Why Common Core can't wait
By Tamera Musiowsky–Borneman and Nina Barraclough
Education is full of passing fads. Any veteran teacher can tell you about a policy change that happened one year, only to be quickly swept away the next – though often times returning within a decade, like perverse clockwork. It’s this wash, rinse, and repeat cycle of education policy that needs to change. That’s why we, as educators, oppose bill A08929, which passed the Assembly last week and awaits consideration from the Senate; among other things, the bill places a moratorium on stakes tied to Common Core–aligned assessments. Doing so would continue the educational purgatory of uncertainty, while also eliminating the urgency to raise standards for our current students.
In order to ensure that the voices of classroom teachers are heard in this debate, we recently joined together with colleagues to create an Educators 4 Excellence Teacher Action Team, composed of educators from a variety of backgrounds, schools, and experience levels. We quickly came to consensus on the value of the Common Core standards, as well as the new teacher evaluation system. We all agreed that we can’t let the rug be pulled from underneath our classrooms. And yet, this bill would do just that, putting a swift one-two punch into the gut of changes that we know have improved teaching and learning in City schools.
Under this bill, decisions about school administration and student performance would still be made. Grades would be awarded, teachers would be granted or denied tenure, hired and fired – but these decisions would be made without being based in data showing how much teachers helped their students grow over the course of the year.
If this bill passes and a moratorium occurs, the multi-measure, performance-based evaluation and support system for many teachers like us will disappear; instead, evaluation may consist exclusively of principals’ observations and opinions of teachers’ ability. In speaking with colleagues from around the City, it is clear that not all principals are created equal. Some are fair and provide supportive feedback while others create school cultures that are divisive and coercive. And even a great principal is imperfect; multiple measures serve as an important check on any one person’s judgment.
Would stopping for two years improve the implementation of the standards? We believe that little will change. The standards were adopted in 2010 and it was not until they were tied to stakes that questions around implementation were raised. We realize and have experienced many of the problems and challenges with implementing the new standards. At the same time, we are skeptical that the solution to poor implementation is stopping the very implementation that needs fixing.
Backpedalling is only going to leave students and teachers further behind. Schools that are doing well with Common Core will continue to teach to the standards, but those that need the most help raising the bar may lag further behind during this two-year period. If this bill is passed, we risk kicking the can so far down the road that we’ve lost sight of it.
Common Core done right is a sight to behold, and we see it in our classrooms every day. We see students pushing themselves to think critically and move beyond rote memorization. We see standards that forsake the inch-deep, mile-wide philosophy of the past, and instead give us the time to dive deeply into a topic until our students fully understand it. And we’re not the only ones who feel this way. Poll after poll has confirmed that the vast majority of educators support the Common Core. Instead of delaying it, we should invest additional resources to improve professional development, educate parents, strengthen communication to educators, increase transparency of state tests, and ensure that all schools have high-quality, Common Core–aligned curricula.
Fundamentally, we oppose the move to delay the full implementation of the Common Core because we fear that delay will beget delay – and our students can’t wait. Many, particularly those on the far right, are pushing to scrap the standards altogether; that would be a disaster, but delay makes such a scenario all the more likely. We don’t want to look back years later at the remnants of Common Core and sigh: Yet another educational fad in the dustbin of history.
Tamera Musiowsky–Borneman teaches third grade ICT at P.S. 208 in Harlem; Nina Barraclough teaches second grade at P.S. 396 in the Bronx.