Thursday, February 06, 2014

Seven More Quick Takes on Common Core and Education

I had lots of fun last night helping my daughter study for a math test on multiplication.  They were solving problems like 21x20 by saying 20x20=400 and 1X20=20 so 21x20=420.  The algorithm we learned and that my other kids used seemed so much simpler.  On the other hand, much as she hates them, I think the word problems she is doing are a good thing, miserable as it is to walk her through them.  
I'm curious about how reading instruction will change under Common Core.  My older kids went to public school and were taught reading via a whole language program.  Both of them learned to read easily and well.  I don't know how well either of them has ever "gotten" phonics, but my reading scores were always off the charts on the high side and I never got the whole point of phonics until I took a college class in teaching reading.  As a kid I saw it as an auditory discrimination exercise, not a decoding exercise, since I could easily read every word put in front of me at school.  My youngest (eight years younger than her sister) is in Catholic school and they use a more phonics-oriented approach.  She does make more of an effort to sound out words.  Is that because of the way she was taught or because her reading scores aren't off the chart like her sister's?  Anyway, I tend to take a lot of these changes with a grain of salt.  As an education major I know that reading research studies and basing instructional and/or curriculum decisions on that research isn't most teacher's and/or school system's strong point.  One study that has stuck in my mind over all these years is one that showed that if the teacher believed the program worked, it usually did.
I've continued to follow the whole Common Core discussion.  I've read teachers say the standards are too hard, that they are not developmentally appropriate.  I've read teachers say the standards are a dumbing down of our schools.  I've read parents complain that their previously brilliant children are suddenly failing because of the horrible teaching and/or too difficult work.  I've read parents complain that the new standards limit what the students are taught and aren't rigorous enough.  I'm really curious about what a Venn Diagram of what is taught via Common Core compared to the total universe of knowledge vs what was taught the year before Common Core would look like.  I tend to visualize a large rectangular universe of knowledge, with two small circles, just about the same size, each occupying about 95% of the other, representing CC and pre-CC.
My guess is that Common Core has become a rallying cry and a symbol and that what the symbol stands for is far more important and controversial than the actual standards.  Basically, it is the symbol of control of the schools moving from the parents to a far-away authority.  Originally public schools were local and for better or for worse they reflected the wishes, values, morals and yes, religion of the local communities and, because most people in the local community had children or other relatives in the school, the schools reflected the wishes, values, morals and religion of the majority of people in the community.  That meant segregated schools.  That meant schools in the South read from the King James Bible daily and that the teacher would ask kids if they went to Sunday School that weekend.  It meant that a small town in North Dakota didn't have a "public" school; the nuns in the local motherhouse ran the Catholic school and they let the odd Protestant child in town attend and not go to mass or religion class.  It meant that teachers had to (at least publicly) follow moral standards that the local community espoused (even if the local community did not follow them).  It meant that evolution was not taught in schools where most parents disagreed with it--and that it was taught where parents did favor it.  Little by little, bit by bit, through court decisions and laws, control of the schools has moved away from the parents and to the state.
As a parent, if my kids were in my local public school (and my older two were), there are few complaints that I could make that the person to whom I was complaining had any power to address.  If I didn't like the teacher--sorry, but she's tenured, she's  here because the union contract requires it, we can't fire her, she's a minority, she's handicapped, she's...and if that is a problem for your child, we are sorry, but the laws and policies from on high mean we can't do anything about it (and for the record, of all the teachers my three kids have had, there weren't many I would have fired if I could have).  If I don't like the school in my neighborhood, I can't switch to another because that would go against a court desegregation order.  And now, some amorphous body from above (Bill Gates, President Bush, President Obama???who??) is saying what kids should learn and when and everyone across the USA is supposed to comply.  
I've found it interesting reading the comments to newspaper articles about Louisiana's voucher program.  There are plenty of noisy commentators who complain that some private schools teach creationism rather than evolution and that many teach religion.  Despite the fact that surveyed parents are overwhelmingly happy with the private schools that accepted their kids, and despite the fact that those parents could remove the children from the private schools and send them back to the public schools at any time,  the folks commenting online claim that the parents lack the information needed to make good choices and that the private schools should be required to somehow prove they are better than the public alternative.  I think parents are able to make those decisions
I wrote an epistle to our archdiocesan superintendent of schools.  Catholic school enrollment here, like other places, is declining.  However, in my civil parish Catholic schools are still the schools of choice for the middle and upper classes.  Anyway for a lot of reasons too complicated to explain here, we had a situation where at least some high schools felt pressured to add lower grades and those were cannibalizing the parish grade schools.  After a long study the Archbishop and the school system (not sure how much from where) decided that starting next year, Catholic schools would be pk-7 or 8-12.  Most wealthy parishes had a already dropped the 8th grade as so few of the kids stayed.  A couple of them had 5th-7th grades that were almost all girls because the boys headed to a selective middle school or to a high school that had a middle school.  However, the poorer parishes still had 8th grades, mostly because the cost was half that of the high schools.   Also, while most of the high schools are at least somewhat selective, most of the elementary schools are not.  I told the superintendent that I was concerned about the least ones--the voucher kids who would be sent back to the public schools during the last year of middle school, since none of the high schools will take vouchers, the kids whose parents can't afford an extra year of high school tuition or who can't afford it at all and about the kids the high schools do not want--the handicapped, and the non-college bound,  or, in the civil parishes with good schools, the kids whose parents just don't consider the "Catholic" part of Catholic schools to be worth paying for.  I know my epistle isn't going to change the decision but I think someone needs to remind those in power that they aren't just running a private school system but one that is supposed to reflect and transmit our faith, and frankly, especially looking at the high schools, I don't think they do that.
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1 comment:

  1. Your#3- #4 and #7 seem to be in a tug of war.
    #3- #4 Common Core is an unproven, top down, national curriculum which, strangely enough, has a huge support of the publishing companies (Pearson Education) who write the tests.
    Currently, there is a huge uproar from New York parents. Their children are enduring testing on information they have not been taught. Instead of using authentic literature (novels), they are expected to work with excerpts with new terms. They are being labeled as failures when they being the guinea pigs for working out the test.
    In the primary the most questionable standards are in CSSS.ELA- LITERACY conventions. Phonics and fluency has now been moved to Kindergarten- even in Math. Since, in general, the male brain does not mature for reading until 6-7 yrs old, this labels them as failures before they even begin. Early childhood people are going crazy over this. The number of LD boys continues to rise.
    In #7 you make a good argument for a type of education that seems to work for your area. There is a case for local control.


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