Why I Will and Won’t Care if Michigan Legislators Block Funding for CCSS Implementation

If you’re in a Common Core state, chances are there is a raucous coalition of folks desperately seeking to abandon ship. I can’t even begin to fully explain this phenomenon (I’m hoping you, the awesome community of Teaching the Core, will help fill in my gaps), but I can tell you that the actors in this drama range from conspiracy theorists to edu-profiteers to homeschooling groups.

In my mitten state of Michigan, legislators preceded their summer break with the approval of a budget to block funding for CCSS implementation. It’s not a done deal yet–a subcommittee has been formed to consider the issue over the summer–but it has gotten me thinking about why I will and won’t care if the Common Core becomes a thing of the past in MI.

Why I Won’t Care

First of all, I teach in a district that has affirmed its commitment to implementing the Common Core regardless of which way the state goes. I praise the brave and common-sensical folks who have made this decision. While I’m the first person to point out the shortcomings of the CCSS (e.g., there are still too many of them; too few teachers and administrators have actually read them, partly because they are too long; they seem destined to be bound to highly expensive standardized tests), they are, as a whole, a vast improvement on the wishlist, subject-separated standards of the past. In the Common Core, we have a shared language across content areas for improving the verbal competence (i.e., literacy) of our students.

Secondly, I’ve never much cared about standards or what the state does in terms of them. As a teacher, I am about promoting long-term student flourishing; in other words, I want my students to live choice-filled lives. This driving mission will always come before what the state or standards dictate. Frankly, the Common Core just makes a helluva lot more sense to me than the behemoth standards wish lists that my state produced on its own. I can wrap my head around the Common Core; I can read the anchor standards in a sitting with a group of colleagues, and together we can pare them down into something focused enough to really work.

Why I Will Care

One reason I’ll care is because so much of the Common Core rhetoric is based on misinformation, scaremongering, and anger. (Michigan offers a great fact sheet here.) When the populace is unable to read, write, speak, and think for itself, democracy cries out, “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” I have had commentors tell me that the Common Core advances a left wing agenda to brainwash my kids. When I ask them where that agenda is evidence in the standards document, they are silent. Frankly, Common Core debate, at least online, has become too much the domain of trolls and too little the domain of thoughtful, literate, civil folks like those who make up the Teaching the Core community of life dominators (you guys rock).

Another reason I’ll care is because babies are getting thrown out with bathwater. What I mean is, I am entirely in support of unfunding the standardized testing that aims to go along with the Common Core (in my state, Smarter Balanced). I’d be happy to unfund that until it’s tested out elsewhere and proven to 1) work, and 2) yield reliable and valid. I see the value in common assessments across departments, districts, and even states and the nation. The objective, comparitive information they can give us is valuable for improving our craft. But when the assessments are high stakes, when they take up an inordinate amount of time, and when they don’t yield valuable information for teachers and students… well, then they don’t make sense and aren’t worth the billions spent on them.

The standards aren’t the problem; the tests are. The standards just set some great goals for college/career readiness. Why throw them out?

Take it home, Johnny

Some people (including me) have laughed at the idea that, if the legislature stays its course, I will run a Common Core blog in a state that has abandoned the Common Core. It is kind of funny ;)

But honestly, Teaching the Core has always been about more than the Common Core. This is a community of high-will, highly passionate teachers, administrators, and stakeholders who simply want to get to the bottom of things. We don’t always agree on everything, but we damn well agree on the importance of doing education better. We agree that long-term student flourishing is a worthy goal. And, in general, we agree that large amounts of reading, writing, thinking, and talking are a great way to get there.

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14 Responses to Why I Will and Won’t Care if Michigan Legislators Block Funding for CCSS Implementation

  1. Anne Lyon July 8, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Love the myth vs fact sheet. Good info in a succinct document.

  2. kimolsen2013 July 8, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    Well written.

    I concur.

    • davestuartjr July 8, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

      Thanks Kim — I hope you are enjoying the ISI! :)

  3. Chad Walden July 8, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

    Right on, Dave.

  4. Mary Stout July 8, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    So true. Truly appreciate your insight.

  5. Jennifer Hemry July 8, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    I always appreciate your thoughts. I’m in with high standards and good education. I applaud your district!

