The Common Core and the 'experts'

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To the Editor:

Some after-dinner thoughts about the boycott of the Common Core exams this spring:

The sad thing about the Common Core movement at this point is that when it first began to roll out it gave many of us a lot hope. At that time I was an Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction at Queens Vocational and Technical High School in Long Island City, New York. The conversation among teachers and administration alike was excited and encouraging. Finally we would have a national commitment to critical education with a focus that was both wide and deep. Here was a tool that would allow us to have the type of discussion about teaching and learning that has been missing on the American education scene for decades.

Like many prior educational reform movements, however, the Common Core has been doomed by a short-sighted implementation on the part of state and national "experts." Instead of providing a new framework for instructional improvement, it has been used as a bludgeon against educators and kids. It seems as if someone woke up one morning and realized that as a nation we'd lost our edge and, like so many other reform initiatives, the Common Core roll out has been reactionary. Instead of supporting teachers in bolstering their own skills and providing new and veteran teachers with the substantive, consistent professional development and mentoring that would make such an endeavor successful, they've shackled us with a punitive evaluation system that has only served to enrage, not to engage educators, parents, and students in critical learning.

When I was still a full time teacher, I always opened the first lesson of a new class with a quotation analysis: One can rule with fear or govern with respect. J. Masters. I would ask my students which type of teacher they wanted and why. Their responses were never predictable. We often found ourselves in yearlong debates between those that wanted an iron handed ruler who told them exactly what do and those that strove to be critical participants in their personal lives, communities, and nation. The former were willing to surrender individual ownership of their beliefs and actions in return for not having to bear the intellectual responsibility. For the latter, it was a willingness to hold oneself accountable for making decisions and choices that would impact not just themselves but generations to come. Common Core held out great possibilities for the development of both types of students.

Years later, as a curriculum and instructional administrator, I often have asked the teachers during our Common Core conversations to use the same quotation as a reflective lens with which to view their own classroom practice. I've debated it with other educational leaders in regards to the current trends in teacher evaluation systems as well. My hope for Common Core was that it would lead to an essential partnership among all stakeholders — educators, students, parents — in a common quest to build a citizenry that is both critical and literate. Unfortunately, at the end of this day, the politics of Common Core seems to have become more important than its usefulness as a means to provide our children with the tools, skills, and knowledge base demanded by post-secondary institutions and an increasingly competitive, global work force. Our leaders appear to have missed an important point while kicking around this particular political football. There is a stark difference between assessment and evaluation. The former comes from the Latin "assere," or "to sit beside." Assessment invites the buy in and collaborative decision making on the part of all stakeholders. The latter stems from the Latin "evaluar" or "to impose judgment from above," and serves only to reinforce the system of stick and reward.

Magdalen Radovich
Instructional leader at Middletown High School

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