Will CCSS survive its implementation?

Dead teacher

Schools are remarkably resistant to change.

I like the specific content knowledge that the tribes’ Challenge to Survive series makes available. Using such materials fits quite well into my understanding of the sort of teaching that CCSS is encouraging. However, looking ahead I see that the course I’m enrolled in has a bias in favor of “constructivist” teaching, and that led me to look into what assessments are being planned for the new standards. I find that Linda Darling-Hammond is the chief research consultant for the consortium that is creating the tests that will drive accountability for teachers and school in Montana. That’s reassuring, if you mainly agree with Bill Ayers on what schools are for.

Ho-hum. I have been trying to ignore social justice activists such as Darling-Hammond for years, and I worked through and moved on from constructivist pedagogy years ago as well. I have approximately zero interest in revisiting all those arguments at this point. To a great degree, I think the impetus for CCSS was to undo the harm that such ideas have done in K-12 education.

So will the new standards make any difference?

I need to get my assumptions clear before I’m very motivated to work on details.

  1. The CCSS seeks to reorganize k-12 teaching around literacy–reading and writing–and content knowledge.
  2. CCSS consists of standards. It is not a curriculum.
  3. For CCSS to make a difference at a level that students will experience something different in the classroom, both instructional practices and the curriculum would need significant changes. Leaving aside the challenge of changing instructional practices, either a new curriculum would need to adopted, or a new curriculum would need to be written.
  4. So far, the conversation about implementation in Montana has centered on “alignment.” This suggests that existing curriculum needs to be reorganized under new standards. This is easy enough to do if one interprets the new standards into existing mental categories and definitions. This is a familiar routine. It amounts mostly to adopting new jargon to describe old practices. For example, Rudolf Dreikurs argued in the late 1960s that educators should replace the concept of “punishments” with his ideas about natural and logical consequences. His theories were successful, as such theories go. So schools no longer have punishments–they now have consequences. However, the new consequences bear an uncanny resemblance to the old punishments. It’s easier to create new euphemisms than it is to affect practices.
  5. A further complication is that reasonable people will disagree as to what specific standards mean in practice. The interpretations that will ultimately matter–in terms of accountability–will be those made by authors of the Balanced Assessment tests that will drive both teacher and school accountability, beginning in 2014. Some of the test items have been released but to a great extent what and how the tests measure remain unknown.
  6. The drive for new standards is driven by College Board research that suggests that only about 30% of high school graduates read and write at the level needed for success at college and by the idea that workplace demands on literacy are similar to those at college. The new standards call for a curriculum that is rich in content knowledge and for instructional practices that support routines of close reading and analytical and expository writing that uses that knowledge.
  7. To a great extent, these standards work against conventional wisdom in the profession, which leans heavily toward extolling “creativity” and “higher order” thinking. However, the usual result of using consensual and collaborative processes to get work done is that the conventional wisdom gets repeated. One would expect that using collaborative processes to align curriculum to CCSS will result in little or no real change. Real change would require authoritative processes.
  8. If the goal is to make a serious effort to effect the changes that the CCSS call for, what is needed at this stage is teaching. Teachers need readings and presentations that accurately explain what the standards mean–both what research has called them into being and what teaching practices are actually coherent with the standards.
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