I would like to personally thank each and every person who read my post last week that expressed my concerns about Common Core English. My regular teaching blog, which is normally a mode of sharing teaching strategies (and read by a handful of people), turned political last week for the first time. An edited version of my blog was published on Maureen Downey’s column, The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Get Schooled column, and the full version of my article was published on Valerie Strauss’ column, The Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet. Citizens and stakeholders from both sides of the Common Core issue read and responded to my blog; my supporters (and some readers who disagreed with my spin on the issue) have raised a very valid question in response to my article. Readers around the country have asked me, “Where do we go from here?” or “How do we fix the issues with Common Core English?”
Today, I would like to respond to that worthy question, but please keep in mind that I am not a politician. I have not had these ideas vetted. These are just my opinions and thoughts on how we can begin to correct the problems with Common Core. I invite you to engage in a civil discussion of my imperfect proposal. I also inviting you to email, call, and discuss your concerns with your state and federal congressional leaders and local leaders in your own school district. The more stakeholders involved in finding a solution, the better the solution that may arise. Please do not think that my struggles or disapprovals of certain issues with the Common Core English Standards mean that I have repudiated their use in my classroom; I will continue to lead my students to strive towards Common Core Standards mastery until I am told by my administrators to change.
If you would like to read my blog regarding my own issues with the Common Core English Standards entitled The Seven Deadly Sins of Common Core English, please click here.
A Modest Proposal
- We must admit that mistakes were made with the original Common Core English standards or with their subsequent implementation.
Even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation admits to this; they did not fully understand how difficult it would be to implement a national curriculum, the resources that would be needed, nor the amount of teacher training this would involve. I think it is now time for all of us, myself included, to admit that we made mistakes. Politicians made mistakes in not fully understanding the consequences of implementing a national curriculum. Educational researchers and writers could not stay abreast of the changes at the rate they occurred. Educators from preschool to secondary school did not strongly voice an opposition to some of the real problems with Common Core and the subsequent timeline required. Voters and parents did not have an opportunity to provide feedback on the shift to Common Core State Standards. We should collectively learn from these mistakes. Along the same lines, we should acknowledge what has worked with the CCSS to be able to build from those positives.
- As voters and constituents, we must decrease the Federal Department of Education’s control of our state and local tax dollars.
I recently heard a former governor explain it like this. For every tax dollar collected in a state for public K-12 education, 15 cents is sent to the Federal Department of Education; only 11 cents is returned to the state to be used for K-12 education IF the state complies with the FDE’s mandates. State and local tax dollars continue to be the main source of revenue for K-12 expenditures, but some money (11 federal cents for every 15 cents sent) is returned from the FDE to states. Maybe we need to discuss why 4 cents of every state tax dollar appropriated for education stays at the federal level. Maybe there are some programs currently controlled at the federal level that need to return to individual states that can exercise more stewardship in controlling the budget.
Race to the Top, stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that included over 4 billion dollars of federal money, was used by the FDE and the current administration, to force most states into consenting to the Common Core Initiative. This was a quasi-extortion of “cash-starved” states, who desperately needed more money. In the future, I hope that we will learn from this gross misstep, and not semi-bribe states into acquiescing to a national curriculum that had not been fully evaluated. Decisions about curriculum standards, and curriculum in general, should be a state or local decision, not amalgamated with a condition for federal funding.
I understand that many of the politicians and federal department bureaucrats may not have premeditated how these Race to the Top funds would be perceived across the nation, but it is time that we discard this practice and those like it. State and local leaders, with the involvement from their own stakeholders, should make more localized decisions about what is legally best for local children, without penalty from the federal and/or state branches of government.
Before anyone leaps to a political conclusion, I was an independent voter during both of President Obama’s elections, and I did vote for him. I also voted for President George W. Bush years before, and we all know how No Child Left Behind turned out. Notice that I am not currently commenting on the new Every Child Succeeds Act; I need further research and trainings before I defend, refute, or qualify my ideas on this new law. Anyway, instead of a president or federal agency pushing out an education agenda, we should move towards state level and school district level decisions.
- Our country needs to return control of K-12 public education to states and school districts.
Before my contenders begin the ad hominem attacks, listen to me carefully. I am not saying that the federal government should have NO ROLE in K-12 education. The United States Congress should create laws like the Individuals with Disabilities Act that requires equitable education for students with special needs and disabilities; the federal level should collect major assessment data as reported by state departments of education (not mining individual student data without parental permission). I do argue that the federal role should change, beginning with the Federal Department of Education. The FDE should not control funds connected to states’ implementations of a specific curriculum. They might encourage, provide resources, facilitate teacher training, and educate colleges and universities on current education trends, but they should not be bargaining with states to accept a new national curriculum and rewarding those who do monetarily. They should also stay bipartisan and try to be more representative of all Americans and the vast amount of opinions on educational issues; one nonprofit organization should not be the only voice heard by the FDE. The federal department should also continue SOME of its other programs, like the Pell Grant program, but it should also give other programs to the states.