  6. davestuartjr July 8, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

    Thanks to all for the encouragement. This is case in point that Teaching the Core folks are awesome. Onward!

  7. Gary Hodgins July 9, 2013 at 12:57 am #

    It’s nice to hear some critical thinking amongst all of the ignorant rhetoric. Thank you.

  8. Joshua Raymond July 9, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    Dave,

    Margaret Mead wrote “The most extraordinary thing about a really good teacher is that he or she transcends accepted educational methods. Such methods are designed to help average teachers approximate the performance of good teachers.” To me, if the CCSS is not adopted, good teachers will still teach beyond the standards. If it is adopted, the teachers that have been ineffective in teaching Michigan’s current standards will still be ineffective teaching to the Core. While the curriculum is important, the quality of the teacher makes the difference.

    As a parent, the Smarter Balanced test was actually the vital component of the package. I strongly like that the SB test is adaptive and can help measure growth of a student. The MEAP is a benchmark test that measures a student against state standards, but is completely inadequate for measuring growth in many students. A struggling student can make excellent growth, but still be Not Proficient. A high ability student might make almost no growth, yet still be Advanced. The perverse incentive of using the MEAP to evaluate teachers is it pushes teachers to place less focus on the struggling student and the high ability student and more on students who have enough ability to pass the MEAP but are not there yet. Going to a growth model means that the focus is on every student to grow.

    One of the most frustrating things in our public education adventure so far has been navigating which schools and teachers have the growth focus and which have the proficiency focus. Getting each and every student to meet a fixed proficiency benchmark, the standard espoused by the MEAP, NCLB, and ‘equality’ has often left my children bored as they are retaught what they already know, uninstructed when they are only given an advanced worksheet to do instead of teaching, and unchallenged when the teacher doesn’t set goals because they are already at the next grade level in a subject. A focus on growth, measured and reported, is vital to high ability children actually learning and advancing. The shift from the MEAP to the Smarter Balanced test is an important step in this direction.

  9. davestuartjr July 9, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    Hi Josh,

    I whole-heartedly agree that a growth model is the only one that makes sense for all stakeholders in public education. And you are right: no matter what standards come or go, quality teachers will continue to hone their craft.

    Honestly, compared with MEAP, SB is a godsend. I agree with that. My fear, however, is that the same forces that drove mediocre teachers to loads of test prep for MEAP will continue to do so for SB. For example, this past year my school volunteered to pilot an online-based standardized test, and it basically involved 4 hours in the average 9th-11th grader’s third trimester being spent solely on taking a practice standardized online test in various subjects. I don’t blame my district for this–I think we weren’t given the whole picture when we signed up for the pilot–but I do see it as one more example of the forces that inherently drive a lot of these standardized tests.

    Now, that being said, as a high school teacher I greatly appreciate the ACT because it’s a test that’s bigger than my state and it has real meaning for my students’ post-secondary opportunities. If the SB can become a better version of the ACT, I’d be very interested in it, because the ACT does give me some good information about how my students are each growing, and its got enough of a range to allow me to measure the growth of my weakest and strongest students.

    The question for me is, is the SB doable for a reasonable cost? How much is it worth?

    These are just some of the thoughts that your insightful comment produced in me, Josh. Thanks for taking the time to write!

  10. polen4 July 9, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    So agree that the standards aren’t the problem-untested, high-stakes standardized testing is the problem. Very well said, Dave!

    • davestuartjr July 11, 2013 at 10:19 am #

      Thank you, Charmayne! And thank you for your blog at polensplace.wordpress.com — love the thinking you’re doing!

  11. Carrie Polk July 25, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    Excellent response to both sides of the argument! I receive the conspiracy theory emails and wonder, “What document are they reading?”, and I read the CCSS myself and still wonder how in the world we are to accomplish all it describes. Would that educational initiatives were not linked to the almighty dollar! Thank you for bringing the nonsense into order!

  12. davestuartjr August 6, 2013 at 7:43 am #

    Carrie, thank you for your kind words — I need them, because just when I think we might be having an impact here at the Teaching the Core community, I see another fear-mongering video. Take care!

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