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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Why can't I wrap my growth mindset around the Common Core?



As hard as I try, I cannot stop rethinking, reframing, and seeking information and real opinions related to the Common Core State Standards.  I'm trying to use the growth mindset model to find the positive aspects we can gain from the intention of the Standards.

From afar, I can see this as just another bad political/business decision for children that we will have to fix, yet again, as soon as we get enough "data" to prove its ineffectiveness.  It is historically cyclical.  However, up close, this is really going to damage an entire generation of brilliant, creative, exuberant minds - oh, and the students, too.  Well, really, mainly the students.

But seriously, even I have fantasized about finding my "next" career.  How can I affect children in a different paradigm than the elementary public school classroom?  That is the saddest commentary ever.  I adore teaching.  I have always adored teaching.  I grow to love it more with every single student, even the toughest -- usually because of the toughest!  It is genuinely one of my first and greatest passions.

This week I have been reflecting on a comment from another teacher during a workshop I attended.  This comment was made by a high school teacher who had recently become the new chair of his department.  That's all I will reveal to keep his identity anonymous.  He had been patiently listening to many other attendees express the fatigue, frustration, and time-sucking problems associated with the new Student Growth Objectives and related paperwork relegated to us by the State.  He said he had to comment or he was going to "burst".  Basically, his opinion was that he was tired of everyone seeing this so negatively (venting and complaining).  He thinks the unit design/planning, data collection, team action planning, and directed focus are all great positives that have come from this Student Growth Objective mandate.  He was tired of the "whining" of those negative viewpoints. He believes we should all be seeing the positive in this.

Well, at first I felt offended.  The room silenced and you could hear crickets chirping.  So I wasn't the only one feeling confused.  This was a positivity leadership workshop yet I felt as though I had just been admonished and had my hand slapped.  How dare he act so pious.  What happened to sharing his viewpoint, not demanding its "obvious" positives to those of us who just "don't get it".  Okay, a bit too far.  But that was my initial reaction.

Today, I'm glad he said that.  It has made me think deeply about my current opinions, both why I hold them, and why he may hold his.  That is the key to a growth mindset! Here are some of my thoughts.

First, he is right!  For a high school teacher, this must be a wonderful model.  It takes the growth of students, uses the data to monitor and adjust, and then drives further instruction.  High school subject areas have direct curricula with essential questions that can become more measurable.  Their pool of students is a larger group to draw conclusions from the empirical data.

However, this already has been the model for decades, at least for the two that I have been teaching.  The difference is, this is done at the local level with assessments created by those who read and interpret the data - us.  The state does not need to be involved in this process.  The high-stakes state testing and mandates will not give anyone unique or more information.  Standardization for the reasons of comparison is impossible with children.  There are too many variables to consider, poverty being the greatest malfeasance.  That is another whole blog post.

Second, he is wrong!  For those of us at the elementary and middle school levels, child development was not even considered in these college-ready based Standards.
"...the Common Core standards were “backmapped” from a description of 12th grade college-ready skills.  There is no evidence that early childhood experts were consulted to ensure that the standards were appropriate for young learners.  Every parent knows that their kids do not develop according to a “back map”—young children develop through a complex interaction of biology and experience that is unique to the child and which cannot be rushed.  -Carol Burris from "A ridiculous Common Core test for first graders" http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/10/31/a-ridiculous-common-core-test-for-first-graders/
As much as I want to find that positive lens and "just go with it", I can't.  We all have to be vigilant for our students.  If we accept this as the status quo, if we accept that the Common Core State Standards are here to stay, we accept that it is right and a reliable source of valuable information.   We have to convince them, we are the experts, we are the champions for our students, we are their voice.  This is not right.  It is not what our education system needs to succeed.  In fact, it sets us up for failure once again.

So I am particularly grateful to that high school teacher/department chair.  He forced me to reexamine why I held the pillar that this trend in education was disastrous for our students.  I am sure (for now) that it is.