Sunday, February 9, 2014

How to drive good people from the teaching profession

Supporters of the Common Core are always reassuring us that it preserves “flexibility” and does not impose any particular curriculum, but it’s plainly designed to decrease teacher autonomy. Yes, many of the standards are so broad and general that you could arguably satisfy them in any number of ways (which at some point, after all, undermines the rationale for them). But open up, say, the literacy standards and read through them for a while.

If you’re a school district, you could let teachers develop their own ways of satisfying these sometimes very abstract but always very extensive standards, and allow them to demonstrate that their lesson plans meet the goals. That would be quite a bit of work to impose on teachers and those who supervise them, who are busy enough as it is. Or you can find someone else who has already done all the work for you—a national textbook publisher—and who has provided you with expert-certified assurances that their product meets the Common Core standards. Even then the teacher will probably have to demonstrate that he or she is teaching the text in a way that satisfies the standards. If you think “checking all the boxes in the Core standards” exactly equals “teaching literacy well,” then you won’t be bothered by funneling teachers’ time and effort into this system. If you don’t, then you’d worry about diverting energy from the latter to the former.

In other words, the Core is a recipe for making teachers into functionaries. That process had already begun before the Core came along, and the Core will only accelerate it. The sheer volume of standards will push districts and teachers toward adopting someone else’s ideas of how to satisfy them, rather than allowing teachers to use their own experience and judgment in deciding how to teach. Just let the national curriculum voluntarily-chosen Core-compliant textbook make all the decisions. All you have to do is read the script. What a great class! What a fulfilling job!

Add to that all the efforts to decrease teachers’ job security and measure their performance by the test scores of the kids who happen to be in their classes. It’s a miracle that anyone with any other options chooses to go into K-12 teaching today. Personally, I’d run screaming in the other direction, and I’m not alone. (Read this teacher’s take, as just one recent example.) There will always be some talented and capable people who are drawn to teaching, but how will the Core’s vision of education do anything but decrease that pool of people?

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