Misunderstanding Standards

This article lauding the Common Core, from The Commercial Appeal and coming to me by way of Schools Matter, is not understanding the difference between standards for student achievement and actual teacher practice. Why do I care? Because this is how the complex act of teaching and the actual impact of standards get represented in the mass media. And it’s a problem.

Take, for example, the following passage, from the first two paragraphs:

Tennessee’s elementary and middle school math classes will sound more like philosophy, even debate practice, starting this fall.

Under the new Common Core standards being adopted locally and nationally, students in grades 3-8 will be encouraged to work problems in ways that make sense to them.

First of all, this says two different things right off the bat. Just because a problem “makes sense to a kid” doesn’t mean a math class is going to sound like a philosophy course.

But the part that really grinds my gears is the uncritical attribution of the teachers’ new approaches to the Common Core. Standards are “ultimate goals” — they represent what teachers and students should aim for in their work together. They do NOT — and the Common Core document even says this — tell the teachers how to move students towards achieving those goals. They do not dictate how to teach, do not  encourage particular practices (this could be debated, but they don’t do it explicitly), do not make a teacher a better, more innovative, more capable teacher.

Rhetoric that suggests otherwise is not only wrong, it refocuses the attention and credit for good teaching on policy-level, outside-the-classroom factors, when in fact effective teachers are effective because they care about their students, they are continually revisiting their approaches, and they have extensive knowledge of their content and their students’ needs. NOT because of some top-down, not field-tested policy document they did not create or endorse. And that redirection of attention, in my book, is not okay. Especially considering that the general public is more likely to read an article like this than to actually look at the CCSS document.




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