From my experience as a classroom teacher, I have seen that the best decisions about curriculum, curriculum standards, instructional practices, and student needs are best left to local districts with state and federal level input or guidance without direct higher government interference — the federal and state government should only provide help and redirection when needed. There will be guidance and redirection needed for some states or districts, but not for everyone.
As an example of how we could have implemented the Common Core Curriculum better, we could have used nonprofit money and resources to educate select teacher leaders, key players, or key districts in each state; we could have requested state and local level input; we could have then chosen the Common Core or adapted a more rigorous set of standards to meet our own needs and priorities for local children. We could also have allowed each district to choose its own timeline or process for implementation to prevent some of the other major issues with teacher training. Anyway, the point is that local leaders with invested community members and stakeholders should be the ones driving the local educational agenda for their students. Teachers should be allowed to calmly voice genuine concerns without repercussions.
- States should involve all stakeholders in the process of educational reform.
Whenever “big changes” in education policy are being considered like changes to the Common Core English Standards, state departments of education should include more input from ALL stakeholders. This should include parents, general voters, college professors, educational researchers, boards of education members, superintendents, principals, administrators, and classroom teachers. Survey the stakeholders. Just recently in Georgia, our state school superintendent conducted a survey about the teacher shortage in Georgia; he then shared the results of his survey and communicated a plan for resolving this crisis. We need to do this with all new initiatives, especially curriculum reforms like the Common Core. However we rectify the issues left by the Common Core Initiative in my own state of Georgia, I hope we solicit more input this time, and then actually consider that input. Local school districts could also adapt similar methodology surrounding significant educational reform. What if every school district was allowed to write its own rigorous standards for its own children and teacher needs within a set of criterion and with a paradigm to study? How bad would it be if each local district had a part in the decision-making process? Can’t we achieve the goals of the Common Core Initiative in a more inclusive manner?
After surveying the stakeholders, we must include them in data assessment. Local community and parent leaders need to understand what the data means; teachers need to more fully analyze the data as well. Together, all stakeholders should begin discussing a solution to Common Core; we should have district, regional, and state level seminars, forums, and discussions of how to fix the problem. We need to listen to all sides of the issue, and we should vote for a solution. The people never actually consented to the Common Core Standards at its genesis.
- After input, states could either vote to keep, amend, or discard the current Common Core English standards.
The Federal Department of Education may put forth suggested requirements to the states or local districts; the states and/or school districts could then be free to create their own conscientious standards that meet those guidelines. States should involve as many teachers and stakeholders in the process, and should allow several years for an implementation like this to occur. I would like for Georgia to have a three year plan in place, beginning with surveys, data analysis, stakeholder input, and forums for teacher discussion and input. This would be followed by a minimal two year training time that included secondary education faculty, pre-service teachers, and current K-12 faculty.
States could decide that Common Core has been advantageous in their states and they may choose to keep it, but they should increase teacher training and public training in the CCSS. States could decide to amend the standards to better suit the needs of the people in each state; this is what I hope would happen in my own state. States can decide to totally discard the Common Core and create their own rigorous standards akin to Texas’ and Alaska’s refusal to participate in the Common Core Initiative.
In Georgia, I hope that the high school English standards would have some of the following changes:
- Be more specific in what is expected at each grade level; 9th-12 grade reading standard 1 should not be almost the exact same for each grade; specify what each grade leveled student should be able to reasonably do or an appropriate method. Do not just create a copious amount of guidance documents and frameworks to explain the standards; make the standards clear and concise from the beginning.
- Limit the number of standards in each grade level or officially prioritize standards.
- Separate the 9-10 and 11-12 grade level bands. The standards should not be the exact same for 9th grade ELA and 10th grade ELA or 11th grade ELA and 12th grade ELA; that is redundant.
- Suggest that 9th grade Literature transform into more of a Survey of World Literature course (with the End Of Course test remaining at the end). Many 9th grade Lit. teachers already use this approach.
- Suggest that American Literature and Composition be taught as early as 10th grade for some students (with the EOC remaining at the end). I suggest this not because of the standards themselves, but because of the assessments. The 9th grade Lit. EOC is given at the end of 9th grade Lit. in Georgia, but the same standards progression with the exact same standards continue in 10th grade. In essence, students are to show standard mastery on a state test that counts 20 percent of their grade, even though the standard mastery of this set is not supposed to end until tenth grade; it’s like giving the test halfway through the unit. The same is true with 11th and 12th grade English. Let us rethink how we do assessments if we revamp the standards.
