The national non-profit, GreatSchools points out that out of 57 countries tested globally the United States scored 17th in Science and 24th in Math. The percentage of 3rd grade students that score at or above proficient on the TCAP reading/language arts assessment is 46.5 percent. And only 44.8 percent of 7th grade students score at or above proficient on the TCAP mathematics assessment. In 2012, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count ranked Tennessee 42nd out of 50 states in education.
As an education leader, as well as a parent, grandparent and former teacher, these statistics are unacceptable. Evidently, many other parents, educators and legislators have the same opinion. Not only are we questioning the cause, we also want to find a solution to make Tennessee's education system a model for the nation.
David Coleman, a key author of the Common Core State Standards, believes they have provided part of the solution. On the Common Core State Standards Initiative website it states: “the standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”
The CCSS strategy includes fewer standards with more depth and rigor than what many states produced previously.
Currently, 45 states have adopted some form of the CCSS, and $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant money has been awarded to 12 states, of which Tennessee received $501 million. Educators and policymakers are working toward reversing the discouraging statistics. Common Core State Standards may transform the central features of modern schooling in Tennessee including changes in curriculum, teaching, testing, and accountability. We want to ensure by the federal government’s superfluous involvement in education that we do not lose state governance and local control of education in the process. It is a legitimate concern worthy of debate.
However, two points must be raised in the discussion: 1) Tennessee started receiving their Race to the Top Funding in 2010. Accountability for these funds was part of the condition of the reward resulting in more stringent evaluation for teachers and students. 2) Those who oppose Common Core State Standards have not provided a viable alternative. Based on the prevailing data, efforts in the past have simply not provided an engaging and challenging education. We must all work toward building an education system that allows each child to achieve his or her potential and prepares students to succeed in our 21st Century economy.
Recently in Chicago, leading educators from Tennessee, along with 10 other states, met to discuss what is working and concerns with CCSS. Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium are in the process of developing online testing. They are set to unveil their systems in 2013-2014 and go live in 2014-2015. Tennessee educators seemingly are in agreement trying to implement the CCSS and PARCC assessment system. Tennessee is training teachers to use the CCSS as written, and we are not doing a combination of existing state standards and CCSS like some other states are attempting.
Consistency in message is one of the advantages Tennessee educators share. However, one drawback in implementing the PARCC assessment system in Tennessee is infrastructure. Not only must schools have up-to-date computers and operating systems, they must have adequate bandwidth to accommodate these computers. Additionally, an iPad or other tablet alone won’t work for PARCC testing. Keyboard usage is mandatory with the PARCC system. The Tennessee Department of Education is aware of these issues and is working to address the problem. The success of the CCSS in the state of Tennessee depends on it being successfully implemented. Adequate teacher and principal training is critical.
Our organization is providing Common Core professional development, featuring state and national experts at LeaderU on June 22. We are making the event open to all Tennessee teachers and administrators, who can receive six credits from the Tennessee Academy for School Leaders for attending the annual conference.
The debate on the CCSS will continue. Only time will prove its real efficacy. As Knoxville’s L&N STEM Academy Assistant Principal, Tim Childers so aptly said, “If you teach a child how to problem solve, it really won't matter what kind of standards you have or the type of test you give. They will succeed.”
Bethany Bowman is the Director of Professional Development for Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Franklin, Tn.
* * *
In her “Viewpoint on Education” column, Bethany Bowman laments the comparatively poor performance of U.S. students on global tests of achievement, cites approvingly talking points of Common Core architects promising that the one-size-fits-all standards will bring “rigor” to U.S. education, asserts that CC foes have no “viable alternative,” concedes that the nationalized CC tests will require costly technological infrastructure that many schools don’t have, and concludes that “only time will prove” if CC works.
A few observations in response: The plummet in U.S. student achievement since the mid-‘60s parallels the steadily growing centralization of public schooling. The Common Core, largely produced by one egghead (David Coleman) who now heads the College Board, is the zenith of centralized control, with federal and Gates Foundation money and manipulative tactics leaving local parents and teachers utterly powerless to influence what will be taught. No one knows what the academic effect will be, because the Common Core has not been field-tested anywhere. It is an ultra-expensive crapshoot.
A viable alternative? Universal choice. Let teachers teach and let parents choose, from among richly diverse schools, the ones that best serve their children.
Senior Fellow for Education Policy
The Heartland Institute
* * *
The viewpoint on education points to money, seemingly always money as the solution to what has become an intransigent problem. The education of children is not all that complicated. Put a good teacher with a bit of creativity, intelligence, autonomy and a proven curriculum and results are available. The school system today is rendered good if it is operated from the top down dictates of today’s schools. Teachers are not given the freedoms necessary to administer to the children that they and they alone know well. Let me explain a process of involvement that includes the parent, the teacher and the child.
When I started teaching I had a bunch of boys that seemingly liked little about school and a lot about everything going on outside the classroom. A new science curriculum developed by Harvard University came to us and I embraced it . There were a couple of teachers, men, working together in an elementary school in New York State. We went outside and conducted science in the raw of winter and snow and the children, all of them loved it. We did math using large muscles, not sitting at the desk doing pencil and paper activities. Area, perimeter, volume are tough concepts for children but seeing, doing and moving made learning fun.
Tennessee ranks near the bottom of the educational ladder and for some unknown reasoning they remain there despite the money that is spent. I am not sure if teachers are as well prepared as say some from another state but am willing to wager that the teachers here are as well trained as any but it is the schools philosophy that keeps teachers from teaching, not the teacher.
My ideal elementary school would look like this. My school is open six days a week and in the evenings. Parents are encouraged to participate in training programs that better their roles as parent and advocate. Children are free to come back to school to receive extra help or to participate in both fine motor activities and large motor activities. My ideal school is a central part of the community and exists and is part of the fabric of the community. All ages participate and are welcomed. A large part of the school day would find visitors in the building helping teachers with small groups and assisting in ways that are needed.
Children that are identified early has having deficits in learning are not ignored but special attention and reinforcement allows the skills that need to be improved improved. Nobody is left behind. Children are taught social skills that create harmony within the social group. Children have a variety of interests and the school is able to recognize, encourage and development core skill areas through music; art; drama and sport. My ideal school does not cost anymore either.