Education Week - August 28, 2013 - (Page 26)

26 EDUCATION WEEK AUGUST 28, 2013 n n COMMENTARY The Cure for Common-Core Syndrome By Linda Diamond A By Paula Stacey W hat is the right way to eat? What is the right way to teach? I am putting these two questions together for a reason: The approaches we have been using to stay fit, lose weight, and get healthy have a lot in common with the approaches we are using in education to improve teaching and learning. The result? The more we rely on science and research and standards—be they the Common Core State Standards, or otherwise—the less nutritious our education diets have become. A close look at how we get our food and how and why it has lost nutritional value offers a good analogy for what’s going wrong in education. The journalist Michael Pollan, who for many years has been studying our eating habits and the food system that supports them, identifies a number of problems at the root of what’s happened to the contemporary diet. One of the major culprits— “nutritionism”—is our increasing reliance on science to dissect our food and tell us what to eat. As Pollan points out, the problem with this scenario is twofold: Food and what it offers is simply too complex to break down in a way that we can reassemble it and get everything our bodies need. And the search for antioxidants, vitamins, and other specific nutrients has opened the door for manufacturers to create edible food products with all the “right” ingredients, market them to us as healthy, and then cash in. This isn’t nutrition, and it certainly isn’t food. There is a strong argument to be made that what we are serving up in our schools isn’t food, either. Just as the problem with today’s American diet begins with an overreliance on isolated nutrients, the problem with American education begins with an overreliance on isolated standards. We wrongly imagine that a curriculum based on a definitive cataloguing of skill sets will yield a rich education diet, but mostly it doesn’t. What it does yield is an often very expensive set of materials from publishers who go to great pains to reassure teachers and their districts that, for example, all of the common standards are covered. All teachers have to do is open the package, slam it in the microwave, and set it on the table. This isn’t teaching, and any learning that happens in the process is often just an accidental byproduct or the result of a herculean effort and new disorder seems to have swept the nation: Common Core State Standards Syndrome. This malady is characterized by sharply polarized positions—worshiping the common core as schools’ salvation, or condemning it as on the path to Armageddon. The clinical manifestation is similar: op-eds in newspapers (“Common Core Education Is Uncommonly Inadequate,” The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2013) or editorials (“Moving Ahead With Common Core,” The New York Times, April 20, 2013), impassioned blogs, and spirited tweets. Entire states exhibit symptoms as well, embracing the standards one year and threatening to dump them the next. Nonetheless, the attention being trained on the standards has the potential to transform our education system if the focus shifts to the more difficult challenge— implementation. Neither side in the debate believes that the standards alone will be sufficient, but the heavy lifting required may be beyond the capacity of many districts and schools. As a nation, we do not have a history of thoroughly implementing or sustaining education reforms, which is troubling. State standards are not new. We have always had a de facto set of them, driven by textbook publishers that produced national series used across states. As states developed their own standards, they often built them upon the standards written by others. But even with this history, education quality and student achievement have remained stagnant at best. Why? Rigorous standards alone will not improve student achievement, and if we focus too much on the common-core standards themselves, we may limit the more urgent discussion about implementation. Are states really focusing on the crucial details of implementation and allotting enough time and resources to get the job done? What is needed is a consensus on critical implementation re- quirements. These include specifying the details of the curriculum and how instruction should look so that students master the standards and struggling students receive the supports they need; planning a comprehensive assessment system that starts in kindergarten and is designed to identify or predict reading problems; providing continuous professional learning opportunities for teachers; selecting strong curriculum materials; communicating to all stakeholders; and developing knowledgeable educators. The standards are not a curricu- lum. Because this is true, educators are busy “unpacking” them. What does this really mean? State education departments should guide districts by spelling out specific frameworks. These frameworks should include sequences based on careful task analyses that lead to articulated and robust curriculum. What specific content will be taught, for how long, at what grades, and in what order? This is no easy task. In some districts this has devolved to teachers writing their own lessons without adequate prepara- The Best Education Diet? Real Food, Prepared Well ingenuity to ignore and supplement, as necessary. As a former teacher trained to use various standards-based curricula, I found the whole experience frustrating and unappetizing, and I am urging education leaders to stop relying on standards, stop looking at research-based approaches, and stop evaluating materials. What they should be studying is Michael Pollan’s latest book, Cooked, in which he exhorts Americans to get back into the kitchen and do some home cooking. What we need in our schools are great cooks, not more standards or greater and more complex curricula. As any cooks worth their salt can tell you, preparing wholesome and appetizing meals is not learned overnight. It often comes from long hours, days, and, indeed, years in the kitchen, apprenticing until the chefs in our lives allow us to assume more responsibility. By toddling beside our mothers (and one hopes, our fathers), we learn how to shop for what’s in season and what’s fresh, and judge appropriate ingredients so that the flavors work in concert. Much of this knowledge is passed down from master to student, some is learned from books, and the rest through trial and error. Unfortunately, the way teaching is structured—the very job itself—makes it impossible for teachers to develop their practice in a similar fashion. To be specific: Teachers work alone. They spend five to six hours of every single workday in a room with children. Any efforts to get teachers to learn from one another, share ideas, or work together are sideshows that occur on the margins of their days. I was dragged through these exercises. They yield little but snide jokes and hurried efforts to produce something on paper that will satisfy administrators so “ Just as the problem with today’s American diet begins with an overreliance onisolated nutrients, the problem with American education begins with an overreliance on isolated standards.” everyone can go home to face a mountain of essays to grade (alone). We need an overhauling of the entire teaching structure so that instead of working untethered, teachers can work in teams, sharing genuine responsibility for student learning. Teachers are not properly mentored. When a teacher comes to work, she is often told she will have a mentor. The mentoring, however, typically takes place after the students have left the classroom. During the school day, the new teacher is alone and struggling without engaged adults to show her the ropes. (Note: The key word here is engaged.) Both mentor and protégée need to be equally invested in the outcome. If they aren’t, the mentor’s role is reduced to a kindly, disinterested neighbor who suggests you try a little more seasoning before returning to her own pot roast. Teachers have no career path. Most teachers will be ▲

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - August 28, 2013

Education Week - August 28, 2013
Waiver States Under Scrutiny
Common Core: A Puzzle to Public
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Fla. Virtual School Faces Hard Times
Stacked Deck Seen in Growth of PBIS
This Week
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Most Students Aren’t Ready for College, ACT Data Show
For Rural Teachers, Mentoring Support Is Just a Click Away
Philadelphia Gears to Open Schools After Aid Reprieve
Blogs of the Week
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: New Sites Designed to Help Choose Best Ed-Tech Tools
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Museums, Researchers Shifting To Online Science Ed. Outreach
Common Core Grinds Along Amid Michigan Debate
‘Course Choice’ Venture Gets Started in Louisiana
Policy Brief
PAULA STACEY: The Best Education Diet? Real Food, Prepared Well
LINDA DIAMOND: The Cure for Common-Core Syndrome
CAROL LACH: What Really Matters In Education: Compassion
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
JAMES H. NEHRING: Think Education Is Like Medicine? Think Again

Education Week - August 28, 2013