The writer is a School Counselor in NC public schools. Part 1 will detail the implementation of Common Core into the School Counselor’s school. Part 2 will detail Technology. Part 3 will be SIS and Part 4 will be testing.
Part 1 – The Implementation of Common Core
In 2011 our county was holding a training. You come in for 2 days over the summer, you get $100 per day, they train a group of you, that group takes the information back to their school.
I signed up, earned $200 and I learned things like:
“It’s the same thing we’ve been doing, it’s just a different name.”
“It’s not a curriculum, it’s a set of standards.”
“It’s more rigorous and internationally benchmarked.”
“It’s important that we get stakeholders to buy in to this.”
I also got a 5 inch binder with color copies detailing the whole thing. This came along with a 2 inch binder detailing the information specific to school counselors. Everyone would get a 5 inch binder and a 2 inch binder specific to their subject. This came from the same county that had just told us we were in a hiring freeze, we have no money, and we are tracking how many copies you make.
I had questions. Where had this been internationally benchmarked? What countries? No one could tell me. Why is it only literacy and math skills across all subject areas? Because our students need to be college and career ready. Does that mean that our kids haven’t been going to college or going into careers? We have to increase the graduation rates and compete with other countries in academic areas.
As part of this we were also informed that every subject area would eventually have a test for students to pass that would let us know how well we were doing our jobs. Now, until this point we had a Math EOG, Reading EOG, some grades had a Science EOG, and some grades had a writing test. As we introduced the new standards over the next few years this would expand. There would be tests for Math, ELA, Social Studies, Science, PE, Art, and all other subject areas. Yes. All. Even a test to make sure that the school counselors had implemented their standards as well. All of this was suppose to be a part of our evaluation as professionals. It was going to be great because then we could identify areas where we were struggling and really coach each other to do our best, to improve as professionals.
The best part about this whole thing is that the school system was getting some much needed money. We were going to be one of the first states to put this in place. The decision had been made, this is what we are doing and it’s going to be national. Except for a few states who had opted out like Virginia or Texas.
Why did they opt out? They didn’t need the grant money. We need the grant money. This grant is going to be able to provide us with trainings and technology that we need. The real question should have been “When were states given the opportunity to review this and opt out?” The answer would have been never. States applied for a grant and as part of accepting that grant you signed up for Common Core without review and without question.
At this point, if you don’t work in education you are wondering how the teachers at this training reacted. Principals seemed to be happy with everything. After all they are going to have to lead each school in this. If they speak out against it, who’s going to follow them? Some teachers were concerned that they weren’t getting answers to their questions. How are we supposed to put this in place if we don’t have direct answers and facts? Why is this the first we’ve heard about this? With other curricula or standards there were months of reviewing and debating before the decision was made to implement it. This time, there was nothing.
Others figured it’s already been decided that this is the new program that is going to be in place. New programs in education are put in place so frequently that educators become numb to it. It becomes easier to go with it than to work against it. Besides if you work against it you risk you job. Despite tenure laws, if you work against your principal your life will be decidedly more difficult at work.
At this point, honestly, I was going to put my head down and go through the motions. I needed my job. I liked my job. I knew the constant implementation and changing of programs was part of my government job when I signed up for it. Besides, the state has already agreed to implement it. The decision had been made. There were things about it that concerned me, especially the fact that I didn’t feel like they answered my questions with anything more than rhetoric. I regret not being more persistent with my questioning.
The reaction of the faculty at my school was an identical reflection of those that attended the training. We all moved forward with it, even those that didn’t like it. What else could we do? This was a state decision – a national decision.
Throughout that year school counselors had a lot of questions that even those who attended the training couldn’t answer. Does this mean that eventually there will be an exam to determine if counselors have taught this list of skills to children? Um….I think that’s what they said but much later down the road. And that exam will determine our pay? Um…I’m not sure but I think they said that would happen further in to this process. What is this math progression? Common Core Math I is Algebra right? Yes but it’s more, I think. Eventually my answers were I don’t know.
Throughout this particular school year the original common core team would have to meet to determine if the school was buying in to the new standards. Are we seeing our peers use the standards? If not, what are the roadblocks? Who are the roadblocks and how can we convince them that this is good stuff?
At school counselor meetings it became all about college and career ready. What does it mean? Are we accomplishing it? There was a great push for career fairs and career tools and inventories being used in the classroom. Are we meeting with kids and talking about careers? I don’t spend a lot of time talking with middle school students about careers and I never have. I do talk to them about it, but there are other issues that I contend with on a daily basis.
For example, there are students in my school who have family members who are addicted to drugs. Those students are currently unable to talk about what career they want in 15-20 years. They are concerned with their next meal or if their parents are going to steal from them to get money to buy drugs. On the other end of things I have high achieving students who engage in self mutilation. Our focus is building healthy ways to handle intense emotions rather than cutting yourself today. According to the data that I keep each year more students are referred to me for suicide intervention protocols than to talk about careers. And both of those percentages are low – single digit low.
We got posters to put up around our school and buttons to wear on our shirts. They even had folks come around to see where we had placed the posters.
We also held parent meetings to introduce them to Common Core standards. All of the information presented was the same – internationally benchmarked rigorous standards, not a curriculum, etc. Parents would have the same questions that we did but for the most part they seemed OK with the answers they received. Occasionally a parent would call or meet with me and they would have more questions than I could answer. I still have emails with me responding to them with, “I’m not sure. I’d like to check with an administrator to make sure I give you the correct information.”
This was the first sign that something was wrong. I’ve been in this career for awhile. I’ve seen programs come and go. I graduated at the top of my class for my Masters degree. I aced the competency test. I am Nationally Board Certified. All other programs, when there were questions I was able to answer them with out a doubt – for parents, teachers, AND students. This group of standards has made me question my ability as a professional. I often wonder how many other educators have doubted themselves throughout this process.
The first lesson is if something feels wrong start to ask questions. As educators we have to trust our education, experience, and our gut instincts as humans. I began asking questions, observing and researching at this point. I hope that by sharing what I’ve learned that other educators will do the same.
The same team was asked to go to another training for 3 days during the summer of 2012. The same $100 per day stipend was offered. I declined.
– END OF PART ONE –