In the terrific movie South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, the Colorado town is faced with a scourge of extreme potty mouth. The solution? Blame Canada! After all, Canada was responsible for serving as a home to a foul-mouthed TV show the community’s kids just loved. So of course we declare war on our neighbor to the north. How else to deal with the cussin’?
After attending parent-teacher conferences last evening for my kids’ school, I feel a bit of a South Park moment coming on. Only instead of Canada, we are now blaming all of our educational ills on the dreaded Common Core State Standards.
I’ll try to forget the teacher who lapsed into edu-speak, using every abbreviation in the K-12 eyechart. Sure, Eduflack knows all of the acronyms that were used in a relatively short conversation, but how many other parents in that class do?
I’ll try to forgive the one teacher who dropped guard to tell us that first graders used to have to answer 30 simply addition and subtraction problems in three minutes, but they’ve now extended it to 50 problems because too many kids were hitting the benchmark in previous years.
And I’ll even try to overlook the exchange over parent materials. After commending a teacher for giving us two handouts from the Council of Great City Schools’ Parent Roadmap series (and remarking that it was interesting that our small, suburban school district was using materials from CGCS, but getting no acknowledgement that the teacher even knew what CGCS was), the eduwife and I simply got a tart response to the effect that the principal shared these materials, but they really aren’t relevant because “our school doesn’t do these sorts of things.”
But dear ol’ Eduflack can’t shake one of the discussions on what is happening in the classroom.
We started our discussion on the mathematics side of the ledger. We actually spent most of our time talking coinage. At issue was the ability to distinguish, on a work sheet mind you, the differences between the head of a quarter and the head of a nickel. I was told that the Common Core requires knowledge of coins and recognition of their respective fronts and backs. It took every fiber of my being not to point out that we are moving to a paperless world (has anyone heard of bitcoin, or even the new RFID bracelets that do away with currency in Disney World?), and the future of pennies and nickels are likely limited in our society. And I resisted asking how recognizing FDR on the dime would make a second grader college and career ready.
Imagine my surprise to go back and look at the standards and indeed see that the second grade CCSS state that a student should “solve word problems involving dollar bills, quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies, using $ and ¢ symbols appropriately.” So while this educator is indeed taking it a bit far, working with money is indeed a part of the CCSS.
We then moved on to the reading side of the coin, if you will. And here my blood began to boil. The discussion quickly shifted again to CCSS. Here, we were informed that the standards require students to be able to “diagram words.” No, not the sentence diagrams I remember fondly as a child. Diagramming a specific word. Recognizing that a word like “scream” has eight individual or blended sounds and being able to mark each of the individual components to a given word.
So it is asking students — second graders — to diagram the digraph, blend, digraph blend, closed syllables, glued sounds and the like. Every mark counts. Be sure to show your work.
The rub here it is all or nothing. A student gets no credit for IDing seven of the eight pieces. Miss one, and you get a zero. Get a zero, and you are SOL when it comes to meeting “the standards.”
I went back to the second grade CCSS, and I can find nothing on these supposed word diagrams. Is it an overreaching extension of the phonics components of the standards? Is it an interpretation based on a veteran teacher’s past experience? Or is it just more administrative gobbledygook that helps frustrate those parents just hoping to understand what is happening in their child’s classroom?
I’m tired of CCSS now serving as an excuse for just checking the boxes and drilling students. I’m tired of the continued focus on inputs and not the actual outcomes or the students themselves. I’m tired of the blame game.
And I recognize a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. It is one thing to discuss CCSS and related issues in our policy bubble. It is something completely different to be doing it from those half-sized plastic chairs in an elementary school. And while I know the acronyms and the dreaded standards that were thrown around, what about those parents who don’t? Are they running home to teach the nickel? Or to figure out for themselves home to diagram the glue sound?
For now, it seems we will all just continue to blame the Common Core. Maybe it is time to follow Cartman’s advice and ask what Brian Boitano would do …