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Leading the Common Core: Engaging in Difficult Conversations

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Every year on July 4th, Independence Day, we celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress. It proclaims the beginning of a new nation, separate from Great Britain.  Now, it still is a recognition of our independence accompanied by a summer day off, retail store sales, fireworks, picnics with red, white and blue tablecloths, and American flags waving on porches.  Some hold the history and the importance of freedom close and take moments for gratitude.  Others celebrate.  Differences and our freedom to be different have been part of our national identity since its creation. Debates abound about where and how we are free to express those differences. This past weekend an Iraqi veteran reminded us that this is exactly why it is a privilege to live in this country. The point is well taken. With those freedoms appreciated our minds turned to the Common Core and lessons from two recent encounters.

The Common Core Conundrum   
Recently, once in a doctor's waiting room and once in a gathering of friends, the realization that understanding and perspective can be limiting became vividly apparent. Ironically, both related to the Common Core.  The first was sitting in a doctor's office waiting room between a grandmother and a younger woman. The younger woman opened a conversation and the grandmother seized the opportunity. Eventually, it was revealed that the young woman was a mother of three whose children were in a private school. She freely offered that she was totally opposed to the Common Core, a topic about which the grandmother only knew about from TV news. So, here, in the waiting room, the grandmother had her first live encounter with "someone in the know."

The other, one a doctor and one a teacher were certain that the Common Core was ruining schools.  The doctor spoke of how her patients told her that the Common Core was bad.  And that she knew of teachers who lost their jobs because of the Common Core.  When asked how she knew they lost their jobs because of the Common Core and not for some other reason like shrinking enrollment, or some other factor, she was certain it was the Common Core that caused her dismissal.  The teacher railed against the Common Core saying that teachers know much better what their students need and each teacher should be allowed to teach what they know their students can learn. 

When suggesting that we clarify whether we are talking about the Common Core or the tests used to measure their progress, both saw no difference. This is going to take patience and a willingness to engage in very difficult decisions.  But it is necessary because the short and long term effects all rest on the shoulders of the children. 

Can we agree on these points?

  • There should be academic standards that educators should be responsible for meeting.
  • Academic standards can be helpful indicators of progress toward the goal of graduation.
  • As in all professions, educators should be held accountable

And can we agree on these points?

  • In the 21st century, academic standards should be national ones.
  • Standardized tests cannot measure the broad expanse of a child's educational experience.
  • Instituting a new set of standards and implementing their assessment with attached accountability measures simultaneously it not recommended.

Leaders, the vision keepers, thinkers, and role models have an opportunity to take this tiger by the tail. Their role of enforcing the Common Core has not resulted in anything other than compliance for many.  Now, next steps are needed. For no matter who - teachers, parents, community members, even students - the school environment must remain warm and welcoming, inclusive and safe.  This Common Core business is not faring well and the students who are meant to be the beneficiaries are too often floundering along. 

A Time for Reflection and Planning
Regardless of the amount of information and dialogue that has happened about Common Core, we need to admit we aren't done yet. Misinformation and misunderstanding abounds; some of this fuels the opposition. How about this as a consideration...a locally developed, summer update on the Common Core? What is it meaning for our students and our schools? Let some of our teachers tell their stories about its implementation ...what is good and what could be modified to make it more applicable to our community. Try to keep the focus on the CC and not the tests. See if we can separate those conversations.

Whether it remains or is replaced, we will always have standards and we should. The affect upon the students may be noted in the short term as being frustrating and upsetting but we don't yet know the long-term effects.  Consider these questions:

  • How can I reach teachers, parents, community members and students and unpack and come to terms with the Common Core Standards and those tests that accompany them?
  • How can I guarantee that no matter the regulation, and our adherence to it, students will not suffer consequences?

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