Educators and kids are in agreement that the speed at which the Common Core standards have been implemented in New York have killed a lot of things.
Interest. Patience. Time to ask questions. Field trips. The arts, in some cases. Confidence.
“I definitely think Common Core is starting to take away our identities and conflicting with our ideas,” said Anuk De Silva, 13, an eighth-grader at Lakeland-Copper Beech Middle School. “Before, we used to have a lot of discussions, now we get packets and different worksheets without knowing our options.”
Common Core learning standards are just that, standards. They were designed from the top down –experts listed what a student needs in order to succeed in college and work and then figured what each grade would need to have completed all the way back to kindergarten in order to reach the proper standards by the time they were 18.
New York teachers were expected to begin teaching the standards two years ago, although many of them had not been written. New York created EngageNY, a website crafted by the state Education Department, that gives teachers “modules” in each subject at each grade. If a teacher follows the modules exactly, the students in their class would be on target by the end of the year.
But the reality of teaching is that nobody can predict which students will “get” something and which won’t in any time period. Before the timeline, a teacher could spend a little longer on one subject as needed or return to it later in the year. Under the new system, each week’s work is based on the week before, and there are no go-backs.
It has meant that the pacing of the classroom has become more scripted, educators said. Teachers follow the modules as exactly as they can in order to move forward as the rules require.
Last week, about 30 students had the chance to talk about what it’s like for them in this new world, courtesy of state Sen. Greg Ball. Ball and the grassroots anti-Common Core Parents for a Common Cause sponsored an hour-long forum asking the students for their take on how they and their teachers were surviving this year’s changes.
“After we did the grownup forum, the biggest hit of the night were the kids. What better way (to make the point) than to ask the kids. They’re the ones who are living it,” said Denise Kness, one of the co-founders of Parents for a Common Cause.
The students, from grades three through nine, gathered at grade-specific tables to talk about school and answer a few questions.
Among the queries were “What do you do when you don’t understand your homework? What have you enjoyed the most about school so far this year? What did you find the least interesting in school so far this year? When you learn something new, do you feel you have enough background knowledge? Do you feel you have enough time to understand it before the teacher moves on?
Emma Anderson, 11, a sixth-grader at Copper Beech, said she has always paid a lot of attention to her teacher, but she felt a lot more pressure this year.
“They teach more quickly than they used to,” she said.
Erika Tobacco, 13, an eighth-grader, said her teachers have been very frank about why things have changed.
“The teachers have to go by… certain guidelines and can’t teach what they want to teach,” she said. “It could be a good thing in some (cases) but not in other ways. We don’t get to learn about some things that could be useful.”
Ball had a chance to sit with each group of children at their tables, ending each set of interviews with “what would you like me to do about it?”
“It was extremely interesting to hear directly from the mouths of those that are affected by this. I was extremely impressed by the depth of the conversations, the fact that these kids are not looking to skip out of homework, they genuinely want to be challenged,” Ball said.
“But they feel … rushed, stressed. They feel they’re being used as guinea pigs and that it’s going to affect their future,” Ball said. “There’s an overreliance on continuous testing. They want more creativity and more opportunity to read and learn and debate subjects they’re interested in.
“After listening to the kids, it’s scary we’re going to a (program) that will suck the independence out of the process,” he said.
Lakeland schools Superintendent George Stone was one of about 30 adults who attended the event, listening to students and the occasional teacher talk about changes in the classroom.
“This is where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “Adults can talk all they want. It’s the students that are dealing with this on a day-to-day basis.”