasis on small group instruction and really taking the time to know– and love– each student, so I could tailor my instruction accordingly. I was awarded the Disney Teacheriffic Award by the Walt Disney Company teacher not once, not twice, but five consecutive times, back in the early 2000’s. I earned a Masters in education from Stetson University in 2002 (Educational Leadership). I earned National Board Certification in 2002. Only about 1% of teachers nationally are National Board Certified. I gained experience teaching every grade from K-12, moving from teaching my own classes into a quasi-administrative role as a curriculum resource specialist. I was constantly seeking out opportunities to refine my craft to its highest level for the benefit of my students, with my special mix of faith, trust, and pixie dust.
For those of you who are late to the party, Common Core was implemented about ten years ago. What is Common Core? Common Core was a bold initiative introduced in 2010 to reform national standards of teaching English and Math to increase career and college readiness.
The reason for me providing my history as an educator is not to toot my own horn. It was my effort to point out that, despite being a committed, experienced, competent teacher, even I was driven out of education. I understand why so many teachers quit the profession, because I was one of them. Common Core totally changed what and how I taught my students.
More than a decade after the 2010 release of Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics, no convincing evidence exists that the standards had a significant, positive impact on student achievement.
The failure of Common Core can only be understood in the context of standards-based reform, of which Common Core is the latest and most famous example. For three decades, standards-based reform has ruled as the policy of choice for education reformers– most of whom were never teachers.
This crazy-making, dull, developmentally inappropriate “Alice-in-Wonderland” style Common Core curriculum is robbing our hope for the future, our precious children, of their peace of mind and self-expression, and draining all creativity and inspiration out of teachers who are now trying to sell a useless product all day long.
As a teacher, my heart broke for my high school students, especially. I witnessed the mounting pressure and stress caused by the fear of not graduating, based on one flawed assessment, which was not a true measure of ability, usually graded by hourly, uneducated temp workers. These students, after sitting at a desk for fourteen years (pre-K all the way up to twelfth), at best, were subjected to tests designed to shake their faith in their academic abilities and cause undue emotional harm, and, at worst, destroy futures by withholding their diplomas.
In 2012, two years into Common Core, I witnessed more and more students disengaged from wanting to learn for learning’s sake. The fire of enthusiasm with which they enter Kindergarten was extinguished by the time most of them arrived in my English III classroom, dead in the eyes, from being subjected to “drill and kill” methods of instruction so that teachers could meet all the Common Core curricular requirements. There was no longer TIME to do creative projects and depart from the standard curriculum for exploration of engaging topics. Teachers were expected to follow along in the book and be on the right page on the same day as every other teacher, or suffer the consequences by being disciplined by our administrators.
I was always a bit of rebel, which is to what I credited my effectiveness. I thought outside the box. Heck, I turned that box into a sailboat and sailed my students to academic excellence in it! I was used to doing my own thing my own way, because it worked! I figured, as long as my test scores were good, no one would care if I was on page 35 of the workbook on a Wednesday or not. I assumed respect for my craft as an award-winning, educated, veteran teacher would supersede such punitive disciplinary action. I was wrong.
As a National Board Certified Teacher, I was used to– and welcomed– having other educators in my classroom to observe me. One day, a group of district-level educators popped in to my classroom, unannounced. It happened to be on a day that I was teaching Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (spoiler alert: skip the next sentence if you haven’t read it yet!).
My high school juniors were deeply engaged in a debate about whether or not George should have killed Lenny when the administrators shuffled into the back of my classroom with their clipboards, taking notes. So much higher-level thinking was evident in their well-constructed arguments. Learning was evident, and I felt proud!
