Angie Sullivan teaches young children in Nevada. She writes occasional letters to state legislators, journalists, and other educators.
She writes here to refute the canard that only conservatives don’t like Common Core.
Here are my liberal thoughts taken directly from my decades of teaching experience and my Nevada classroom.
Free versions of state standards are published all over the Internet. Lots and lots of free sets without a copyright and most likely with research based best practice attached. Standards have always been a part of Nevada education or at least as far back as 1990 when I taught first grade in Winnemucca, Nevada. Teachers in each state, including Nevada, created standards based on research and best practice and the specific needs in each state. This was routine and done annually. Many many sets of K-12 standards are readily available to anyone at any time. Different sets have strengths and weakness – and common core is no exception.
Problem One: These common core standards were not created by people who represented my specific area K-2. Early childhood was obviously not represented in common core development meetings. When you increase the rigor two grade levels by forcing down the standards, working backward from college – you end up with 3rd grade rigor in Kindergarten. This is not developmentally appropriate and doesn’t work. Example: A singular Kindergarten writing standard that requests a five year old write a fact and opinion paper – without addressing writing letters or words first is not good. I don’t mind rigor. I do mind legislated mandates the equivalent of education malpractice. When almost every prominent Early Childhood Researcher and Professor makes a public statement against Common Core – politicians should listen. This is going to create significant issues down the road because Nevada students were never taught at their instructional level due to mandated rigor.
In the past, Nevada classroom teachers were given an opportunity to join a team to work on standards and they were slowly modified to increase rigor. Standards were standards. And now politicians try to convince us common core is the same – just another set. This set is completely different because it was lobbied nationally and sent down with money attached. Unfortunately not enough money to implement properly – but in a cash starved state like Nevada too much to turn down whether the standards were appropriate or not. Financially punishing states for not implementing a national set of standards is new and weird.
Also there is an overall tragic assumption that what is good for kids in Connecticut will also meet the needs of kids in Nevada. That is crazy. Meeting individual needs helps kids – not mandating “rigor”. While it is nice to know what typical grade level work should look like – when you work in a community that is typically three years or more behind before ever setting foot in a public school – individualized differentiated instruction that will authentically teach children should be the emphasis. We should not be in a hurry to introduce rigor. Our Nevada kids do not need rigor. Believe me. All they get is rigor. And it leads to failure on every level.
Problem Two: Teachers are used to revisions in standards. Small methodical common sense and appropriate revisions. When you hear education reformers state – drastic disruption – run away! Since teachers have to buy our own materials and implement curriculum without much support in Nevada – pressing down crazy drastic reform without the $151 million to implement caused major stress and teachers became overwhelmed. Teachers are obedient people who try to make due and wait for appropriate change. Many teachers I know support the common core in public and then struggle in significant and real ways in private. Silence or even public supportive announcements from educators does not mean these standards will make significant change or benefit kids – it means teachers are afraid to complain. And when teachers have problems with a standard now – where do we go to improve them. Do we lobby in Washington? Where is the body that actually controls the benchmarks for Nevada’s children now?
It is misinformation to say Nevada had no standards or we weren’t improving Nevada standards before common core. Any veteran experienced teacher who has been teaching in Nevada can tell you that history. In fact, using data, Nevada was actually doing significantly better and making steady growth puttering around at a methodical balanced pace than we are doing now that we have been “reformed”. We will never know what could have happened if we had patiently stayed the course instead of insisting on drastic, destructive immediate improvement. Instead we are now going to stagnate due to disruption and wonder why all the money we spent in the wrong direction did not work according to return on investment.
Problem Three: Standards weren’t the problem and data does not clearly identify the real issues. Rushing to implement the next fad that was not research based, supported, and well thought out has been devastating to public schools. We were on track to improve but had significant obstacles that were growing faster than our steady improvements. Now I’m afraid we may never recover from legislated whiplash. When a lobbyist is telling you things that sound idealistic and unrealistic- please question their credentials. If they have not been in the classroom directly working with Nevada kids in the last five years – I would question what they really could add to the conversation – especially if they are representing a corporation or for-profit entity. Educational fads, scams, and frauds are expanding at an alarmingly rapid rate and misusing tax payer funds.
It is misinformation that if we did not have common core – that we would have nothing. Plenty of free standard information is circulated. You also have thousands of professionals in Nevada who can help create whatever standards are needed – just as we did for decades before common core.
Problem Four: No one wants to admit they made a mistake. Teachers do not feel comfortable being vocal about the problems because of possible workplace harassment, appearing negative or insubordinate. We have flawed standards like everyone else in America who accepted them. We have spent large amounts of resources and moved in a direction that did not authentically educate kids. We are supposed to take comfort from the fact that we are not alone? This does not mean kids will improve or that teachers get what they need to teach. It is not working – so we continue to throw more resources in the wrong direction? Too late to go back now is the answer? We still have big problems.
It is misinformation that Nevada was not competitive. Or that we had drastically different standards than other states. That is simply a lie. I grew up in Nevada when we funded near the top in the nation and everyone received an education comparable to everywhere else in the United States. I have taught or worked in schools across the United States including Nevada, Texas, Delaware, New Jersey, Maine, Ohio, Maine, and Florida. States all had about the same standards but they were based on research and best practice. And no one would have thought that standards developmentally appropriate for an eight year old should be the benchmark for a five year old.
What has changed in Nevada education over the last decades? Simply a huge increase in population that includes large numbers of families in poverty. Children in Nevada need more support to be successful than they needed in the past. Spending resources to manipulate standards doesn’t address the real problem does it?
Problem Five: Someone told politicians this expensive fix would solve a problem we simply did not have. Now we have to try to teach inspite of unfunded, unsupported legislated mandates and common core. When it doesn’t make sense – teachers like me roll our eyes and plug forward. There is a myth that teachers were the problem when we were actually the solution. Now I post the standards, reflect on the stupidity, and the look into those precious faces in my classroom and teach small people to read and do math. I teach inspite of many crazy mandates. And sometimes I weep because I’m not able to think of a creative way to get around the destruction imposed on me. I do not have what I really need because we are busy trying to get federal money or buying product from vendors that donated to campaigns?
If things improve in Nevada education, it will not be because of reform.
It will be because professional teachers take back our schools and tell politicians to let us do our professional jobs. This reform is preventing me from teaching. It would be nice if I could get some textbooks, books at a variety of instructional levels, paper, and technology for my classroom.
You can count on me. I love my kids. I know their names and advocate for them daily. Please do not mandate things like common core that waste my time and keep me from doing my job.
O God hear the words of my mouth – hold Nevada’s children in your hand and protect the women who teach babies to read.
It is not just the far right that has problems with common core. Those of us with university degrees based in research and developmental educational theory hate the common core too.