Corporate America Might Need Common Core, But Our “Outputs” Don’t

“Kill poverty not human beings.  Stop putting the value of money over the value of lives.” – Mahatma Gandhi

December 8, 2013

Dear Allan Golston,

This is in response to your editorial America’s Businesses Need the Common Core, which was posted on Impatient Optimists, the Gates Foundation’s blog, on November 26, 2013.

You wrote,

“Last week in New York City, a group of business leaders who have long been involved in education took the important step of making a real commitment to ensure this country benefits from the promise of the Common Core State Standards…”

and

“I am pleased to see the excitement in the business community for the common core.  Businesses are the primary consumers of the output of our schools, so it’s a natural alliance.”

It is so disturbing to me that you refer to students, human beings, as outputs.  Did the Gates Foundation public relations department vet this op-ed piece before it was posted? Do you have children? Or are these outputs you refer to other people’s children, the public school kids of the world?

As I reflect on my life-long battle with depression and anxiety, I realize the root causes of my suffering are feelings of fear and hopelessness.  As a student, school was a refuge for me.  The connections I made to the greater world – namely learning about human struggles through both literature and history – were meaningful and comforting.  As much as I try to create lessons that inspire my English-language learners and give them meaningful learning experiences, my freedom to teach and my students’ freedom to learn have been usurped as a result of corporate education reform policies, which are funded, in large part, by the Gates Foundation.

The Common Core, an instrument of corporate education reform, is not simply a document listing K-12 learning objectives.  Contrary to what you argue, I do not have the autonomy to use the standards as I see fit.  Rather, the Common Core is a package comprised of scripted curricula that prepare students for high-stakes Common Core testing.  In New York, teacher evaluations are now tied to students’ standardized test scores.  At my Title 1 NYC public elementary school, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – not teachers – produced the ELA and math curricula that the NYC Department of Education pressured us to adopt for the 2013-2014 school year.  The student workbooks and performance assessments- from K through grade 5 – are uninspiring; nothing more than test prep for the NYS Common Core state tests.  In addressing the individual needs of students – children are NOT standardized outputs – Pearson, the publisher of the new ReadyGEN ELA curriculum, defined differentiated instruction in this way:

photo-3

from a recent ReadyGEN professional development session in NYC

My 10-year-old nephew is dyslexic and performs below grade level in both math and ELA. The Common Core’s one-size-fits-all-outputs approach does not benefit him and his particular learning needs.  He has become so frustrated at school that he recently announced that he was shunning technology, refusing to use a computer.  What about the learning disabled third grader who can’t write a sentence but lights up the room with her theatrical talents? I work with English-language learners.  The Common Core curricula and high-stakes testing program do not accommodate their learning needs.

Who really benefits from the Common Core? Publishing companies like Pearson and education technology start-ups, perhaps, but not our kids.

You also wrote:

“The National Governor’s Association worked with a wide range of experts, educators and other stakeholders to develop a set of rigorous standards in English and math, modeled after our highest performing states.”

Working educators, parents and students did not play a meaningful role in the creation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  In fact, the standards were written in a secret process that included just one teacher.  Here’s what one Florida teacher had to say about his experience participating in the CCSS review process that followed the writing of the standards.

“As the review unfolded, it became apparent that we were not working with a holistic, integrated application of standards. To Rene and me, it began to look instead like a checklist forming a platform for standardized testing. 
 
This worried me because, as we have seen again and again, over dependence on testing works against creative, professional teaching methods.” (from: Florida Teacher: “I was Among Those who Reviewed the Common Core in 2009” by Anthony Cody, Living in Dialogue, 11/6/13)

multiple-intelligences-learning-styles

Human beings have different approaches to learning.  See Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.  My obsessive note-taking practice, for example, helps me to retain new information.  Like adults, children experience intuitive feelings of free will and want to do things their way.  In fact, just this morning my four-year-old shouted, “Don’t tell me what to do!”  The Common Core, implemented in New York in top-down fashion, is undemocratic and rigid, and it fails to accommodate unique learning styles.  In New York City, I’m seeing more and more students shut down and complain of being bored in school.  Common Core may benefit corporate America, but in practice it does little to inspire American educators and students.

Sincerely,

Katie Lapham, NYC public school teacher

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