Welcome to my little ol' blog. I'll be upfront about it: I don't blog very often any more. If you found your way here because you read my book "Trailer Life," have a gander! But it's easier to keep up with me on Instagram or on my Facebook page. I have this long, drawn out theory on why I'm a terrible blogger, but that is a story for another day. Enjoy the ramblings of my life from the last 8 years or so.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Common Core State Standards- What I Think I Know

First, my background. Just so you know I'm not talking out of my...own head. I have worked with children in an educational capacity of some sort for almost 20 years. (I can't be that old!) I have a B.A. degree in Child Development. I have a California Clear Multi-subject teaching credential. I have taught pre-K through 8th grade for pay. I currently volunteer teach music at my kids' school. I am also on the school board. Other than the music thing, I have not formally taught in 10 years. That is my weakness in this post: I have been somewhat out of the loop, even though I have been in and around schools since I quit. I am not getting the first hand training and information on CCSS. Also, I am a Libertarian at heart, with a conservative bend. This will show up and taint my opinion... because it is who I am. I acknowledge it and recognize it. Just as I recognize a conservative and liberal bend in other articles. Not that this is even close to an article. I am not a writer. Here we go anyway:

California has had educational standards very similar to the CCSS for over a decade.(Those standards were adopted in 1997.)  Doing a quick comparison, there is really no difference in the standards addressed. The other 44 states that have adopted them might be in for a bigger change than we are. This is to our advantage as Californians... we rank pretty low in state to state standardized testing comparisons (anywhere from 46-49th in the nation... depending on which report you read. Which happens to correlate with our per pupil spending rank. But before you think, "We need more money then!" please be aware that the National Assessment of Educational Progress Problem ranks Texas as being ranked 44th in spending, has a very similar demographic make-up, but ranks 10th in the nation for mathematics. Go figure. See THIS ARTICLE.).

Here's the catch though: not every state takes the same test. Now, 45 states will be using the same test. I have heard it said that since the Common Core Standards aren't that different than the old CA state standards, our ranking within states should go up. Yay us. I have seen alarm over Kentucky's drop in test scores the first year they took it compared to their old tests. This has lead to some saying, "It won't work! They can't even pass the test!" But think about it: when has a group of people ever switched what they did and done extremely well the first time? Maybe you can think of a few...but they do not involve children. Or the array of teachers and their different backgrounds of training.

The new Smarter Balanced Test is lame. Okay, so I say that because I have a love/hate relationship with tests. I see the need for state boards: you want to manicure nails, be a nurse, dental hygienist, teacher, lawyer, or doctor? Build houses as a contractor? Welcome to the world of tests, where if you don't pass, you can't do your job. I kind of like that. A standard to be met, that says, "Hey, I'm minimally competent...because at least I know this much." Kids should be the same way... there should be some minimal competency stuff going on, much like the CAHSEE (CA High School Exit Exam). But to test our kids every year, as if it means ANYTHING AT ALL, is lame. I know of zero teachers who go through last year's results and then design a course of study for the failing students in their new grade. WHY? Because teachers have to teach each standard for their grade level. Sure, you try and remediate the to the student's level, in hopes of bringing them up to their current grade. Do that, times 30 kids (minus the 2-3 who passed the test with flying colors), and your job just became impossible. So, the state test means NOTHING, because a student who gets a whole 2-3 years time in seats with no testing gets a whole 2-3 years in seats getting behind. True story: The first day I taught second grade I had three students who could not READ or WRITE their FIRST NAMES. Why were they in 2nd grade? Why were they not held back? There was no special ed stuff going on. They took the test at the end of the year (as well as all the quarterly benchmark tests), and guess what? They failed. Surprise, surprise, right? With after school tutoring (by me, for free...) one of those kids improved a ton. The other two made incremental progress...but they started third grade an additional year behind. It looks like tests aren't going away, and if I was in charge of the world, students would be tested in three grades: 4th, 8th, and 11th. And then put in differentiated classrooms based on results. But I'm not in charge of the world, so I will continue to watch teachers frustrated by losing a week of teaching time, and students bored with a week of taking tests. The tests as they stand mean NOTHING. Until tests are used for a purpose (other than threatening teachers with their jobs...) they will mean nothing.

