A Cure for the Common Core

Whether you are a proponent of Common Core, adamantly against it, or somewhere in between, there’s no doubt it’s a hot topic in education and it will be for some time. Regardless of which side of the debate we fall, there is something we can do that not only guarantees children will learn more, but is far more powerful and longer lasting than any government imposed standards. It is readily available to millions of children and the best part of all – it’s free. We need to spend more time reading to our children.

Some children enter Kindergarten with a solid phonics base and are already reading, while others enter the classroom unable to recognize letters or identify any of the phonemic sounds. As soon as children set foot into their first classroom, they are either advantaged or disadvantaged. More often than not the difference is that prior to entering school, the higher achieving children were read to often by their parents. They were not forced to learn “how” to read, they were simply read to, which instilled a love of books and a love of reading (or being read to) – the rest just fell into place. These children enter school self-confident and ready to learn. Children who were not read to prior to entering school are already at a disadvantage. They have not been exposed to the rich vocabulary found in books nor have they been exposed to hearing phonemes while seeing the words in the text. Furthermore, these children have been deprived of experiencing stories that come alive through written words and illustrations, while bonding with their parents. The first five years set the stage for the rest of their lives.

The power of reading does not stop when a child enters school. The amount of time spent reading aloud to a child can close or widen the academic gap. It can determine whether the child grows to be a lifelong learner, or a student just trying to pass one grade at time taking standardized tests along the way. Reading to children daily will ensure they have the knowledge base and literacy foundation needed to be successful – regardless of the curriculum. If children struggle with reading, they will struggle with every subject. Stronger readers are stronger in math and science. Children who are read to daily become intrinsically motivated inquirers with a thirst for knowledge.

Common Core has a strong focus on the importance of literacy and has high expectations for many aspects of reading development; however, because simply listening to a story for pure enjoyment is not part of standardized tests, time spent on reading aloud to children is sure to dwindle unless there is a specific learning outcome that is tied to Common Core and can be measured on standardized tests. But what about the pleasure principle? What about reading for the pure love of reading and learning? This cannot be measured through testing; but a desire to read for pleasure is one the best indicators that a child will be successful in school and in life after graduating from college. It’s unfortunate that time spent reading to children decreases significantly as the grade level increases.

In a single year, school age children only spend about 14% of their time in school. There are 8766 hours in a year. Based on a 7 hour school day for 180 days, children spend 1260 hours in school and 7506 hours outside of school. That is 14% of a child’s time spent in school – provided they are never absent. This 14% does not take into account the first 5 years of a child’s life prior to entering school – the most critical time in their development when cognitive growth proceeds at a pace faster than any other time in their lives. Yet despite the small percentage of time children actually spend in the classroom, the government blames teachers and schools for poor performing students and thinks the solution is Common core. The best teachers in the world cannot make a significant enough difference in children’s learning if the other 86% of their time is not spent in support of education, especially if there have been developmental deficits in the first 5 years.

Parents need to help shoulder the responsibility of educating their children as well – and it is as simple as reading to them. Going to the public library is absolutely free; although not all children are able to access them for a myriad of reasons, which is truly lamentable. Families living below the poverty line regularly receive government aid for food, clothing, housing, child care and medical care. Would we see a significant difference in test scores if the millions of children living in poverty were to receive government aid for books as well? Would the government entertain the idea of spending more educational dollars on children in the first 5 years of their lives – even if standardized testing of these children would not be feasible? Not all progress can be measured immediately. Investing more in our youngest children will create a more literate nation.

If NCLB is any indication, Common Core is here to stay and it will affect our next generation of children. We will see its success or failure within the decade but one of the biggest factors, if not the biggest factor, in our children’s education is the amount of time they are read to. Regardless of your stance on Common Core we have an obligation to read to our children every day. This will ensure they receive a world class education.

I can’t teach your children right now. . . . I have to test them.

“I’m so glad testing is over, now I can get back to teaching my students!”

Most teachers have said some variation of this every time they have to give and/or prepare for a standardized test. Some school districts spend as much as 10% of their school year giving standardized tests to their students. Potentially, up to 18 days of students’ 180 day school year are spent sitting at their desks with a pencil, bubbling in their answers on multiple choice tests. But this is just time spent testing, it does not take into consideration the class time taken to prepare for each standardized test. The pressure on students, teachers and schools to perform well on standardized tests is intense; students can be permanently labeled as high or low achievers, teachers with low scoring classes can lose their tenure or merit pay, and low performing schools can lose state funding. With the stakes so high, teachers spend several days or even weeks preparing students for these tests. Time spent preparing for a standardized test is vastly different than time spent teaching.

Proponents of Common Core tell us that these standardized tests will help inform our instruction, but that fact is it takes several weeks or months to get the results from the standardized tests. By the time the tests are scored and returned teachers are not able to use this information to help the children who took the tests. Sure we get data, but do these tests tell us what the students really know? Some students are naturally good test takers and some are not. Performance on one day does not determine what a child knows. Furthermore, the limited scope of knowledge assessed on these tests does not provide us with a clear understanding of the whole child – one test does not fit all. We need more authentic ways to assess children of multiple intelligences and assessments that have real world application.

Is it worth losing instructional time to prepare for and give standardized tests or would students benefit more if this time was used to gain knowledge and learn critical thinking skills that will help prepare them for the real world? The government spends well over a billion dollars on standardized tests and with Common Core being implemented across the nation, this number is sure to rise. Do children benefit from the money spent on standardized testing as much as they would if this amount of money was spent elsewhere? Students did not benefit from NCLB and unfortunately Common Core does not look much different at this point. Time will tell, but perhaps if the money earmarked for education was used for educational resources that teachers deem necessary, or for hiring more teachers that are highly qualified, class sizes can be reduced and teachers can spend more time developing differentiated curricula that will challenge each of their students at their individual instructional levels, and spend less time managing large class sizes and preparing for standardized tests.

A Ship at Sea

"A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for." John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic, 1928


Education Without Representation

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