More about Common Core

I recently had a good talk about Common Core with Trevor Nadrozny, the Director of Curriculum with Unit 4. I initiated the conversation by leaving a couple messages with questions about how and what data on my child is being collected. We found a time to chat on the phone, and here is what I learned.

First, Common Core is a very broad, very vague set of guidelines. If I may make a gross analogy, it is like saying you have to weigh 100 pounds in 6 months. “Pounds” and “months” have standard definitions so we can all measure them the same way, but the path to get to “100 pounds” in “6 months” is totally ambiguous. Aside from the fact that everyone starts at a different place, there are different ways to get there. Maybe one person will use the path of “liposuction”, maybe another will use the “Atkins Diet”, another may use a “ketogenic diet”. Maybe one person will take the journey of “working out for 3 hours a day”. Common Core doesn’t really care how you get there, as long as you get there. The hidden problem with this approach is that it makes it hard to reward those that tried really hard and just didn’t meet the goal – maybe they lost 29 pounds, but just couldn’t get the last one off. For the record, I am not a big fan of the Body Mass Index (BMI) – maybe this is what taints my own view of Common Core – everyone is different, so we cannot all possibly fit into the same pigeon hole. But Common Core, like BMI, allows us to all talk with the same measurements, and there is some utility in that alone.

To implement the goals of Common Core, Unit 4 is piloting 3 separate programs at the elementary schools:

  • Wonders – Carrie Busey, Stratton, Bottenfield
  • Journeys – Robeson, Westview
  • Reading Street – Dr. Howard, Kenwood

I did some digging; while I could not find any relevant information on the Unit 4 website (I have a note into Stephanie Stuart and Trevor about that), I did find some vendor information:

Trevor mentioned that he did not have enough budget dollars to pilot these programs at every grade level, so I am not certain exactly which grades at the aforementioned schools are actually going through this exercise.

In an earlier thread, Karen talked about the critical need for grammar. When I mentioned this to Trevor, he said grammar is actually actively taught right now. He used a Kindergarten class teaching Wonders as an example, where students were learning about nouns and pronouns. So obviously, it seems that grammar is indeed being taught at least in one situation – I am not familiar enough with each of the three pilots to know what importance or priority grammar takes, but a brief glance through the vendor pages (links above) indicate that each pilot program at least touches on grammar.

Trevor also explain to me how there are different levels of collecting metrics. On the one hand, the district uses generic literacy screeners by way of aimsweb. Trevor compared this to taking your pulse and blood pressure when you visit the doctor’s office – it doesn’t really tell you about any root issues, but it is a way of tracking general health. He also told me about “DRA”, which has been used in previous years; I didn’t catch what the acronym meant, but it was something about “diagnostic assessments”. Doing a search on the Unit 4 website, I see that DRAs have been talked about several times in board meetings – other than that, I am not finding much information (will keep looking & asking, and will update here when I find more). Trevor compares DRAs to being like a comprehensive blood test – much more thorough than aimsweb. Apparently, DRAs are used on an “as needed” basis.

Additionally, I learned that Wonders has assessments built in. It is foremost a reading curriculum aligned to Common Core, but assessments are kind of like a “bonus feature”. I did not ask, but I would assume that Journeys and Reading Street also have built in assessments.

A relatively new thing is something called “progress monitoring”, which is essentially a screener (taking pulse and blood pressure) on a weekly basis. I did not ask how this was implement or for how many students.

More to follow. My goal is to learn more about Common Core and what it means for our school district. I am hunting for facts. *grin* Call me narrow-minded, but I am focusing on facts that are relevant to Unit 4 and the Champaign community – broad, overarching details about the pros and cons of Common Core are less interesting to me at the moment.

To me, there is still a big issue revolving around how to prepare and move students from grade to grade. I have learned, via Voices for Illinois Children’s “Great at 8” initiative, the most critical years for building an educational scaffolding from which to hang the rest of ones educational progress occurs before a child reaches 8 years of age. The Champaign Federation of Teachers (aka, teacher’s union) recently promoted a video highlighting the “Word Gap” between the rich and the poor, and how some privileged kids have a 30 million word advantage over unprivileged kids by the time they enter kindergarten. That bothers me. I think our schools have a huge challenge to tackle that gap – I don’t know how we are going to do it.

8 Responses to “More about Common Core”

  1. Karen Says:

    The ‘word gap.’ How would that be addressed through the lens of social justice, though? Wouldn’t it be ‘culturally’ offensive to some to impose certain standards of speech-language interaction on others (even though it would be beneficial, ‘academically?’) And how/why is this concept seemingly new? It’s been around a long time. Hanen comes to mind (‘It takes two to talk.’ ’70s maybe?). Why do you think the onus falls on schools to tackle the gap in the pre-school years?

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      I am not sure the onus explicitly falls to the schools, but if nobody else is addressing it, then the schools should step up to the plate, I think. To be clear, I think we have a societal obligation (meaning, all of us) to attend to the education of our children (and I specifically say “our children” – we must taken ownership for all of them).

      Unfortunately, we have a dysfunctional society and we have lost the art of being the community (aka, “village”) that raises children. In my little utopian world, the only fix is to change society.

      You are right, this is not new. But the question remains, if this is an “old” issue, why is it still an issue? I personally don’t really care if we call it “old” or “new”, it is still a problem, and for myself I feel obligated to do what I can to address it.

  2. Karen Says:

    A little ‘grammar’ thrown in with a little political indoctrination?
    From Reading Street:
    Ridicule the source all you want, but, that doesn’t change the content of the worksheet.
    Unit 4 has to have all these materials being used in the classroom available for public viewing, don’t they? Stuff like this has the Unit 4 seal of approval. Your tax dollars are paying for this…..(insert adjective)……stuff.

    ‘if the lessons are meant as a primer on the Constitution, there’s another problem, note critics. The job of making sure laws are fair is not the president’s, but the judicial branch’s. The executive branch’s duty is to administer laws. And the example that places the well-being of the nation above the “wants of an individual” appears to run counter to the basic principles of the Bill of Rights.’

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      This is quite eye-opening, thanks for sharing it. Now I am compelled to go see what exactly is being taught in our schools. The quotes are kinda funny, actually. I can see a number of 5th graders, excellent critical thinkers that they are, saying “No… no the president ain’t always right.”

      I do agree about the “indoctrination” sleaze, though, that does concern me. Hence you have given me a side-quest to go find out the truth of what is being placed in front of our students. Hmm… Reading Street is in use at Dr. Howard and Kenwood. I haven’t been to either school. Maybe I’ll check out Dr. Howard since it seems to be getting a lot of attention thanks to the high school siting project.

  3. Karen Says:

    ‘Romancing Caesar Chavez: Houghton Mifflin’s Common Core Journeys 4th Grade Reader’

  4. Karen Says:

    Tricky territory as far as equal protection challenges go! it would seem.

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      Karen, you are pasting in a bunch of links with very little commentary of your own. Additionally, while the links may be “food for thought”, it doesn’t tell me what is going on inside Unit 4 schools at all.

      I have reached out to a couple parents at Dr. Howard and so far nobody has seen anything like the “indoctrination” mentioned earlier. I am trying to reach teachers as well.

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