Thursday, October 3, 2013

Finding Common Ground

When we talk about the issues raised by the Common Core Initiative we need to distinguish between the value of the initiative and the impact of implementation, both on the intended goal and those whom we claim it will benefit.  Some say we cannot completely separate testing from educational program. Perhaps true. But, if we truly believe our goal worthy, we must also look beyond the goal itself to how we get there. And, in order to have any sustainable success, we must make every effort to examine that trajectory with an objective eye.

Many educators, administrators, business leaders and parents recognize both the need for and the value of higher learning standards. These higher standards are intended to give every child the opportunity to meet the demands of a rapidly changing, highly mobile and technical society. The goal is both necessary and laudable.  Toward this end, classroom learning and instructional delivery are undergoing significant transformation as we shift from a system of delivery and memorization of facts to a more useful, creative delivery in order to apply learning in a real world sense. A dear friend who teaches high school honors math/algebra confided that because of the need to integrate new classroom strategies and approaches, after many years in the classroom, she is once again excited about teaching.  And she’s not the only one.

Conversely, at the same time we’ve set the standards bar higher, we’ve also begun the process of assessing what rung, what level, we’re on to reach it.  And perhaps this is where we should take a deep breath, recalibrate, and climb carefully.  How can we determine whether change, i.e. reform, is successful when change is still in progress? To be fair to the integrity of the Common Core, we must be able to distinguish the need for and value of the initiative from the rush to assess whether it is fulfilling its intent. Would we critique an unfinished canvas? Similarly, to judge any new approach to learning before it is carefully and confidently assimilated into classroom curriculum and instruction undermines the excitement, the promise of its end success.

As reform evolves, marking progress is important and dynamic. Good or bad, with the release of the recent 3-8 standardized assessment scores we now have a baseline, the canvas. And, while accountability is crucial in any initiative, patience and caution in holding students or educators responsible for the outcome until they’ve developed the skills and been provided the resources necessary to be successful, is just as crucial.  Good or bad, recent test scores give us an idea of what rung we, the education community, are on in order to attain higher standards. Our students are not less-abled; our teachers are not less-abled. It’s the ladder that’s different. All these scores tell us is that there’s much to do to create solid footing for students and educators to climb it.

That said, NYS PTA has worked throughout summer as a member of the Educational Conference Board, a statewide coalition of education leaders, to identify what needs to be done to steady the ladder. We have not only come to consensus on what’s good about reform, but also what we see as the stumbling blocks to successful implementation. Constructive dialogue leads to solid solutions -- together we found Common Ground on the Common Core, a five-point plan to both address concerns and support successful, sustainable reform. From there, together we speak for every child with one voice.