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Implementing the Common Core: Needed Time for a Change

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The Common Core has become our behemoth. It has caught us up in its power and its demands. It lacks curricular meat while requiring an entirely new set of skills on the part of the teachers. Yet, those in politically powerful positions, leading the charge for this change, are convinced it can be done, it will be done, and now. Let's look at one change that affects every teacher, the teaching of academic vocabulary. In New York State, the information that has been shared on the State Education Department's website, EngageNY is growing. The State's implementation strategy relies on turnkey training opportunities. Educators who are mostly not currently teachers working in school districts are hired by Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), the regional educational agencies, to complete this work. They have been hired with Race to the Top funds and are called to Albany every few months for week-long training sessions. In these, they engage in intensive trainings provided by still more consultants. The sessions go long into the evening hours. Then those trained return and are charged with changing the practice of all the teachers ...ALL THE TEACHERS... in their regions.

The effectiveness of the turnkey training depends upon how each BOCES designs it and how each school district accesses and incorporates it. No teacher can or should be out of the classroom for weeks at a time, so it is the job of the turn-key trainer to try to distill, from the training they received, the basics of this complex and overwhelming work. Here is just one paragraph taken from a 35 page appendix (entitled Appendix A English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects).

"Because Tier Three words are obviously unfamiliar to most students, contain the ideas necessary to a new topic, and are recognized as both important and specific to the subject area in which they are instructing students, teachers of often define Tier Three words prior to students encountering them in a text and then reinforce their acquisition throughout a lesson. Unfortunately, this is not typically the case with Tier Two words, which by definition are not unique to a particular discipline and as a result are not the clear responsibility of a particular content area teacher. What is more, many Tier Two words are far less well defined by contextual clues in the texts in which they appear and are far less likely to be defined explicitly within a text than are Tier Three words. Yet Tier Two words are frequently encountered in complex written texts and are particularly powerful because of their wide applicability to many sorts of reading. Teachers thus need to be alert to the presence of Tier Two words and determine which ones need careful attention" (p.33).

Really? Does this communicate meaning? Teachers who have been working with vocabulary workbooks and having students look-up words in a dictionary do need to change. Principals who have observed those practices need to understand that the practices and the people have to change. All teachers need to know how to develop the academic vocabulary of their students so they can understand what they are reading or being asked to do. It takes time to understand tier three words...tier two words...etc. Think of it this way, how many of us would be satisfied to go to a doctor who was shown in one or two days how to do a new procedure by an "expert", who attended 20, or even 40 days of training and then at most was given 3 to 4 days to train the doctor and left them with an internet resource as support? We are doing that to our teachers. We do not have the time to digest what the Common Core Standards are telling us to do. We need time and that essential time is not allowed. To add insult to injury, students, teachers, and principals will be evaluated on test results from assessments based upon these standards that are new and yet unlearned. We do need to make changes. This politically enforced method of implementation may not be the best way to do it.

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(Are we alone responsible for arriving at this point in education? On Tuesday, part two of this post will be entitled "Implementing the Common Core and Mr. Potato Head!")

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