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April 7, 2021

Responding to Concerns: Does the Common Core Demoralize Teachers?

“If we want uncommon learning for our children in a time of common standards, we must be willing to lower the voices of discontent that threaten to overpower a teaching force who is learning a precise, deliberate, and cohesive practice.” – Sarah Brown Wessling, Huffington Post, February 2013

Recently I began an occasional, but reoccurring blog on Huffington Post. My most recent post, asking if “the Common Core demoralizes teachers” created a flurry of reaction and conversation that certainly reverberated the kinds of insights, misconceptions, and questions that continue to pierce these discussions.

Given all the work Teaching Channel has done and continues to do in making the Common Core accessible to our dedicated, albeit busy, followers, it seemed quite appropriate to tease out some of the issues that surfaced in this latest post, knowing that these conversations are but a microcosm of the issues that pervade all our teaching lives.

Concern over standardization. “The more standardized the lesson, the less skill is required to deliver it.”

In other words, when lessons are standardized, so become the teachers. I see the implicit truth in this comment. Yes. If we created rote lessons and assumed that those lessons would work for all students, then we’d effectively replace the need for a teacher under the auspice that we’re just delivering content. However, teaching is a human endeavor, one much more nuanced than a 20th Century factory-model of education. The lesson here is two-fold:

1) The Standards are not lessons, nor do they ever intend to be. States and districts that interpret the Core with fidelity will remember that standards and standardization are not the same.

2) Teachers must be empowered to use all of their skills to make the concepts in the Core relevant, meaningful and appropriate for their individual learners. To suggest anything else is to demoralize the profession.

Concern over a perceived fleeting nature of the Core. “Here is what I know, Ms. Wessling, after 17 years of teaching. This too shall pass. Your “Common Core” will be replaced in a few years or a few months by something new and equally innovative, some new method that teachers will have to adopt or else and then that method will be replaced. And on and on it goes.”

15 years into this profession, I can empathize with the notion of things that come and go. Sometimes that latest strategy or movement seems like a revolving door. However, the Standards aren’t strategies or curriculums – they’re more like a paradigm from which we devise curriculums and employ strategies. With this in mind, instead of seeing the Common Core like a revolving door, perhaps we could see it as a point on a continuum. We’ve learned lessons that have brought us here and undoubtedly we will continue to evolve and learn from these as well.

Concern about assessment. “The problem is NOT the standards. Good teachers – and there are many – will find a way to offer a healthy and robust learning environment, no matter what the standards. The problem is that with Common Core comes, once again, a standardized test that will be used inappropriately to rank and rate students.”

I share this concern. I hear that these will be “next generation assessments,” that they will embed formative assessment, that they will not be reductive, but help us to understand the degree to which students can transfer their knowledge and skill to a new task. All of that said, if we continue to use them to “rank and rate” rather than as an impetus for continuous growth and improvement, we will find the environment around Common Core to take on a different kind of landscape. We must not only educate ourselves, but those around us on the difference between an assessment that we use to elevate all learners, versus the kind we use to sort them.

Regardless of where you are positioned in your response to the Common Core, Teaching Channel is committed to supporting a robust community of learners who are learning, sharing and advocating together. To see all of our resources on Common Core, check out our Let’s Chat Core series, comprised of blogs, podcasts and webinars all designed to help us grow in this work collectively.

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