Last year, I wrote the post “How Common Core is Slowly Changing My Child.” It struck a nerve with parents and teachers across the country as we all were adjusting to the new Common Core State Standards. I wrote it on a night where everything went wrong and homework was a nightmare for my then third grade son. That day had also been particularly difficult at work as I had begun to teach the first common core module unit to my ninth graders. After the kids went to bed, I wrote. By morning, the response was overwhelming. Two weeks later, I still had parents commenting on the change they had seen in their children due to school.
A year later, almost to the date, the post is making its way onto people’s newsfeed again and I’m getting the same comments from concerned parents and teachers. It’s been a year since I sat on my couch on that October night, angry at New York State for implementing these standards so hastily, but my thoughts are still the same.
Let me be clear: I am just one teacher. Just one mom. I am not speaking on behalf of every teacher across the country, nor am I speaking on behalf of every mom of school aged children. But I do think we have a lot in common, and my experience over the past year speaking with teachers and parents across the country is that there is more harm than good that is happening with the implementation of common core. The standards, in essence, have good intentions. Who can argue that raising the bar and giving all kids in every state a fair shot at these higher standards is a bad thing? Like I said, the intentions are good.
However, the rushed implementation of these standards and the educational practice that has been going along with them has been nothing short of a disaster.
My experience with common core is first as an educator: I teach it in my classroom at the high school level, and second as a mother: I see what my children are doing at the middle and elementary level. A line that I wrote in my first post that I did not articulate clearly enough addressed high school teachers and our role in common core: “But let’s work backwards: our high school teachers signed up for this. We can get our kids college and career ready and if we don’t, shame on us.” High school teachers were angry at that, but what I meant is that since choosing to teach secondary education our goal has always been to prepare our students for the post-secondary education world, whether it be entering the workforce or entering college. Making our students “college and career ready”, the whole basis of common core, is nothing new to us.
What I did not know at the start of the common core implementation, was how common core would look in an elementary classroom, nor was I prepared for what it would do to my children.
The implementation of these standards has also introduced a new curriculum that many schools across New York State have adopted: modules. These modules can be found on the engageNY website, and from what I understand, schools in various states are also using the engageNY modules. Suddenly, rather than allowing teachers to use their expertise, experience, and knowledge to create units aligned to the new standards, teachers were now being handed scripted units to use instead. Units that were not created by teachers, but rather large businesses that did not take into account the different demographics or needs of each district. These modules have taken the creativity away from the teacher. They have taken hands on activities out of the classroom and replaced them instead with close reads and textual evidence lesson after lesson. Our English teachers are now becoming Social Studies and economics teachers. One of the ninth grade modules had me teaching about hedge funds, Ponzi schemes, leveraged money and Bernie Madoff—to fourteen year olds. The modules I work with are age inappropriate, redundant, and boring. I am doing the best I can to make them engaging and fun. Every teacher I know who is teaching using the modules, is doing the best they can with the materials they have.
The modules my children are using are no better. The ELA modules at the elementary level are much the same that I see at the ninth grade level. Passages, close reads, annotating, writing using textual evidence. There is value in that skill. Being an active reader and providing textual evidence is an important skill that is integrated into all subject areas. But where is the fun? Yes, the fun. Elementary school should be equal parts challenging and fun. Our elementary school teachers are creating lifetime learners who love to learn. Taking the fun out of school is taking the love out of school. These ELA modules have replaced fun with “rigor.” The math modules are so complex that parents can no longer effectively help their children with homework. We are working on homework for hours. Last week, my husband and I spent an hour on the engageNY website learning a seventh grade math module lesson, arguing over how to solve for x and y and where to substitute k . We are highly educated adults, not twelve year olds. How does this translate in an average seventh grade math class? My guess? Not well. I can tell you from the anger and frustration on my son’s face as we sat trying to force this concept on him that it has been a unit full of frustration. The same goes for our fourth grade son as well. Homework time at our house is usually met with tears and more often than not, broken pencils and frustrated foot stomping up the stairs to bed.
The concepts are simple. The lengthy process to prove the children understand the concept is not. The reasoning behind the in depth (sometimes six extra steps to solve a simple multiplication problem) is so the children have a better understanding of numbers and how they work. What parents and children are so frustrated about, however, is that our kids know the answer. But after six steps there is more room for error and more room for confusion. Which all leads to more room for frustration.
I stand by my statement that these challenges don’t make our kids feel like they are on the road to being college and career ready in fourth grade. It makes them feel like failures. Why? Because even though they know that 6×5=30, they still got the answer wrong on the test because they weren’t able to “decompose” the problem properly.
A year later, I still see a change in my son. My older son is rolling right along. I wouldn’t say he is enjoying it, he complains about the module packets and the nonstop close reads, but he is faring well. My younger son is still struggling. He lost his love for school that he had in kindergarten, first, and second grade. He’s active in sports and participates in the school band which helps us motivate him to get on the bus but his attitude toward learning is negative. He believes he’s stupid even though we tell him otherwise and even though he is not. We can’t get back these years with him.
But we can fight for him.
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