The tests will be better because they are online! No more filling in bubbles!  Of course I had to check out the new tests, because remember I love/hate tests. Love to hate? Hate to love? Go HERE to check out some samples yourselves. Just click "sign in" without having to actually sign in. The information fields are auto-filled with "guest" for you. Make sure you choose which grade you want to see.
My opinion: sure, we aren't using number two pencils to fill in bubbles, but there is still a whole lot of bubble filling going on. It's just a click now. I don't think this is good or bad, but I don't like when people start by saying, "No more bubble tests! So much better for kids!" Really?  How about you say something like, "Our multiple choice assessments are also paired with a critical thinking assessment so that students can explain their answers." Which is weird to me, to be honest. Here you are, Mr. Testmaker, giving me four choices to choose from...and I need to explain why one of your answers is right?  On the positive side, there is a shift away from this, as the computer testing allows for entry of numerical digits manually, for math problems anyways. There are a LOT more interactive problem solving techniques on the computer, which I love for my kinesthetic learners. Moving things around on the screen to represent math problems is interesting! And on the English Language Arts (ELA) side of things, more writing is necessary for explanations. Yay, writing! A lost art. I think the testing will be a move in the right direction. Even though the old fashioned girl in me says, "What happens when the power goes off and no one knows what to do without a computer?" I see the move towards this style of testing as beneficial. (If the test meant anything for the child.) Personal Soapbox Moment: Now is where I would like to remind everyone to pay close attention to our politicians who always attempt to correlate test scores with teacher performance. Ask yourselves, "Why aren't parents ever mentioned in the performance equation?" Have you noticed that? Where the heck are the parents? It's super hard to expect a village to help raise a child if NO ONE is really raising the child. Can't discipline, can't have too high expectations, look for excuses, etc...the village has its hands tied, and a lot of parents are to blame. "Not my kid." "The teacher is horrible." "He doesn't act that way at home." "You can't suspend him for that. I have to work." Anyways, I would like to make a call to all parents to spend some time with their kids talking to them once in awhile, reading to them, and making sure they treat their teachers and peers with respect. Test scores would skyrocket.

The new CCSS means there is a federal curriculum.  Yah...not so fast there. I am super excited that the state of CA has suspended it's curriculum adoption process and has (for now) allowed more local control over the choosing of curriculum. Curriculum is two fold in my mind. First, understand that before CCSS, major curriculum publishers catered to their largest markets, tweaking their books (and sometimes straight up customizing) for their largest markets. Think about it: if you are in the business of selling curriculum, and you know if California and Texas together make up 40% of your yearly sales, you will make books specifically for those two states. Other states can use them, too, and you will tell them how great these ones already are. These two states, while different, consume the majority of curriculum per state based solely on their populations. We are large states, it goes with the territory. (Get it? Territory...large states...ha.) Now that 45 states have the same curriculum, other states won't be getting the leftovers, so to speak. Curriculum companies might be free to experiment a little, and they will have to with the shift of technology in the classroom. I am excited to see more local control in approving curriculum. (For now...I hope it stays that way.) In CA, when a school is purchasing new curriculum, it is customary for the options considered to be in the district office for a period of time, allowing parents, teachers, and the public to look over the options and weigh in before adoption takes place. I can't find any Ed Code that says that open to the public part is legally required, although I was under the impression it was. IT IS required at the state adoption level. My only advice on the topic is this: know what your kids are being taught. Ask the school. It is your right. (Ed Code 51101 (a) 8)  Remember that if you don't like something, squeaky wheels get the grease. (They also get dirty looks sometimes. And nicknames. Talk with other parents and become squeaky wheels together.)

On the down side, if you are not from CA, you very well might be getting our stuff anyways. States were allowed to adopt up to 15% more standards than what is in the CCSS, and CA did. They used all 15%. Our "liberal social agenda" will most likely show up in your curriculum. That's how companies will save money: they know that CA will buy a ton, and they will not tweak it for the other states because you aren't worth the money it takes. Sad, but true under the old way. Maybe with the shift towards technology, it will be different.

Another CURRICULUM ISSUE: California adopted the CCSS... the standards. But they have't yet completed the curriculum frameworks. So, we only kind of know what this will look like. Frameworks are the map of how standards will be used. They guide curriculum choices. Math will be done by the end of November of this year, ELA will be done in the Spring. So really, it comes down to "We aren't sure what it will look like yet." They have an idea, and a starting point, but they, like their state's students, are coming in under the wire and NOT getting anything turned in early.

