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The Common Core Loses This Teacher's Support

Guest post by Katie Lapham.

In April I carried a guest post written by New York City elementary teacher Katie Lapham, expressing support for the Common Core standards, but opposing the tests attached to them. Since then, Ms. Lapham has shifted her views. She explains:

When I first learned about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) two or so years ago, I didn't question their implementation. I've always preferred designing my own lessons and was sold on the idea that the standards were mostly a guide; we were free to choose our own curriculum.

Since writing to Dr. John King, head of New York State's Education Department, about the excessive CCSS state assessments administered in April, I have spent countless hours educating myself on education reform and Race to the Top polices. I now feel duped. CCSS are much more than a set of learning objectives. By attaching them to government initiatives such as high-stakes testing and teacher evaluation plans, the standards are being used as an instrument to standardize and control public education in the US. Teachers and schools feel increasingly micromanaged, which is insulting and demoralizing. We have less autonomy and choice, and my own personalized instruction is being threatened. Below are the main reasons why I, a teacher and parent, oppose the Common Core State Standards.

1.) My biggest concern has always been high-stakes testing, which deprives students of meaningful learning experiences. The NYS ELA and math exams have been redesigned to align with the CCSS. The content and length of these exams are educationally unsound. I have written about this in great detail on my blog.

I now understand that you cannot separate the CCSS from high-stakes standardized testing. The two go hand in hand. I originally thought the CCSS stood alone, used solely as standards to shape instruction. I now see that they are much more than that. The current high-stakes tests in New York State that I so detest are the way they are because of the CCSS.

2.) I am witnessing a shift towards uniformity and increasing government control with regards to the curriculum in New York City public schools. The NYCDOE has compiled a list of "recommended" CCSS-aligned curriculum (Core Curriculum), and it urges schools to use the CCSS-aligned performance tasks from their online Common Core Library. Two of the Core Curriculum programs - ReadyGen for ELA and Connected Math Program 3 - are published by Pearson, the publishing giant that creates New York State's ELA and math assessments as well as the Next Generation Assessments. ReadyGen is not yet ready, and New York City schools that have signed onto the program are expected to start using it in September. Developmentally inappropriate performance tasks frustrate both teachers and students. Kindergarteners who don't yet know all their letters and sounds are expected to write persuasively, and 8-page multiple choice assessments are administered to them in October.

According to the NYCDOE's New Teacher Evaluation and Development System, 40% of a teacher's overall rating is based on student learning through state assessments, or comparable measures, and local measures. Local measures are determined by individual schools, but schools must select a measure from a list of NYCDOE- approved options such as NYC performance assessments aligned to the CCSS, 3rd party assessments used in NYC schools, and state assessments. In my mind, this not choice, nor do I buy that it is giving schools autonomy.

3.) NYC schools are experiencing deep budget cuts. Teachers will be excessed and services will be cut. As a result, educators - already overwhelmed - will have to do more with less. Class sizes will be larger, which means that there will be fewer opportunities for small group and individualized conferencing, critical for struggling students. Mandated service providers who have out-of-classroom positions (ESL teachers, for example) will be pulled from their teaching programs to provide coverages for absent teachers and to assist with state-test work, among other duties. It is appalling to me that millions of dollars are being spent - wasted - on yet another "solution" to closing the achievement gap. The CCSS umbrella (high-stakes testing, CCSS curriculum and the NYCDOE's New Teacher Evaluation and Development System) does not address root causes of educational inequities such as poverty and the increasing polarization of wealth in the US.

Opposing the CCSS does not mean that I'm not a rigorous teacher. On the contrary, the actual standards -have validated my already established teaching practice, which has always included higher order thinking questions and tasks, as well as the use of authentic materials. A misleading CCSS ad recently created by the NYCDOE claims "we're not satisfied with just teaching your children basic skills." I never was just teaching basic skills. Neither were the majority of my colleagues.

What do you think? Have your own views changed regarding the Common Core? Do you think we can separate them from the tests coming along with them

Katie Lapham teaches in a New York City elementary school. You can follow her on Twitter here, read her blog here, and find her Teachers' Letters to Bill Gates project website here.

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