February 2014 - Testing/Assessments and Learning Standards
February 06, 2014

Common Core Chaos: Educators find SED's modules too little, too late

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
Levittown teacher Donna DiPalo, shown with her fourth-grade students, found the writing activities in the commercial Common Core program inadequate. Photo by Jonathan Fickies.
Caption: Levittown teacher Donna DiPalo, shown with her fourth-grade students, found the writing activities in the commercial Common Core program inadequate. Photo by Jonathan Fickies.

Be careful what you ask for!

So said Copenhagen Teacher Association's Lori Atkinson Griffin when NYSUT United's Facebook page asked readers to share their experiences with the State Education Department's Common Core modules.

Within hours, educators unleashed a torrent of critical comments, calling the modules too prescriptive, poorly developed, error-ridden, ambiguous, boring, one-size-fits-all and pure drudgery. Virtually no one offered praise for the modules prepared by three for-profit companies for statewide use.

"The curriculum assumes every child will have the exact skill level they need. Wonder what happened to everyone learns at a different pace; each child is unique?" wrote teacher Laurie Ann Fay. "The lessons are neither fun nor interesting ... they stifle my creativity as a teacher."

"It's all double speak. 50 extra steps to 2+2 and why is that your final answer," said Stacey Kahn. "Who does this benefit? Pearson and the tutoring companies ..."

The online comments echo the views offered by hundreds of educators at legislative and SED forums in recent months and reinforce the need for SED to slow down Common Core implementation — and get it right.

"The state rushed to roll out these modules with little or no vetting with the field — just like they rushed to implement Common Core state assessments before the alignment of curriculum," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira.

"These modules are not only incomplete and late, many are poorly done, developmentally inappropriate and overly scripted. That's why we need a three-year moratorium, to give practitioners a chance to field-test these modules and give them time to design or modify curriculum based on their expertise."

Using its federal Race to the Top funding, SED spent more than $28 million on contracts with Core Knowledge Foundation, Expeditionary Learning and Common Core Inc. to develop the modules aligned with the Common Core standards. SED promised the modules would help teachers with the transition, providing "a carefully sequenced road map for districts to adopt or adapt," if they chose to.

Only a handful of modules were posted before the state began its grade 3-8 Common Core testing last spring. Many still weren't done as of early 2014, just months before the next round of state assessments. As more modules are posted, however, a growing number of educators say they aren't worth the wait or money.

"I tried one of the modules and lasted for two weeks before quitting ... the kids actually cheered when I told them we were done with the module and going back to my style," said Griffin, a ninth-grade English teacher at Copenhagen High School. She is horrified the modules recommend reducing "Romeo and Juliet" to just a few excerpts.

Teachers around the state, many of whom are required by their districts to use the modules, said the lessons are unrealistically fast-paced for students and difficult for teachers to wade through. Some are hundreds of pages long and do not correlate with the school calendar.

It also appears some districts are "adopting" the modules without reviewing them. In the Hudson Valley, educators objected to Black Swan Green, a book recommended for ninth-graders that includes a passage where the narrator, a 13-year-old boy, graphically describes his father's private parts, as well as a sex act.

Others cited material viewed as grade-inappropriate, such as exposing 8-year-olds to graphic wartime imagery or terms like "lynching."

Griffin cited the vocabulary in a short story for ninth-graders about girls raised by wolves who committed "frottage" on the organ pipes. "If you look up ‘frottage' on a website, you could be sent to a porn site," said Griffin, noting the anthology in question is published by a company owned by Pearson.

Saranac Lake board members laughed in disbelief when Superintendent Diane Fox quoted from a state-suggested unit for first-graders: "By the end of the unit, first- graders should be able to locate ‘Mesopotamia on a world map or globe and identify it as part of Asia and to explain the importance of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and the use of canals to support farming and development of the city of Babylon'... I'm not making this up!"

Math teachers note that complex topics are being pushed too soon, with insufficient time to carry out the lessons. Districts that have adopted the modules are telling teachers they must be on the same lesson on the same exact day.

Others said some modules are not grounded in the state curriculum. For example, grade 7 themes include working conditions and Cesar Chavez, a topic that aligns with New York's grade 8 social studies.

While many districts embraced the free SED modules posted on www.engageny.org because of financial woes, districts that purchased commercial Common Core materials are experiencing similar problems.

After Levittown teachers on Long Island pleaded for more professional development on Common Core, the district purchased a million-dollar elementary-level program from Harcourt-Houghton Mifflin.

"It's a very prescriptive program, with weekly lessons, an assessment every Friday and a unit assessment every five weeks," said Donna DiPalo, a fourth-grade teacher and Levittown United Teachers vice president. "The materials are very dry and we're finding we have to supplement the program, especially the writing instruction. Buying off-the-shelf programs isn't a quick fix, either."

While educators urgently try to prepare students for the second administration of Common Core tests without adequate time or appropriate materials, Neira quoted a truism. "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and thinking you'll have different results," she said. "When will common sense prevail?"

YOUR COMMENTS

To add or see more comments on SED's Common Core modules, go to the NYSUT United Facebook page: www.facebook.com/NYSUTUnited