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This American RadioWorks documentary about the Common Core that gets to the heart of the matter

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Whatever you might think about the Common Core, you owe it to yourself to listen to this 53 minute American RadioWorks documentary on the standards (or read the transcript).  American RadioWorks has proved in over 100 education essays and documentaries to be a balanced and reliable searcher of the truth about American public education and this new documentary is true to that spirit.

The piece contrasts an enthusiastic and successful Nevada rollout of the new standards with the poisonous atmosphere New York created with its premature and poorly developed Common Core testing.  The opening captures the theme well:

Stephen Smith: From APM, American Public Media, this is an American RadioWorks documentary

Torrey Palmer: Basically, my jaw dropped and said, “Oh, this is big, this is different.”

 The Common Core state standards are changing the way some teachers teach, and they like it.

Aaron Grossman: The teachers are saying, “This is what we came into the profession to   do.

The standards are meant to put American kids on par with the best students around the world.

KathyBaxley: They’re attacking math in a different way, and they’re getting it.

But the standards come with new, harder tests. Students and teachers are stressed out, and some parents are fed up.

Watson: My daughter practically comes home with nothing she ever creates. It’ just worksheets.Constant test prep.

The piece goes on to describe how schools, maybe without realizing it, have been setting low expectations for the lower achieving children.  Teacher Linnea Wolters says:

“If you can’t do these skills well than all you get is remediation. You never get to do the parts of learning that are amazing. You never get to do the good stuff, because you can’t do the right thing on a test at the right time. And it was another, just, way of making sure that kids who are in poverty stay trapped in poverty.”

Then, when Nevada adopted the new standards, Ms. Wolters’ colleague Aaron Grossman came upon these videos of Common Core lead author David Coleman saying:

“What really changes as kids grow as readers is not that they suddenly learn how to find the main idea. It is that they can do so with a much more complex text. That is, what college and career readiness is most predicted by, the single greatest predictor of college and career readiness is that you can read a sufficiently complex text with confidence.”

Grossman got teachers to experiment with Common Core lessons and they were amazed.  Wolters again:

“And I was high, just high as a kite. On what the kids had done and how engaged they were and how successful they were.”

 Teacher Torrey Palmer:

“Kind of the biggest surprises were, “I never thought that my students would be able to read this and be successful with a text like this,” to, “I can’t believe that these students did well with it but that these students, who I typically would have thought would have had no problem, really struggled and that they got kind of frustrated.”

Teacher Angela Orr:

“Well, I think that we created a class-based education system.  I think that everyone’s intentions have been absolutely pure, that we should help the lowest performing students. And those intentions seem to have gone awry, in that by helping students in a fashion bent towards remediation at all costs, we’ve forgotten to allow them to participate in an education that’s meaningful and worthwhile and in conversations that are worth having.

Student Ania:

“Feels like the point is to actually learn something and to actually gain something from it, because you have to use your brain, and you have to struggle a little bit in order to figure it out, but once you do, you’ve actually gained something from it.”

The piece then moves to New York where it documents the well known problems that have resulted from the state’s poor testing decisions.  The whole thesis is summarized by principal Carol Burris:

“I read those standards….and I said, “Wow!….And then I started seeing the tests, and I started seeing what the driver of the reform was going to be: evaluating teachers by test scores, making them anxious. And I said, “Oh my gosh, you know, I guess I was looking through rose-colored glasses.”

 Don’t miss this whole report.  It’s an honest presentation of a fraught topic.


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