LIBERAL CURRICULUM AGENDAS: I am not going to throw this one under the bus right away. There is a bit of truth to that idea. Not a lot of truth, but a bit. This isn't exactly CCSS stuff, but it may bleed over if you are not in California. It's no secret that in California, some "liberal" curriculum reforms have been passed. SB48, called the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act recognizes everybody under the sun as being a minority (let's all put people in these teeny tiny boxes of "Irish-American" and "Asian-Americans" with the emphasis being on the LGBT population, as stated from the bill's author Mark Leno). Oh yes, please. Please explain to my second grader why a person's personal bedroom behavior is so important as to warrant a focus on how that made him or her a great citizen of our society. And enough with the "dash Americans" already. So I'm an "Irish-German-Native-American-American?" Oops, I forgot my great-great grandpa who was born in Denmark and moved to California before the Civil War even started. If the state thinks defining people by their ancestor's native land (because truly, an immigrant might be considered by his native country for a generation), or by their bedroom behaviors (Oh, so that's why he was so awesome! He had sex with other men! Ummm...really?) let us discuss this with kids who have at least reached puberty. Telling a child that a lesbian is a woman who loves another woman is a lie: because women love other women all the time. Mothers, daughters, cousins, friends... same with men. And sex and love are not equivalent...we've known that for years! (Hello, one night stands and shallow, empty relationships!) And in CA, you can't talk about sex ed unless you, as a teacher, are trained (51933 CA Ed Code) with a 14 day notice with materials available for review (51938 CA Ed Code). Now, the state of CA does not equate being LGBT with sex. I disagree. Because heteroSEXuality is based on nothing but...SEX. Sure, there are some lifestyle things that go with whoever you have SEX with, but mostly we are all people, who work, love, read, cook, eat, socialize, and our bedroom choices do not define us as being great or evil. Honestly, how limiting. Talk about fighting for rights for all, or something you believe in, actions that made a person great... however you want to do that, but do not tell me or my child that a person is memorable because of what they do in the bedroom. And from a social studies stand point, children don't even get that detailed with facts until they hit junior high...the same time real sex ed kicks in. Or should kick in. Why the government wants to get involved in dictating personal moral behaviors between two (or more!) individuals is beyond me. Yes we should be tolerant and love everyone. Duh, right? Respect! But is this the way to do it? Empty curriculum instead of meeting real people? Anyways, rant about this "good idea in theory, crappy practical application" is over. 

So, depending on how curriculum companies interpret and present the CCSS to CA standards, an out of stater may have to put up with CA stuff. Still. No change for me. BUT MAYBE THERE WILL BE! The thing is, right now, there is so much speculation out there that even the state doesn't know what it will look like.

ANOTHER "LIBERAL" CONCERN: We all recognize there is a distinct difference in news reporting, depending on whether you are a "liberal" or a "conservative." In fact, you can read a report on the same subject and be totally surprised at how each side of the political aisle spins it. The CCSS puts greater emphasis on expository reading of articles. These articles will always be tinged with a political leaning. Always. But guess what? I don't know if you've noticed, but the childhood literature that has been coming out in the last decade or so is too. Gone are the days of "Green Eggs and Ham" and Beverly Cleary. So this is not really a change. Lost art of interpreting great works of literature? Absolutely. Better get some family reading going on. Join book clubs. Make your own. While the emphasis on "real world reading" (informational/expository texts) is practical from a grown-up standpoint, literature is a most excellent way to teach CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS...those same skills that are supposed to be tested by the standardized tests. In case you wonder how lit teaches critical thinking, consider this simple exercise: you read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (it is CLASSIC, I tell you!) and you posit this question to your class: What do you think about the revelation that Snape was capable of and motivated by the characteristic of love? How does this compare to his previous actions? Now that you know of his love, how does that change your opinion of his actions or of him? Why? And you can discuss the shades of grey that exist in all of us, and judgments, and force the kids to think about WHY they think that way. Studying PEOPLE makes people better. Literature is a great way to do this. But note, literature is not banned. It is diminished in importance. Don't you think for a second that teachers are not going to read stories, or have their students read great books. It's in an English teachers blood to do so.

This might be the perfect time for some out of the box thinking by districts to make curriculum choices based on local customs and need. Still learning about commas and exponents, but in a way that makes sense to the kids in the area.

And, I will argue for days with anyone who says that standards are curriculum. I know that is not the typical conservative thing to say, but it is true. Example: Kindergartners will be able to recite the alphabet by the end of the year. That is a standard. Any home school parent will tell you, knowing this objective, there are a thousand different ways to teach the ABC's! And the more ways you can cover them, the better. Math and ELA standards shouldn't present ANYONE with a problem. Multiply! Write! Read! These are pretty apolitical. It is the social content standards that CA has adopted that might concern you. And for that, that was coming way before CCSS. It was. If you are in CA, you are still on the same road you were on before CCSS. NO DIFFERENCE.