- Change the names and standards of 9th-12th English courses to 9th World Literature and Composition, 10th American Literature and Composition, 11th College and Career Readiness Literature and Composition, and 12th English for the Modern World and Senior Capstone Project or to other applicable courses and sets of standards. AP Language, AP Literature, Joint Enrollment English 1101, Joint Enrollment English 1102, or equivalent IB English classes possibilities would still exist, but students would no longer miss out on foundational needs when taking these courses because foundational needs would be addressed by the end of 10th English. As you can see, I would anticipate major changes to the existing standards with the new course titles. Maybe the better suggestion is that there be more “core” English class credits accepted by the state board for Carnegie unit determination, and that some local districts be allowed to change or propose new courses with related standards. 11th and 12th grade core English classes could be a college preparatory course, a technical / vocational preparatory course, or a college level substitute. Currently, we do not offer a technical / vocational preparatory course.
- Standards should have more real life application for all learners.
I am going to be very controversial for just a minute, but bear with me. Not every child is a future college graduate. Not every child needs to go to a university in order to be successful in his or her future life. We need American workers capable of working in a factory, processing data entry, and delivering electricity. Some children need different English classes that better prepare them for college or better prepare them for their future job. These classes should also be about helping students transition better from high school to the child’s postsecondary choice. In order to do this, we must offer different core English classes in 11th and 12th grade. By the end of the 10th grade, students and parents could decide which other English courses that individual child needs. The number of class requirements would remain the same, but the student and parent would choose what is best. Some of the 11th grade and 12th grade course offerings (with their own respective, rigorous standards) could be British Literature and Composition, Advanced Writing, College Readiness English, Career Readiness English, Reading and Writing in the Vocations, etc. In order to offer these types of class offerings, we would need strong standards for each of the new courses; these classes would be about personal growth and transitioning into the individual student’s post-secondary world. That is what 11th and 12th grade should be about, and college and career readiness is one of the major goals (good goals) of the CCSS, but we need to create an educational environment where some children study literary criticism and others study how to read a job-related manual.
- We should devote several years to the process of generating new standards or revising standards before implementation.
Public education in America involves many moving parts, and it requires much planning, analysis, evaluating, and organizing to change the status quo; this is equally as true for a state or a local school district. We should allow a minimum of three years to research, plan, and implement a set of revised or new standards. If we choose to keep the current Common Core Standards, then we need to devote more time and energy into training everyone involved, including science, social studies, and CTAE teachers who are expected to teach ten Literacy standards. All stakeholders should be included in the process.
During this time of quality assurance, we should also begin to train teachers, pre-service teachers, college faculty members, educational consultants, and administrators on the new standards. They should have a participatory and active voice in the decision-making process. It seems like the more someone participates in a process, the more he is invested in the future success of that process.
During and after the process and as we begin formal implementation, we must continue to listen to all collaborators in order to make more appropriate changes to the standards. We must realize that our curriculum standards should be fluid, subject to yearly revisions and improvements. They may even need to be more advanced in certain areas, depending on student growth and data, but we must believe in making small instructional changes each year, even after a major change / new initiation. Instead of jumping on a national bandwagon, I suggest a much slower and purposeful curriculum change that respects the voices of the people. We can no longer be controlled by the opinions of just ONE foundation. I would hope this paced and methodical way of changing would also help facilitate lasting change.
This is yours for consideration, discussion, and collaboration.
Desmond-Hellmann, Sue. “What if…a Letter from the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.” The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, http://www.gatesfoundation.org/2016/ceo-letter, 2016, Washington, D.C.
Strauss, Valerie. “A Decade of No Child Left Behind: Lessons on Policy Failure.” The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/a-decade-of-no-child-left-behind-lessons-from-a-policy-failure/2012/01/05/gIQAeb19gP_blog.html, January 7, 2012, Washington, D.C.
Sullivan, Maureen. “Gary Johnson on Education: 5 Things the Presidential Candidate Wants You to Know.” Forbes, Education On Campus, http://www.forbes.com/sites/maureensullivan/2016/05/30/gary-johnson-on-education-5-things-the-presidential-candidate-wants-you-to-know/#4fcb58254223, Forbes Media, LLC., May 30, 2016, Jersey City, New Jersey.
VanderHart, Shane et. Al. “Race to the Top.” Truth in American Education, http://truthinamericaneducation.com/race-to-the-top/, 4:15 Communications, LLC., 2016.
The U. S. Department of Education. “The Federal Role in Education.” http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/fed/role.html, July 21, 2016, Washington, D.C.