For the last few years in the spring the NYC Department of Education floats a draft of a document called “Instructional Expectations,” 5-6 pages long, to principals, network leaders and superintendents. After a month or so of feedback, with a roll of drums the document is rolled out and if the past is an indication of the future a citywide meeting of all principals to listen to Walcott and Shael shower praise on the wisdom they’re putting forth.
Not a bad idea if teachers were involved in the process.
At the citywide level the “combative side” of the Department is on a war footing with the teacher union and their members. The agenda is school closings, the public release of teacher data report scores, the abolition of seniority-based layoffs (FIFO) and the diminution of any due process protections. The latest attack is on due process rights embedded in state law and on the arbitrators who decide cases. All the attacks do is create more and more teacher resistance and cynicism.
On the “education side” Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are the byword. Each year the number of standards teachers are expected to integrate into their lessons increases.
The Common Core is not a curriculum. Strangely the Department steers clear of actually posting curriculum, it leaves the creation of curriculum and mapping to schools.
Every decade or so we have a new standards movement; the history of standards raising achievement is controversial. (See analysis here)
The current standards are the Common Core,
For example, Social Studies Standards in Grade 9-10 below:
- RH.9-10.7. Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.
- RH.9-10.8. Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.
- RH.9-10.9. Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.
No teacher would disagree and if you watch lessons regularly you see teachers attempting to implement the CCSS, requiring students to write evidence-based persuasive and/or argumentative essays.
I say attempting because of the “noise” that interferes. Students too frequently come to the 9th grade two, three or four years behind in reading skills and lack basic writing skills. Attendance is spotty: first period is a disaster, traveling forty-five minutes to an hour on public transportation each day can be an adventure, and scanning, getting to school thirty minutes or so early to stand on the scanning line are all obstacles.
In a few schools teachers have thoroughly bought into the Common Core. In each and every classroom you see kids writing multiple times during lessons, teachers using writing prompts and questioning and discussion is high on the Depth of Knowledge (DOK) scale.
In most schools the Common Core is a compliance document, you make sure your lesson plan reflects the specific Common Core standard that the Instructional Expectations document references.
Your classroom has posters listing the standards just in case someone drops by, and you do the best job you can. Unfortunately little changes instructionally.
Teachers learn to be nimble. No one wants to fight with their supervisor, you write the “appropriate” lesson plan and try and have your lessons reflect the Danielson components.
Principals understand and the dance continues.
Ted Sizer described “the dance” in his classic, “Horace’s Compromise,”
… disengaged students and burnt-out teachers (add compliant principals) make an unspoken agreement (the eponymous compromise) to demand the least amount of work possible from the other while still fulfilling their basic responsibilities. “It’s good enough” is the motto of this compromising education.
Breaking the cycle is a challenge that this administration has failed.
Sadly, too many teachers ask, how can I trust a school system which is so antagonistic to teachers?
Accountability becomes a stick, to prod, to threaten and ultimately to punish rather than a responsibility.
Grades 3-8 have been in test prep mode for weeks and the actual tests are this week. High schools will be shutting down teaching by mid May as Regents review takes over.
Not all schools are caught up in the test prep merry-go-round.
Thirty or so schools in the city are part of the Performance-Based Assessment Consortium (“Consortium Schools,” check out website here), schools that have a waiver from State Ed that allows a portfolio-roundtable assessment in lieu of Regents exams. A highly effective alternative in which teachers, across disciplines, collaborate on meaningful Common Core Standards Based projects to produce college ready outcomes. (Read interview with Linda Darling-Hammond here)
Unfortunately the feds, the state and Tweed abjure everything except the focus on CCSS and the first set of PARCC assessments three years down the road. Linda Darling-Hammond may be one of the deepest thinkers and researchers in the nation, she is ignored while Duncan and company only focus on a testing regimen.
Accountability and collaboration is a two-way street – as long as teachers perceive district, state and national leadership as hostile to classroom teachers all ideas and initiatives will be looked upon with suspicion.