Thursday, June 5, 2014

Let's pretend this is all about the kids

Common Core. It's a topic that gets the heart pounding and the blood rushing as people rev up towards a stroke. Yikes!

I was reading an article about education groups asking for more federal funding. Two of the key points made are:
  • online assessments are here to stay; and
  • because there is a federal interest in assessment, the feds should help pay for the testing and the infrastructure to support the tests.
Let's start with the federal interest in assessment. The big question that should be asked is, "Why?" Why is the federal government interested in assessment of all kids in grades 3 through 8? Hold your thoughts and/or your vitriol for just a second and let me digress just a bit.

With NCLB in 2001, states generated their own sets of standards for student learning.  State's rights. I'm all for it. So each state spend lots of bucks to develop state standards and disseminate those throughout the state, do whatever training and support the states might have been able to afford to provide, and then left administrators and teachers to their own devices because there wasn't really a lot of money to support the initiative but schools, districts, and states had to be concerned about AYP and what it meant to be a highly qualified teacher.

Now let's pretend that all 50 states adopted the Common Core. Let's pretend that in the process of adopting the Common Core--in some magically pristine and non-controversial form that also manages to be as rigorous as the state standards in some states that did a really good job of developing state standards--state departments of education managed to work with superintendents throughout their states to make sure all administrators and all teachers had the support they needed to implement the standards. And let's pretend that while there was a Common Core template for a successful implementation of the standards, each state was encouraged to modify that template in ways that best suited the needs and diversity of their states. Let's also pretend there was not only sufficient funding for the implementation, but that administrators and curriculum leaders were sufficiently trained before the teachers so they could provide their teachers with the kind of support they needed. And while we're pretending, let's also pretend that administrators and curriculum leaders offered on-going support and collaborated with their teachers when anyone was stumped. Just for kicks, let's also pretend that parents were part of the discussion and the implementation process from the very beginning. Oh, what the heck! let's also pretend that community leaders were included in the conversation so they could contribute ideas about how student learning could be truly authentic, so educators weren't working from some theory of what happens in different kinds of work places, but had actual information and actual resources.

Wait. We have to pretend some more. Let's also pretend that when the Common Core Consortia, Smarter Balanced and PARCC, offered support to states, they offered some very clear guidelines for technology. In fact, they created technology centers specifically for state, district, and school technology teams. And let's pretend that there is some agreement in every school in every district in every state so there's some consistency for planning and infrastructure development. And then we can pretend that states, districts, and schools not only had funding for the infrastructure and the appropriate technology resources, but that they could provide the kind of training and support that teachers and students need. We could also pretend those technology teams had conversations with those community leaders to get a sense of what kinds of technology are being used in various work places and the real technology skills students need and might need when they graduate from high school.

We could pretend, too, that states, districts, and schools are having conversations with any area community colleges and/or four-year institutions to collaborate in practical ways, building on those community leader partnerships.

Whew. That's a lot of pretending, isn't it?

Why are the feds interested in national assessment? Because the feds need a way to know if we're competitive. If our kids can compete with the kids around the world. Because the feds want to know if we have a snowball's chance in Mojave Desert of being competitive now and in the future. Because the feds don't have any other way right now of having any idea if we're on the brink of some abyss or we can muddle our way into a better future.

We have so much potential, but we are so busy elbowing others out of the way or trying to outshout those with whom we disagree we cannot find our way to any rational or productive discussion.

It shouldn't be all about the money or political clout, but somehow those seem to have clouded all possibility for clarity and good judgement.

It should be about the kids in this country and their futures. Well, I can always pretend that's what this is all about.

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