The Power of AgreementBy Josh Middleton, Ed.D.
As I write this blog two events are occurring. One is the subtle power of agreement between political parties and educational groups on the disservice and negative impact Common Core is having and will continue to have if allowed to be fully implemented. Second is the not so quiet rebellion by stakeholders at the local level fed up with being told by state and federal Departments of Education that Common Core is a locally and state driven initiative. Just this morning students in Camden, NJ have walked out of classes in protest of the teacher layoffs that have been issued. Over 200 teachers have contracts that will not be renewed for the 2014-15 school year.
I watched Glenn Beck last night on Fox’s O’Reilly Factor as he spoke out against Common Core. Honestly, when I saw he was going to be a guest I started to cringe. I have read a little bit about Beck and have seen him occasionally on TV, and frankly I have found him “cringe worthy” because I am never quite sure what is going to come out of his mouth, and there was a time when I thought he presented himself in a superior and sarcastic manner….. sort of the Conservative’s version of Bill Mahrer. Throughout the interview with conservative host, Bill O’Reilly, I found myself in agreement with Beck. I thought he accurately addressed the concerns of Common Core in the short segment. What surprised me was O’Reilly’s apparent lack of knowledge that Big Business is in bed with Common Core Advocates.
The best remark made by Beck is something I have tried to express over the last half-year. Common Core proponents state these standards are “rigorous” and will help our country be competitive with the rest of the world preparing students to be college and career ready by embedding critical thinking skills. The implication is that “we” (stakeholders who oppose Common Core) have been derelict in challenging students, and if Common Core did not come along, we would simply be asking rote type questions and not talking about opportunities that lie ahead for students. Beck clearly states how ridiculous (and I might add, insulting) this is. Who doesn’t want our country to be successful? Who doesn’t want our students to be lifelong learners? The difference as he points out is the CCSS educational model deviates from what has historically made the US unique from other countries. We should be proud of our local control, we should continue to allow students to dream, be participants in meaningful discussions and lose and find themselves in great fiction. We are not serving ALL students when we have a one size fits all, high-stakes, factory fashioned system. And frankly, I have seen enough CCSS sample homework and test questions that are nothing short of asinine!
Unfortunately, accountability has become a dirty word. I don’t think there is an educator, student, parent or board member who believes there should not be expectations of excellence in our schools, and certainly we need to be wise stewards of taxpayer money. I am simply tired of the “let’s get rid of tenure” argument, the advocacy of Charter Schools, and the denial that schools have to do and teach more with less. Accountability has been the unfortunate buzzword to mean expensive implementation of Common Core standards, the technology used to check how students are doing, and the naïve belief that a new and exhaustive teacher evaluation are going to turn public education around. It won’t. I’ve stated many times before what the wise researcher Philip Schlechty believes; you cannot change the system until you change the culture. When non-educators begin making structural change without involving stakeholders and their culture, it will fail. Colleagues, Common Core and high stakes testing will fail because of the rebellion by those who are in the classrooms, school offices, board rooms, and concerned parent groups. We are not going to stand by this time and have something done TO US instead of WITH US.
Ironically a large faction of the left is in agreement with a large faction of the right: Common Core has to go. The Power of Agreement can go beyond that if we take a step back and agree to some basic tenets. 1) All students can learn, but learning is a function of time so we must be able to differentiate our instruction. 2) The local community knows what is best for their schools and communities, but decision making is being usurped by state and federal departments. That needs to stop. 3) We need to provide opportunities for all students. Charters draw funds and programs that should remain in the local public schools. 4) We do need to measure academic progress of our students, but with weeks on end of testing at the expense of instruction. I am biased toward NWEA MAP testing because my district chose it for our own school improvement plans, not for the state. Teachers received data that same afternoon and could adjust their teaching plans accordingly. For my district, this was not a heavy-handed administrative tool, but one used to support our students’ learning and teachers’ instruction.
5) Lifelong learning for students is the goal. Career and college will fall into place when learning is owned and celebrated. 6) Every financial decision should be based on students and student learning. That means ensuring there is a safe and enriching work environment for students and teachers, and one that welcomes parents to partner where desired and needed.
7) The best school improvement plans are developed at the local level. Instead of state mandated templates, find schools of excellence and if one school is struggling, invest in the professional development to learn from peer schools. 8) If technology purchases are being made primarily for test administration – STOP. That is not technology integration. Our labs and devices can be and should be used to support and enhance a classroom lessons. 9) The Department of Education should be eliminated. Okay, I probably won’t get consensus on this, but they need to stop this nationalized education movement and provide federal funding with broad guidelines for its use. Special Ed funding (besides needing to be fully funded) would continue to serve that population, but I fondly recall when Chapter 2/Title 2 Funds could be used in ways that aligned with local needs. Bottom line is, US DoE needs to immediately stop micromanaging. This includes President Obama and Common Core proponents running for President in 2016.
Public education as we know it should be is attainable. It was not that long ago when there was less state and federal intervention. But for now we may need to develop some strange and unexpected alliances to get us there.
Middleton is a former teacher, administrator, and superintendent. He now retired in Arizona working part-time as an adjunct professor. He is very proud to be associated with the growing group of BATs!