I tried my best to create a safe, sacred space where beautiful, thought-provoking literature was still read, enjoyed, and internalized. I tried to allow for opportunities to speak and write which required more than regurgitating textual evidence so that the authentic voices of my students were heard and valued. Teenagers demand an outlet for self-expression in order to feel whole, and it was worth being a rebel to give them that outlet. I tried to foster a sense of community and gave my students as much creative freedom and independence as I could get away with. I tried daily to deflect restrictions which would strip so many beautiful and worthy American classics from the curriculum and got in trouble sometimes for teaching them, anyway, because I felt my students were worth working around this flawed system, even though it meant putting my position in jeopardy by deviating from the Common Core. This is what got me in trouble. My principal called me in to his office at the end of that day. Expecting praise, I was instead reprimanded for not following the curriculum and teaching a boring article on page 35 of the workbook instead of Steinbeck! The workbook, filled with Common Core boring non-fiction articles, were still sitting in my back classroom cabinets as the symbol of my defiance. We enjoyed Of Mice and Men when we were “supposed” to be reading a dull Geocaching article (not that there’s anything wrong with Geocaching. That’s not the point. In fact, it would have been much more relevant to TAKE the students Geocaching, but that field trip would not have been approved).
Our minds look for connections when we learn, and nothing fits together, creating confusion, discord, and ambivalence in these kids. There are no connections to their lives, and much of this seems irrelevant. All. Day. Long.
I always had faith in my abilities as an educator. My passion has always been using my creativity in a way that made children light up and want to learn. I always knew that I could take a mundane concept and, with a little faith in my creative abilities, I could turn it into a memorable learning experience for my students. That was my secret ingredient to my teaching success.
Schooling in the era of creativity-stripped Common Core is too rigid and scientifically managed for the innovative likes of me.
Sadly, it seems that the powers-that-be no longer trusted me–or my colleagues–anymore.
Common Core dictates when, how, and for how long each subject is taught, with consequences for those teachers who dare break these mandates. Teachers are stressed over performance and making sure they’re following the “district curriculum calendar” and are closely monitored and reprimanded for any deviation from the plan, while, at the same time, they are expected to “use the data” to improve instruction for students who struggle with certain concepts, as evidenced by their test scores. The glitch in the system is that if we follow the carefully-constructed district curriculum calendar as we are required to, there is no time to go back and reteach an entire class a concept (that the “data” from testing indicates that they might still need help with), otherwise, we are reprimanded for “not following the calendar,” because we must keep moving forward with teaching the next concept. We should save that remediation for “small groups.” Say what? And when, exactly, is small group instruction supposed to happen when the calendar never makes time for it?
I look back at my younger, more optimistic self with heartache.
I look forward and I feel deep sadness, as I see no end in sight to the madness of public schools chasing the Federal and State dollars from the maligned and developmentally inappropriate Common Core assessments, for which districts are enticed to “sell out” their students.
What are we doing to children in the name of education?
I live by the words, “do no harm,” but my faith in the belief that testing my students, ad nauseum, as an agent of the state, has not caused harm, is questionable, at best.
As a teacher, I took a vow to stand “in loco parentis” (Latin for “in the place of parents”), and I took that vow very seriously over twenty-three years. With every choice I made on how to deliver instruction, I always tried to stop and think about how I would want my own child educated. I just hope it was enough.
I could not endure one more second of BORING, dry, uninspiring, confusing state-sponsored programming posing as education.
For a while, I thought maybe I could keep trying to secretly sabotage a system that’s broken by design and risk losing a career that I’ve dedicated over half my life to for the benefit of the students, but I got too worn out to fight anymore.
Federal lawmakers: please, stop the insanity. Too many of we educators, many of whom have always dreamed of teaching and living lives of service, are leaving our vocation because we know the game is rigged and our students simply cannot win. To be the puppets who deliver their inevitable defeat, when we entered this profession for the opposite result, is too much for us to bear.
If we feel this way, just imagine how the children feel having to endure day after day of this nonsense.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It’s been ten years, and there’s no data proving that Common Core works, so why are we still implementing it in schools?
In the War on Kids that is Common Core, nobody wins.
Loveless, Tom. Between the State and the Schoolhouse: Understanding the Failure of Common Core, 2021, Harvard Education Press.