Journey through the Standards: A Personal Reflection
Tezcatlipoca: “A reflection, a moment of reconciliation of the past with the possibilities of the future—not a vision of light but an awareness of the shadow that is the smoke of light’s passing.”
-Tupac Enrique Acosta
When it was decided as a district we would focus on “essential standards” to raise student achievement, a smile crossed my face as well as a sense of relief. For the past 12 years, teachers were given the daunting task of improving test scores in the midst of RIFF’s, learning new curriculum, unpacking standards, restructuring, backwards planning, developing common assessments, analyzing data, and sharing data through collaboration.
As educators, we were immersed into The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. We were hurled into the political battle field and expected to correct what many deemed a failing system. Standards based education reform and measurable goals became a part of our daily lives. Back to basics teaching was the answer for creating successful high school graduates who would be prepared to become productive and contributing members in our society. Only it didn’t happen that way. As more and more students were identified as needing remediation, educators were faced with the challenge of how to and who should remediate. The short term answers were to first, ensure we were all “highly qualified,” and pass out CLAD certificates to anyone who had ELL students in their classroom, next the Arts were cut out of the curriculum and replaced with an extra hour of either Language Arts or Math, and if that wasn’t enough students were placed in an intensive reading program designed for 4th graders, who if successful, could exit after two years of instruction. However, many would spend the rest of their school career struggling to attain those basic skills only to realize they had failed and dropped out of high school altogether, an unfortunate trend seen throughout the entire state of California. (High School Dropouts)
NCLB, coupled with Proposition 227 which in 1998 ended bilingual education in the state of California was the beginning of a bleak era in education. As educators we were put to the test. Abandon a way of teaching which embraced child developmental needs and replace it with scripted lessons, and ready or not curriculum. The result, according to Sir Ken Robinson: the Death of Creativity.
Ironically, creativity is now what The Partnership for 21st Century Skills advocates:
“In an increasingly complex, demanding and competitive 21st century, students need to learn more than the 3R’s they are tested on in school. It’s time to help them go “above & beyond”, by embracing the 4Cs –communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.”
What reformers at the time failed to ask was how can we take the thematic and integrated lesson on Dinosaurs and align it with standards? What changes need to occur in teacher training programs to promote success amongst our ELL’s? How can we work towards measurable outcomes without losing the creativity educators must possess to engage student learning?
Overall, it appears that the agents for change failed to ask the most knowledgeable people about how to increase student achievement; teachers, students, and parents.
Had they asked a teacher, we might have shared the 1990’s debate between phonics instructions and whole language. Recall when we went from one extreme to the other only to learn both are necessary to create fluent readers and writers.
In 2010, President Barack Obama released the following letter along with A Blueprint for Reform, The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act:
“…My Administration’s blueprint for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is not only a plan to renovate a flawed law, but also an outline for a re-envisioned federal role in education.”
“Today, more than ever, a world-class education is a prerequisite for success. America was once the best educated nation in the world. A generation ago, we led all nations in college completion, but today, 10 countries have passed us. It is not that their students are smarter than ours. It is that these countries are being smarter about how to educate their students. And the countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”
So now that we agree that NCLB was flawed and President Obama has required a “world class” education for success, enter the National Governors Association and Council of Chiefs State School Officers-creators of Common Core Standards!
Common Core gives us an opportunity to get back to the “Art of Teaching,” as exemplified below:
“Our best understanding of what works in our schools comes from the teachers who teach in our classrooms every day. That is why these standards establish what students need to learn, but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, the standards enable schools and teachers to decide how best to help students reach the standards.” Florida Commissioner of Education Dr. Eric J. Smith
As educators one of our challenges is not to succumb to the cliché of the “pendulum.” Standards and measurable outcomes are important factors in planning instruction. How then do we incorporate our districts mission, trainings we have attended, and strategies we have learned with the Common Core Standards? As teacher leaders we must reflect and think about where we are in our Professional Learning Community journey as an individual, team, staff, and district. Our transition must be planned with a focus on where we are and where we want to be.