(Editor's note: Patch columnist Jerry Heverly is an English teacher at San Leandro High. This week's column is the second part of a story that began last week on the under Obama that follow the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) initiative under Bush.)
Someone in the Obama administration must have had an epiphany sometime after they took control of the Department of Education.
The number of schools facing sanctions under NCLB was rising quickly. In 2014, thousands of school districts would have failing schools on their hands, since even the best schools had some kids who weren’t reading or doing math at grade level.
States were in a panic about how they would manage to restructure so many schools so quickly.
But what if the federal government offered them a way out?
What if the federal government said: “OK, states, you don’t have the money to comply with NCLB. What if we propose a compromise? We’ll give you a ‘waiver’ from NCLB if you do something for us. There is a brand new set of educational standards called the Common Core that we’d like you to consider. If you agree to adopt these standards---and write tests that measure whether your kids are learning these standards—we will exempt you from NCLB.”
“Hurrah,” said most of the states.
And the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were on its way.
Naturally, in a nation of 300 million, there were a few naysayers.
Some of the disagreement had to do, as you might predict, with money. New standards and new tests meant new textbooks and new equipment.
The feds argued that it wasn’t going to cost as much money as the opponents suggested. If every state had the same standards then every state could buy the same textbooks, which would be cheaper since the companies no longer would have to produce different books for different states.
And we can save money with computers, they said.
Kids can take tests right on the computers, saving paper and shipping costs. Computers could grade the tests so that schools could quickly learn how they did. It’s possible that some essay tests may be graded on computers. Research has shown that computers give about the same scores on essays that people do if they are programmed to look for the kinds of things that teachers look for.
The biggest objection to CCSS was the loss of local control of education. Right now it’s primarily conservative states like Utah, Texas, and South Carolina that are holding out on all or some of CCSS.
The feds say we’ll all be better if the student in Waco is expected to do the same things as the student in Corte Madera, and you can’t have that without a national standard.
There are also some arguments about what should be taught.
California, for instance, has been boasting for years that our 8th graders learn algebra, something that generally doesn’t happen till the 9th grade in the rest of the union.
How that will be resolved hasn’t been decided yet.
Proponents say the new tests will require students to use “higher order thinking,” and that there will be fewer multiple-choice questions. Those tests are being written now.
The CCSS standards for English don’t sound very different from the California standards we’ve been using since 1997. The big difference for us will be that we will be required to teach less literature and more “informational texts.” Instead of assigning Of Mice and Men, I might be told to have my students read a diary of a hobo from the Great Depression.
Math gets bigger changes. Algebra and Geometry will become Integrated Math I & II, with some standards shifted to different years.
To do all this will cost money. Schools will need more computers. New tests must be developed. It isn’t quite clear what new textbooks we will need to buy. There is talk that “materials” will be made available on the Internet with sample lesson plans.
But you know publishers will be offering new books. Will districts really opt for stopgap Internet lessons when they can get shiny new texts?
Here's what I think will happen.
Anyone who has been around teaching for a few years knows that teachers teach the way they were taught. That makes things very hard to change fundamentally.
I suspect the taxpayers, wanting the best for their kids, will spend millions on new equipment and new books. Teachers will listen to passionate CCSS advocates and watch their PowerPoint presentations. Many will leave those sessions excited about doing new things.
Then reality will set in. Kids will frustrate all those new plans. And teachers will return to the tried and true.
Until the next new thing comes around.
(You can read more essays like this in the archives of Entirely Secondary.)