It is late on a Tuesday afternoon and I am sitting in the school library, which was recently converted into a computer center. This means it can no longer be used as a library, but libraries are considered obsolete in the coming Common Core Standards (CCS) era. It appears that at least one third of the books have already been given away or boxed up and sent to the downtown book depository.
You see, Common Core Standards set new “literacy expectations,” reflecting a “shared school responsibility,” using new “metacognitive strategies” to “direct thinking and learning,” in order to prepare students for “life in a technological society.”
Got all that? Neither have I.
The CCS is just one more in a long line of schemes cooked up to “close the gaps” and try to improve black and Hispanic school performance. Among other things, the CCS will shift “literacy” away from the Western Canon to what will be 70 percent non-fiction. This will include how-to books, technical manuals, court opinions, “global informative/explanatory texts,” and—believe it or not—government documents such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Recommended Levels of Insulation, and California’s Invasive Plant Inventory. Dead white authors are not part of the CCS agenda.
Common Core promises national standards that are “robust,” “real world,” “aligned with college and work expectations,” and “evidence based.” It will use “best practices,” be “internationally benchmarked,” and promises to close the pesky racial achievement gap that 50 years of “best practices” have failed to close.
Do not be fooled. CCS is a particularly insidious program of socialism, white guilt, global citizenship, self-esteem, and culturally sensitive language.
Words such as “fireman,” “policeman,” and “chairman,” are strictly forbidden in CCS. Instead, we must talk about fire fighters, police officers and chairpersons. Naturally, no one is ever “disabled.” He is “differently abled,” “has disabilities,” or is “physically or mentally challenged.” Students who commit outrageous crimes on campus are, believe it or not, “behaviorally challenged.” Students who fail repeatedly are “at potential,” as opposed to those who are likely to fail, who are “at risk.”
The other day, all the teachers at our school were called in for a lecture on the new standards. “We are honored today,” the principal began, “to have the area superintendent, recently voted educator of the year, to conduct our professional development and help us get ready for Common Core Standards implementation.”
“Let’s get started right away,” the area superintendent announced, writing a series of education acronyms on the board. “This school is a designated Intensive Support and Innovation Center, an ISIC school, and it is the teaching methods, the pedagogy that needs to change. Teachers here are focusing on product and not on content and delivery methods, which is causing our students to fail repeatedly.”
So it’s our fault. We teachers call students who fail the same classes repeatedly “The F Troop.”
So what does it mean to be an “Intensive Support and Innovation Center, an ISIC school”? It means ours is one of the worst-performing schools. Since bad test scores are our fault, it means the bureaucrats in their plush offices have decided to lather us up with a whole new layer of bureaucracy and browbeating. Among other things, this means “professional development”–teacher training every week. I can’t tell you how much teachers hate this. The ISIC motto is the usual drivel: “We Innovate and Transform Learning to Inspire Excellence.”
I glanced around the room at the weary faces, and knew everyone was tired of being blamed for student failure. I looked at the math department and realized that not a single teacher among them had fewer than 25 years of experience. What is it we haven’t tried? How dare this overpaid functionary lecture us about teaching methods? And what on earth does he mean by “product,” as opposed to “content”?
Although I knew better than to challenge district officials on education dogma, I was fed up with being browbeaten by out-of-classroom, clueless bureaucrats who work in cushy offices far from school campuses. “How do we help students who enter our 11th grade classrooms with third grade reading skills?” I asked stupidly, knowing district administrators are well trained to handle any sign of opposition to what they are so well paid to promote. The area superintendent was ready with a canned answer: “You must scaffold, break down the lesson to make it more understandable for those students who need extra help in catching up. I suggest you break the students into small groups and have them teach each other the lesson.”
“Also,” I continued, “how are students who read far below grade level expected to do homework assignments from the 11th grade text which I am mandated to assign to them?”
“Homework shouldn’t be assigned,” the area superintendent responded sternly. “The district superintendent himself said that homework should count for no more than 10 percent of a student’s grade. You are focusing on productivity and not content and delivery. What do you think this is, a factory? A student who does not do homework falls behind the rest of the class and will be unable to catch up.”
I didn’t dare ask the question I really wanted to pose: “How are students supposed to take the new, essay-only CCS tests on iPads, which we haven’t yet received, in a school like ours that does not have WiFi?”
I knew that not one other teacher in the room would demand answers to my questions about CCS; they wanted me to shut up and let the superintendent finish so they could go home.
Friday was career day for 11th graders. The first speaker was an official from the Department of Power and Water. He started by asking the students: “Where does most of our water come from?” One student raised his hand: “the ocean.” “Good answer, the official said, but most of our water comes from the Eastern Sierras.” The official asked another question: “Does anyone know where most of our power comes from?” Another student raised his hand: “From the sun.” “You’re on the right track,” the presenter said, “but we haven’t developed solar power to a great extent yet, most of our power comes from far-away generators.” For raising their hands and answering the questions, each kid received a prize. That’s the only way to get them to participate in a session like this one. Maybe these students need Common Core literature after all, I thought.
Later, that same afternoon, after a long week and as I was packing up to go home, the assistant principal knocked on my classroom door: “We are getting a new student on Monday,” he tells me casually, “who has Sudden Death Syndrome. If any of your students see him passed out on the floor in the bathroom or out on the PE field, tell them to report it to the office.”
I wrote to a cyberpal in St. Louis about CCS: “I see that your state, Missouri, is trying to opt out of the Common Core Standards that are being forced down our throats in California.”
“Yes,” he replied, “the Democrat governor is the only politician in the state who wants it. Republicans, who dominate the state legislature, don’t want it because it’s another Obama boondoggle. Black Democrats reject it because they’re bought and paid for by the teachers’ union, which doesn’t want it because teachers’ careers, especially for teachers in urban black districts, will be at the mercy of their black students’ test scores.”
We should be so lucky in California. The state has embraced Common Core and plans to implement it in full this spring. Teachers like me are set up to take the fall when CCS, like all the grandiose programs before it, inevitably fails.