27 April 2014

Doesn't belong here...but I need feedback

I taught in North Carolina for 6 years so I was incredibly lucky when my husband got stationed in Maine. Well, I didn’t really see it as lucky at the time, I think my actual words were “it has been nice knowing you”. Then when I could not get a call back for a teaching job I felt incredibly troubled by the move to Maine. However, I am now in the most incredible job for my past experiences. I am the Proficiency-Based Project Manager for RSU 13 and one of my responsibilites is to help teachers with new standards. A job I have done in North Carolina and internationally.

When learning about Maine’s educational policies I felt like I was in a different world with local control being such a strong force, compared to North Carolina with much larger school districts and more state control. I was excited to find out how similar these two Pine Tree states actually are though. Both states were early adopters of the Common Core State Standards, both have commissioned with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and both were apart of the 16 original lead states for the Next Generation Science Standards. Maine adopted the Common Core State Standards almost a year after North Carolina, however both states tried for implementation in the 2012-2013 school year. Maine pushed theirs back to full implementation in the 2013-2014 school year. Working as an instructional facilitator during the 2011-2012 school year in North Carolina, I trained teachers during 5 workdays on the implementation of the Common Core and how to read the standards as well as during many faculty meetings and early release days.

The state of North Carolina created documents called “Crosswalks” which outlined the differences between their previous Standard Course of Study and the Common Core. North Carolina has more required workdays and Early Release days for teacher training. I’m not saying this to make North Carolina sound glamorous, honestly, I talk about Maine’s school systems and often I see green in my former coworkers eyes. I’m just trying to stress how hard North Carolina worked on the standards, yet as of this week there is legislation pending to throw out the Common Core and adopt new standards. Maine has had far less training with the standards and has less time for it in the teacher calendar, and I fear we will fall into the trap NC legislation has. I beg Maine educators, community members and legislation to not forgo the Common Core State Standards.

Teachers and administrators are working hard to learn as much as possible about the standards. We are working on professional development calendars to make sure we that we have time to train teachers on aligning our current resources to the standards, because, the standards are not curriculum. We as a district get to decide the curriculums, but with budgets what they are, we have to just alter what we have instead of purchasing new, a problem North Carolina faced.

Getting rid of the standards will not change the fact that we have to work on standards. According to the Fordham Institute Research, Maine’s previous English-Language Arts Learning Results received two out of three points for clarity and specificity, however only four out of seven points for rigor and content; the math only received three out of seven points. The Common Core State Standards received the two out of three points for clarity and specificity, however the rigor and content was increased to six and seven points out of seven for English-Language Arts and Mathematics respectively. So even if the Common Core State Standards are revoked, work will need to be done on the old Maine Learning Results.

Getting rid of the standards will not change the fact that we have to test our students. According to No Child Left Behind each state must assess their students at the end of third through eighth grade and their third year of high school. Maine has been behind in this aspect adopting the New England Common Assessment Program that was not truly aligned to the Maine Learning Results, and also tested students on their end of grade learning, in the next school year. The third year of high school students have been taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). While this is test that is beneficial for students applying to colleges, it is in no way an assessment on their understanding of the Maine Learning Results. By becoming members of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, students will take tests at the end of the current year of learning, that are completely aligned to the Common Core State Standards. However, our adoption of the standards has nothing to do with us having to test our students, with or without the Common Core, standardized testing will still happen.

Getting rid of the standards will not help Maine collaborate. Maine is one of two states with a declining population according to a July 2013 report from the United States Census Bureau. Maine needs to be collaborating with other states to continue to build on their educational background (this is true of all states). I know our Maine Department of Education has been working with states, and recently traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina to continue the work. Students move; we live in a transient time and by having common standards throughout the state, let alone the country. will benefit our students greatly. Eliminating the Common Core State Standards will only bring us back to 2009 when the National Governors Association and the Chief Council of State School Officers decided they were needed.

Getting rid of the standards will not eliminate poorly worded questions, ill advised homework or any of the other propaganda you have seen on the internet about why the Common Core is bad. The standards indicate to teach students multiple ways to understand why addition and subtraction are needed and work, not just the old algorithms taught long ago. The standards also do not indicate to NOT teach the algorithms. The idea is that students understand the whys before they memorize a formula that has no real meaning to them, but can explain why the formulas work. Parents upset that their student were marked down on tests for not giving the exact terminology should not be upset about the Common Core, but rather the directions for the test that did not clarify this. Terminology taught at a younger age means students in high school will have an easier time understanding more complex concepts. We cannot bare witness to this now, because we do not have enough years of the system to show it working. When reading through parental complaints about the “Common Core” ask yourself if it is truly a problem with the Common Core State Standards or if it is the assignments problem.

To those that argue that the Common Core State Standards are “bad”, I ask why are they so bad?  When the standards are read through, many have few complaints about the actual standards. It is the testing, the lack of resources and training that they complain about-not the actual standards. So Maine, I beg of you, do not fall in to the trap that other states have and trust the system that you fought for since the beginning. Teachers, trust yourselves, colleagues and administration and try to learn as much as you can. This is a process that will take time and you are in the hard part, jumping ship will only take more time and work. The testing will still be there, but it won’t be aligned to the new standards, unless we want to work harder and create our own. We will be a lone state recreating the wheel by ourselves again and there will still be poorly worded assignments still out there. The Common Core State Standards are not the evil in education right now and the longer people keep acting like they are the more of a standstill we as a state, and an education system will be in.  Fight for more resources, not undoing things that do not need to be undone.