Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Teacher’s Common Core
By:  Dr. Yohuru Williams

For the past few years, teachers have battled against the Common Core questioning its value as an instructional model. At this critical juncture in the battle, when the public finally seems to be awakening to the dangers posed by the Common Core and high stakes testing, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the Teacher’s Common Core, and the ways in which it differs from the vision of the so-called Education Reformers. The Teacher’s Common Core constitutes those core values, beliefs, and ideas that inform and shape teacher’s view of education and it is purpose. They are not complex at all –in fact, one of the letters in the word Core represents each of the foundational ideas. They include Compassion, Opportunity, Respect, and Engagement.

Compassion: While it might seems odd, at first blush to have to remind the so-called Education Reformers of this fact: Teaching is a humanistic enterprise. It begins with basic human compassion. The synonyms for compassion highlight the teacher’s primary motivation, concern, empathy, sympathy, kind-heartedness. All are necessary for success in the classroom. Even the most hardnosed teachers, who practice tough love, at their core evidence many, if not all of these qualities in some way. For teachers, every student is unique—which is why we reject the one size fits all approach imposed by the Common Core. We believe that students deserve better than that. They deserve to be treated like individuals and not test scores. We reject the notion that our schools must become boot camps or armed fortresses for students to learn. Classroom experience, which most so-called Education reformers lack, tells us that. The failures of both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have been rooted in their lack of compassion. We cannot level the playing field by ignoring the mountains of research and evidence that point to the effectiveness of humanistic differentiated instruction over the cold and compassionless dehumanizing data of test scores. How many hopes and dreams have been crushed in the pursuit of hollow test scores that barely complete the portrait of today’s learners? Brimming with energy and with abundant technology at their disposal, they have nevertheless been stifled by education policies that deny them the opportunity to explore new heights in those pursuits that privilege individuals and human concern, the very essence of American enterprise and democracy. The Teacher’s Common Core knows this. It is why teachers across disciplines have fought for smaller class sizes, afterschool programs, science camps, technical and vocational education along with vigorous support for music, and the arts. We know and understand that this is, for many students where inspiration lifelong passions are born. Testing can never replicate this.

Opportunity-The Teacher’s Common Core encourages opportunity. Over the course of our nation’s history, teachers have been at the forefront of the democratization of education. Some of our greatest triumphs as a society have been born in classrooms. One of the key components of Voter Education drives during the Civil Rights Movement, for example, was the creation of freedom schools to help those denied an education acquire the tools of basic literacy so that they might fully participate in the democratic process. Coming from different districts of varying size and wealth, teachers share a basic commitment to the idea that every student has the right to an education that allows them to pursue a range of opportunities beyond those we are told constitute the new demands of corporate America. Schools continue to employ a number of important functions, the least not of which is helping students understand their role in a participatory democracy. While teachers appreciate the need to help educate students to enter a changing job market—one of the greatest tragedies of the battle over corporate education reform up until this point has been the way in which the so-called Education Reformers have run roughshod over the democratic process. Teachers collectively recognize the need for students to understand that part of what drives education is learning how to become caretakers of the democratic process and preserve it for future generations. That begins with recognizing and pursuing opportunities to shape public policy based on their needs and interests and holding those who restrict or deny the same accountable.

Respect- It seems rather obvious but teaching and the Teacher’s Common Core begins with respect. Respect for the students, the parents, the administrators, and the teachers who must work collectively to create education models that empower our youth. This delicate balance is compromised whenever we allow any one of these important stakeholders to be devalued. For years, over the imposition of top down education reform, teachers have fought for a more holistic approach to education that involves working to incorporate not only these voices but also others in the discussion. From the civics teacher that shuttles his students off for a trip to city hall, to the science teacher who teaches students through involvement with urban gardening, to the economics teacher who promotes Junior Achievement—teachers understand that it takes a village. Respect, unfortunately has not been a two way street as of late. The Corporate Education Reforms have done a bang up job undercutting teaching as both a calling and a profession. They have also undermined students and parents—in ways that have been equally appalling. The Teacher’s Common Core posits that an educational system built on anything other than respect and human dignity is doomed to failure by denying it constituents not only a voice but a recognized place at the table in fashioning future instructional standards and policies reflective of the students, parents and professionals who know best.

Engagement- Teachers have long held that students must be engaged to apply what they have learned in a way that is useful to themselves and the larger community. In the age before Common Core, this type of engagement was increasingly common. A few years back, for instance, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Social Studies teachers engaged in helping students hone their writing skills by corresponding with soldiers in Iraq on fundamental questions of democracy and service. I also had the honor to work with a Maryland music teacher using music composition and history to reach bipolar students. In 2012, I worked with an amazing group of New York teachers and students on a project that sought to get students to think about and engage with the great civil rights issues of their day including stop and frisk. One of the most significant critiques of the Common Core is that it robs teachers these types of opportunities. Teachers simply do not have the time to engage students or create such interactions when all value is placed on test scores. From New York to Alaska, there are abundant examples of these types of projects that I would submit have made students far more college ready than any test. For in the end what they measure is not simply testing taking ability but the essence of the Teacher’s Common Core—including the ability of students to show care and compassion in their work, recognize and pursue opportunities that benefit themselves and others, respect the people and spaces in which they work and engage with the larger community. This is why in addition to standardized test scores, college, and university admissions offices still require students to submit teacher recommendations. They recognize what Education Reformers seem hopelessly unable to see—the measure of a student’s ability and a life extends beyond testing. In the immortal words of Jackie Robinson, who often credited one of his coaches’ turned counselor with helping to keep him on the right path “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” That is the Teacher’s Common Core.



  1. Its tough job to be a teacher these days you need to be updated with all the latest topic because students getting smarter and smarter day by day

  2. "Students getting smarter and smarter day by day"

    Some of them are but too many in the U.S. are just getting Dumb and Dumber thanks the Common Core standardized testing and its Bill Gates supported and funded rank and yank agenda to get rid of teachers and close the public schools.


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