- Seven Reforms Needed in Education - January 10, 2017
- Stop Censoring Our Classrooms - March 7, 2016
- Preparing for Parent-Teacher Conferences - October 16, 2015
- My Experience with TNCore - the Tennessee State Standards - September 15, 2015
- Tips for Choosing a Novel to Study - June 9, 2015
- Choosing the Right High School Reading Intervention Program - April 30, 2015
- Four Things Teachers Should Try Before Removing a Student - April 6, 2015
- Dear 'Bad Students': Prove Us Wrong - March 12, 2015
- Improving Education: Response to Joel Klein - February 26, 2015
- Writing Hacks for Grades 9-12 - February 12, 2015
Tennessee’s State Department of Education adopted standards labeled TNCore, modeled after the controversial Common Core. As an English and Language Arts (ELA) teacher of nine years, I would like to share my experiences with these standards at the high school level.
Common Core (CC) was created with good intentions. Its creators wanted to ensure that every child in public schools were receiving a rigorous education while preventing students being shortchanged based on their location. To accomplish this, they sought input from college professors and employers. Many of its critics feel that CC went wrong by not seeking more input from educators and parents. Tennessee, amidst disapproval from the politicians, educators, and parents statewide, attempted to remedy this by seeking input from educators and the general public while restructuring its standards.
When I compare the TNCore ELA grades 9-12 standards with the older state standards, I am pleased. (I dare not speak about the math standards or the ELA standards for younger grades as I have no experience teaching them.) I prefer these standards because they ask students to think more intently about their reading as well as support their conclusions with evidence. The standards are also fewer and far more manageable to teach, whereas in the past, I was expected to teach 60-80 standards to one grade level. Those many standards made it impossible to “dive deeply” into the content; in some cases I gave quick introductory lessons on some standards and simply ignored other standards if I felt like I did not have enough time to cover them. With the current standards, I don’t worry as much as being able to cover all the standards. I can spend more time with them and integrate them repeatedly throughout different assignments, assuring that students are getting more than the tip of the iceberg. I only worry about covering all the skills in time for students to take the assessment, which is divided into two parts… that is a story for another time, though.
Another benefit to TNCore standards is that they are skill-centered. As an ELA teacher, I still have autonomy in what texts I use in the classroom. As long as the text is grade-level appropriate and challenging, it will serve me well in the curriculum. Contrary to popular belief, no one dictates to me what story or article I should use. (I cannot speak for all teachers in all districts, however.) I do need to collaborate with my peers to make sure we are not re-teaching the same texts in different grades, though, especially since we are reading less than in the past. (We read less so we can spend more time unwrapping any given text, by the way.)
All is not well when it comes to these standards, though. The TNCore standards, like their Common Core predecessor, are written for every single student. It is a one-size-fits-all approach. The standards lump all students together and holds them to the same expectations despite their career choices and potential. The standards make the most sense for college-bound students but make the least sense for students who desire and will flourish in a trade skill environment. (For the record, I know many individuals who went to a trade school and now make more money than I do with my Master’s degree. I have a high level of respect, and in some cases envy, for these people.) Different people need different skills. There are indeed some skill sets that are in common among college-bound and vocational-minded students, but not as many as Common Core culture pushes. It is unreasonable to expect all students will write or will even want to write like scholars.
In answer to this, some states and nations have instituted vocational high schools so that students who do not identify with the college-bound crowd can focus on trade skills rather than suffering through core classes that are of no value or interest to them. These schools still teach the core subjects such as English and math, but the classes are taught in a nontraditional manner that best serve the students. They can still be exposed to complex texts, but the subject matter is more appealing to them. The majority of Common Core standards would not serve these students here.
Tennessee, like many states, does offer vocational classes in high school, usually from forming a partnership with a nontraditional postsecondary institution or from hiring teachers trained to teach certain trade skills. Unfortunately, they still push students who benefit from these classes into the same classrooms as their college-bound peers, causing both sets of students to suffer for different reasons. Have you ever been forced somewhere you didn’t want to go? Have you ever sat in a room where you wanted to be with someone who obviously didn’t want to be there? That is what happens in the classrooms sometimes.
To summarize, Common Core (or Common Core-influenced) standards definitely have their benefits, at least in the high school ELA setting. But they are not flawless. It is my hope that policy-makers realize this and take action accordingly.