Fall 2013 will be remembered as the season that the Common Core State Standards began to take effect—and it was a rocky rollout indeed. As the calendar marks a new year, we pause now to reflect upon what has been a bumpy first few months.
Back in October 2013, emotions were running high in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. During a town-hall-style meeting, state Education Commissioner John King addressed a group of parents, educators, and community members on the Common Core standards. The outcome of the meeting was not positive: King was shouted down by angry parents, and future town hall meetings with the commissioner were postponed.
It was emblematic of what was to come. Meetings in other regions also drew large crowds and resulted in ongoing protests against the standards, with more than 18,000 parents on Long Island, for example, signing a petition to roll back Common Core.
The events in New York state are indicative of the raw emotions that now surround Common Core, as educators struggle to teach within the confines of the standards, and parents vent frustrations over their implementation. At the extreme end of the spectrum, opposition to the standards has resulted in arrests.
In September 2013, the Baltimore Sun reported that a parent was arrested for disrupting a public forum on Common Core, in an effort to express his dismay over the new curriculum. The format of the meeting allowed attendees to submit questions in writing only, but the man interrupted the speaker repeatedly, until he was escorted out of the meeting room by police. While he was being removed, he shouted to the assembled, “Don’t stand for this, you are sitting here like cattle,” and asked, “Is this America?”
This kind of pitched opposition has spread across the country, and school board meeting attendance is on the rise. In Livingston Parish, La, for example, the school board hosted a forum in the Common Core where educators and parents voiced their concerns.
One parent said she was afraid that the standards were not putting her child on a path that would help him to succeed in college. Many parents at a public forum on Common Core in South Dakota, hosted by state Education Secretary Melody Schopp, expressed the sentiment that their children are “crying and frustrated” because the new standards make them feel uncomfortable at school.
Creative Coping Measures
In light of these recent controversies and mounting frustrations, teachers are trying as best they can to help parents understand the standards so that they may, in turn, help their children. One parent was quoted in a local online newsletter as saying, “Third-grade math is crazy!!! Someone should have given us parents a lesson in Common Core so we can help our children do their homework!”
To address similar concerns, elementary teachers in one Long Island district have created short videos and posted them on YouTube to help parents understand homework assignments. These types of innovative teacher responses are needed now, more than ever, as Common Core requires new ways of thinking about problem solving.
In districts where there are not enough resources to support parent education, many parents have turned to social media for the answers they need. Facebook pages now contain snapshots of homework problems, accompanied by desperate pleas for help understanding what one Wisconsin citizen refers to as the “fuzzy new math.” Even Adam Bellow, a well-known educational technologist, took to social media to share his frustration with his daughter’s kindergarten Common Core.
Meanwhile educators who must teach the new curriculum are struggling to do so in a way that will help their students learn. Many are reluctant to stray too far from the prescribed teaching modules, for fear that any deviation will hinder student scores on assessments, and that those scores will then have a negative impact on teacher evaluations.
Some states now have laws making teacher evaluations public, despite what teachers claim are glaring flaws in the evaluation system. These changes have fostered generic instruction (the exact opposite of Common Core’s intention), with teaching methods stifled by fears about assessment outcomes and the realization that teacher evaluations have been reduced to numbers.
In addition, several teacher librarians and those teaching in the arts have had their programs completely eliminated as education becomes more narrowly focused on testing, and funds go to those resources provided by testing companies.
Fighting for Change
Recently, parent and educator frustrations have led to action. On Dec. 9, 2013, more than 100 organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, participated in a “day of action” aimed at reclaiming public education, with a specific focus on placing a three-year moratorium on high-stakes testing.
In a blog post, Richard Iannuzzi, president of the N.Y. state Union of Teachers, sided with those angered by Common Core assessments. “It’s the testing and implementation that’s got teachers and parents angry,” he said. “If we don’t address them, if we do nothing, those who feel that the problem is the Common Core will win.”
As teacher unions fight against high-stakes testing, politicians are responding to complaints from activists about the implementation of Common Core. With the beginning of the new legislative season in January, lawmakers from various states will be debating the standards.
A recent survey conducted by the National Association of Elementary Principals (NAESP) shows that most principals support Common Core, despite the fact that, as previously reported, a severe lack of funding is hindering their proper implementation. As a result of the rollout problems, some states, including New York, have recently begun to shift their budget allocations to support more professional development and training relating to the standards.
Librarians at both school and public libraries continue to provide support and resources for students, parents, and educators struggling with Common Core during this rocky implementation phase. Certainly, however, for librarians as well as for publishers, it is difficult to plan effectively for the standards when they remain so embattled.
As we move into 2014, we will continue to cover what the future holds for Common Core, with hopes that the rough rollout can be quickly overcome.