Thursday, September 27, 2012

Common Core and Teacher Evaluations: The Beginning of the End?

The Common Core Standards are finally sinking into the depths of education, for better or for worse. Upon the heels of another wave of controversial standards comes legislation passed throughout the US that went largely unnoticed in the brouhaha surrounding the Common Core but has now burst into the spotlight in full operatic tenor with the Chicago Teacher Union strikes.

Here are some of the opinions swirling around:

1. Educators already know how to handle education—and everyone else can leave the same way they came in, please.

It’s a strong argument. You certainly don’t see as much legislation around how doctors perform their work (though there are certainly plenty of laws, rules, and regulations to account for); at least, there have yet to be surgeon strikes on how their surgeries are evaluated.

Now the Common Core Standards dictate what students need to be able to do. It is a departure from simply what they should be able to know (read: regurgitate) to what skills students can demonstrate, the latter implying a change in how the information is maintained. Followed on the heels of the Common Core Standards are the new InTASC Standards, aligned to the Common Core. The InTASC Standards are for teachers what the Common Core is for students, with one great exception: if students fail to meet the Common Core Standards, teachers are worried that they will be fired, and if teachers fail to meet the InTASC Standards, teachers still worry that they will be fired.

So it’s hardly a wonder that educators want to take education back, so to speak. Everywhere we look, there are sticks to beat us into compliance with few carrots in sight.

2. Educators aren’t cutting it, so legislation has to step in.

At the risk of sounding biased, I’m going to say that this very opposite opinion is tenuous at best. The definitions of “success” and “cutting it” vary, and simply being better than the rest of the world is actually (in my opinion) a poor measure of performance. Being better than someone else has little to do with how well your personal best may be; by the same argument, the only thing we need to do to improve our current “success” rate is wait for Finland to dumb down their curriculum. Of course that won’t happen, but the target should be greater than simply beating out the next guy.

Besides, I know of a few senators and representatives that I would love to evaluate and list as “subpar.” So why should their largely uninformed (and potentially well funded) opinions on education hold sway on my job?

Here’s the good news: legislators may not be on our side, but the Common Core Standards are—or can be.

The media (liberal and conservative alike) has done a curious job with the Common Core Standards, first by adoring our president and then by smearing the Common Core Standards as government overreach and pointing the finger at Mr. Obama. But the Common Core Standards offer us another shot at our classroom. We need to help students create skills—however we choose to do that. There are recommendations to aid our lesson planning, but these are standards, not curricula.

Evaluations, many based on the Common Core Standards, are also prominently displayed as a means to thin the ranks, so to speak. But when evaluations are done correctly, we use them as classrooms to help teachers learn rather than courtrooms where teachers must stand trial. The funny thing about an evaluation is that we are too often looking for faults. And we always find what we’re looking for.

If the Common Core Standards and teacher evaluations are handled the right way, then this could be the beginning of the end: the end of low teacher support, the end of untrained educators, the end of poor education. And it could be the start of something much, much greater for every teacher in America.


  1. I'm going to take issue with your framing of the arguments given that you will find teachers like myself who believe the Common Core Standards are what they're presented to be - a dynamic, living document that outlines what our students need to have mastered (not regurgitated - much care was taken to frame mastery at the higher levels of Bloom's taxonomy)at each successive stage of their academic careers. They in fact make backwards design much easier, and do not outline or dictate HOW that content is to be taught. In fact, that is the major delineating factor between Common Core and Core Knowledge. CK sought to set out specific curriculum whereas the CCS acknowledge that teachers and districts are the better judge of how to teach content to students in order to achieve mastery, and also recognizes it must do so in order to allow for differentiation, regional and cultural learning needs etc.

    Now, that isn't to say that the manner in which states and districts are implementing the Common Core standards aligns with that intent. Many in fact do not. If the Common Core were instituted in the manner intended, it would not be consistent with the increase in standardized testing or teacher evaluations based on standardized test performance, and that's where the true cognitive dissonance in this exercise exists. The various state governor's supported the creation of the Common Core with the underlying belief that it would support their desire and intention to implement argument 2 as you have described here. Problem is that mastery at the level suggested by the Common Core cannot effectively be assessed through standardized testing. As teachers, we do need to fight this and start pushing for portfolios and hands on application through internships, collaboration with outside groups and businesses etc. to demonstrate mastery. It's working all over Europe, and that we as a nation refuse to consider the need for this type of experience in our students academic careers belies our lack of understanding around how to foster critical thinking / problem solving skills in the majority of our graduates, or produce students capable of competing at the international level.

    1. Dear MommaKat,

      I couldn't agree more. You're right--the Common Core Standards are designed to help us, and they make our jobs much easier. That may not be the way that every educator treats them, but that does not change the nature and potential of the Common Core Standards.

      My goal was to emphasize how confusing the entire landscape has become, with drastic opinions swirling around in a metaphorical tornado of politics, posturing, and grand-standing that could rip the entire system out by its roots, no matter each side's intent.

      So perhaps in all the confusion, there is a peaceful "eye of the storm" that lets us see things more clearly--the Common Core and InTASC standards could be the beginning of the end of all the confusion and fighting. This could be a shining new start to a new way to think about education.

      Thank you for your participation. Your views are extremely valuable.

  2. As a new or future educator, we are asking that you openly discuss what kinds of professional development you have been involved in that have been effective as well as what you would feel would be beneficial for you.

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