Technology will rule the day. I am still investigating this. I think it is fairly unrelated to CCSS, and just a sign of the times. And I have mixed feelings about that.

Teachers get to teach again! This totally bugs me...because what have they been doing the last ten years? Apparently, this is in reference to having less scripted curriculum.  I HATE THOSE. You know what they are: where you open to page 42 and in italics it says, "Tell the class....." That is not teaching. From what I can tell from my teacher friends going to CCSS training, the state of CA is asking them to do more teaching in the critical thinking areas, spending more time on that. And they are excited about that. They are all perceiving this change as a positive in their day to day work. They cite more freedom, more creative hands-on projects. We will see how that pans out.

 Data Collection! Yikes! If you are in CA, your data has been collected since 2009 anyway. And just keep in mind the IRS and state tax people know a ton about you already... Okay, so in California there is this thing called CalPads. Secretaries fill it out at various times of the year, and each kid in the state of California that has ever enrolled in public school (over the last decade or so) has an individual number attached to her name. Just look at your kids STAR test results sheet: it's right there on the front. This number and corresponding information goes into a data base accessed by the state and other schools, and say a kid moves from one district to the next, the new school enters in the kid's name, and within a short time (a day or two) the system kicks back some possible matches. Each school district already has their own software for keeping track of everything, and then the state makes the schools use their system, too. The real concern here is not the tracking of child data (for me) because every kid has a "permanent record," right? Lol...permanent... back in the day when everything was done on paper, and papers get lost, and shredded. The system makes it easier for school officials to get information they need quickly concerning academic success, helps needed, etc. What concerns me most is this: Who exactly has access to this information? I am so over the whole, "Well, while we don't want to call it spying, exactly, yes actually we have been monitoring your emails, internet searches, and phone calls for the last 15 years."  Right? Now, I trust most people, and I can't see any real harm in collecting my child's grades in a database. Or her birthday. Or whatever. What I have trouble with is a disregard for humanness. The fact that almost everything we do in the educational field is "data driven" and this is considered an awesome thing. Data will not tell you that 80% of the children in your school are starving for attention and love from absent parents who are busy doing whatever it is they are doing: anything from illegal activities to just plain old working too many hours to afford that new car. Data will work when you want to buy inanimate objects, or sell them to a certain market. We shouldn't be selling our education to our children and staff. It should be natural interactions, and human based. And, I fear that a technological record will become permanent, and that while the current hiring generation might chuckle at a mark on your record that said you peed on the playground in second grade and got in school suspension for it, in 20 years the next generation will lose the humanness and be so driven by "what the record says," that the critical thinking the state wants to instill will be for naught.

So, in a nutshell out of this mess I attempted, it is my opinion that CCSS, in California, will look very similar to what we've had for the last 15 years or so. No real change. Not to say that's good, but it is what it is. I am positive my opinion will morph as I see how it all actually works out. The teachers I know have the attitude of "Here we go again," because California "revolutionizes" education about every decade. Someday we may get this right. But I'm not entirely convinced we are doing it all wrong to begin with.

It is easy to point fingers at our education system, while not pointing fingers at ourselves as stewards of our children. Barring true special education needs, those families that place importance on their child's education, are able to feed, clothe, and keep their kids clean and healthy have children who do well under multiple educational models.

 What it all boils down to is this: be involved in your child's education. Just do it. Ask questions. Make a fuss. Praise a teacher or school. Inspect books. Inspect homework. Be far more concerned with a culture of focusing on differences, and those differences being right or wrong, and take back your parental obligations of being your child's first teacher. It's okay to have a family culture. Get one. It'll probably be different than my family culture. (We have taco eating contests...among other things.) Don't believe everything you read. Question it all. That's called critical thinking. It's what our government says our kids need to do. If you don't like the government telling you what your kids will learn, you have options: get involved and try to change what you don't like, or just pull your kids out. The myth that home school families and private schools have to follow CCSS is just that: a myth. It doesn't apply to California. (51210 and 51220 CA Ed Code).

(Made it this far? I'm impressed. I'm sorry for the mess. I'm sure my liberal friends will be all, "She is SO right winged and closed minded," and my conservative friends will be all, "She's turning into a liberal!"


  1. Your point under "another curriculum issue" is a source of frustration for many teachers that I know. Most of them are currently using the old pacing, with some modifications that they have come up with on their own. It's kind of crappy- especially for brand spanking new teachers who aren't well versed in the old curriculum as it is.