Rotten to the Core Common Core is still Rotten

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  Despite what anyone tells you, Common Core is alive and well across the country.  It’s not always called Common Core anymore because of all the negative connotations and observations after its launch, but it’s still there.

Some states have renamed the program.  In Louisiana, it’s called Louisiana Believes.  In New York, it is now called Next Generation.  Iowa now calls it The Iowa Core.

It’s still Common Core; the standards and tenets are still there.

It is an endless barrage of scripted lessons, mindless graphic organizers, and multiple standardized tests.  It’s mind-numbing.

In districts with scripted lessons, teachers must follow the script, use the pre-written slides, and read prescribed texts.

Yes, they’re called simply “texts” now, not stories, novels, or literature.  Students read predominately non-fiction now; treatises on how microbes work in the human body (in an ELA class), or foundational speeches.  There are a few token fiction pieces, but there is little opportunity for students to read “stories,” to get lost in the prose of Eudora Welty or Harper Lee.

Even worse, under a scripted curriculum, teachers lose the freedom to be inspiring.

Note this article in The Atlantic by one teacher about her experience. Her district was using a strict curriculum:

The sense of urgency in the building was palpable, and the pressure on teachers to increase student achievement was often overwhelming. The district required us to teach a curriculum rigidly aligned with a 15-year-old reading textbook containing outdated articles about Ricky Martin, ice fishing, and cartography in an attempt to provide relevant, entry-level reading for students. I refused to teach from this text on the grounds that it was both condescending and uninteresting. But district personnel insisted that teachers use the textbook, citing evidence that it brought up test scores.

And she rebelled.  She and her co-teacher used a variety of outrageous, engaging strategies to inspire their students:

A body of research illustrates the self-evident reality that students’ interest in what they’re learning is critical to their achievement. And student engagement, according to various studies, is often a direct result of teacher engagement. When Alice and I decided to teach outrageously, our attitudes about our work improved, which data suggests improved our students’ attitudes.

Scripted curriculums are proving to be a large cause of teacher burnout and contributing to an exodus of veteran teachers from the profession as it becomes clear than anyone can read a script and their veteran experience is no longer valued:

“…letting an ill-equipped teacher do what she pleases isn’t smart policy. But does a top-down trickle of scripts and mandates detached from students’ day-to-day lives really improve a teacher’s effectiveness? It could have the reverse effect, forcing educators who might otherwise gain a real knack for teaching over time come to rely on others to make decisions for them and become stunted in their ability to improve.”

There’s nothing wrong with rigorous standards or high expectations for both students and teachers, but these scripted curriculums should be used as a platform for teachers to pull from rather than as a rote teaching experience.  Students don’t all learn the same way and teachers don’t all teach the same way. After years of Harry Wong and Kagan, Jane Schaffer models and others, it’s clear that this is just another fad or flavor of the month in education, but at what cost?

Even the creator of LearnZillion indicates that teachers should retain some autonomy in their classrooms and that these scripted curriculum programs should be used to ease the burden of creating a curriculum rather than stifle teacher creativity, but not all districts use it that way.

The endless testing in and of itself is stifling to kids.

As parents we need to be aware of what’s happening in the classroom.  Just because it doesn’t say Common Core doesn’t mean that it isn’t.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.