I visited a middle school yesterday and spent the entire day observing classes.  I was able to sit in on approximately two classes per period.  For the purposes of this blog I was attempting to answer for myself the following question:  are the Common Core Standards visible in the classroom behavior of teachers and students?  Before I share the answer to that question and pose two possible consequences for my answer, I would like to acknowledge how highly visible are the California Standards for the Teaching Profession and how easy it is to see those standards mirrored in the behavior of students.  The last 15 years of school reform in California has achieved a remarkable homogeneity in teacher behavior.  Teachers have become accomplished actors in their classrooms and students respond well to this instruction.
I observed significant evidence of Standard 2.  These were well-organized and deftly functioning classrooms.  The set-up of each room made sense in terms of the learner needs, with well-placed smartboards, LCD projectors, white boards, lab tables, cubbies for student use and plentiful supplies.
The teachers I observed delivered highly structured and engaging lessons.  On at least one occasion the students were so engaged in a science lab that the teacher had to calm them down so he could communicate with them.  As a trained observer in the teaching standards, gathering evidence was incredibly easy.  Teachers were engaging; students were engaged.  Teachers checked for understanding; students understood.  Teachers enforced classroom norms; students complied, even helped in some cases.  Teachers were knowledgeable; knowledge was successfully transferred to students. 
But still there are those pesky new standards.  Here are a few of the anchor reading standards, which are supposed to be in place across the curiculum:  

1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

I did not see a single instance of any of these standards.  I saw very few examples of students with a text even in front of them.  I saw quite a few worksheets, some teacher-created, some from publisher's workbooks.  Even the one story I observed in a language arts class was read aloud by the teacher.  Some students followed in the text; others stared off into space.  I did observe students in a computer lab copy/pasting their essays into a text document on the Criterion website.  The site not only corrected spelling, but reviewed their grammar, the frequency of word choices and offered other stylistic suggestions.  
The intent of the Common Core Standards is not only to increase independent reading in content area (informational) text, but to focus students on how texts are constructed and which text features lead to what outcomes for the reader.  These critical reading skills were nowhere in evidence.
So my original question has two possible answers.  Are the Common Core Standards already in place, at least at some level, in our classrooms?  If the answer is yes, then the primary re-training will be for our supervisory staffs so that they can be taught how to detect and collect evidence of these standards.  But, if the answer is 'no,'  then the conclusion is that these new standards are not now in place in our classrooms, at almost any detectable level.  

If this is the case, then the entire process for training teachers needs to be completely re-thought and reconstructed.  Extensive professional development must take place to retrain our existing teaching staffs.  This will be very costly and highly resisted.  The teaching standards have empowered our teachers to feel highly successful at what they do.  Today's students love their teachers and are grateful to them for their passion and expertise.  It is only when our students enter the university and cannot read dense and complex college texts, or when they train for a career and they cannot negotiate job manuals, or the multiple technical texts in the modern workplace, or when they cannot read a contract or a tax code that they may come to realize how grossly underserved they were by our K-12 educational system.



12/08/2011 14:13

I was wondering if you talked about the math portion of the common core initiative? I am starting some work in this area and am interested in talking to you about it.


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