Tweaking education standards is no substitute for informed teaching and learning

The Common Core State Standards (CC) have been, and remain, a controversial topic among parents, educators and politicians. Florida adopted the Common Core in 2010, but soon after, former Gov. Rick Scott announced the Florida Standards, a modified version of Common Core implemented in 2014.

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently issued an executive order to eliminate Common Core, charging Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to improve the quality of the state’s curriculum. In doing so, it is hoped that Corcoran will think critically about the following issues.

First, standards are grade-level learning targets that should guide curriculum development rather than be seen as “the curriculum.” Teachers should be able to weigh in on how those targets are met and decisions concerning the curriculum used with their students. Effective teaching and equitable learning opportunities do not reside in state standards or a scripted curriculum. They reside with teachers.

Second, in his recent executive order, the governor cited “teaching to the test” as one of the primary reasons for the needed changes to the standards. The issue of teaching to the test did not suddenly appear with Common Core; this has been an ongoing problem since Florida’s student achievement and teacher accountability were linked to annual high-stakes tests under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001.

NCLB effectively promoted the standardization of teaching, resulting in curricular and instructional mandates that disempowered and deprofessionalized teachers. Teaching is not a one-size-fits-all profession, and we must support teachers to successfully realize any proposed changes to our learning standards. It is concerning that federal and state policies imposed on local districts have shifted the focus from teaching for equity to teacher accountability. Teaching for equity involves differentiating instruction to meet the needs of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, abilities and strengths. The involvement of key stakeholders — including teachers, students, and families — in evaluating and implementing new standards and curricula will help ensure that state policies support improvements in educational outcomes for all Florida students.

Third, the focus on state standards should not overshadow attention to the evaluation systems that inevitably drive classroom practice. As long as Florida’s current evaluation systems are in place, standardized tests will dominate what is taught and how it is taught, inhibiting teacher autonomy to make appropriate instructional decisions so that allstudents are given equitable opportunities to learn the curriculum.

Teachers, especially those serving marginalized schools and communities, are required to follow a “pacing guide” to ensure that the content of the state standards is covered. Yet at the same time, teachers have little to no autonomy to make instructional decisions that are in the best interest of their students’ learning, (e.g., how long to spend teaching a concept). It is the pacing guide that now dictates when it is time to move on, superseding teachers’ professional judgments about their students’ learning needs. It is ironic that teachers are held accountable for their teaching, yet have little (and sometimes no) say in how they are teaching in their classrooms.

Fourth, the enactment of Florida’s teacher accountability policies are not in the best interest of all students; teacher professionalism is key in implementing new standards and curricula. The concern with monitoring teachers’ adherence to the “pacing guide” needs to be replaced with development of and confidence in teachers’ decision-making related to the pace of instruction for their students. Research demonstrates that effective teacher professional development involves teachers’ sustained learning over time, with a focus on theory and practice, classroom-embedded supports and collegial feedback that empowers teachers to make instructional decisions regarding their students’ instruction.

Effective professional development is expensive, but it is an important investment in developing and professionalizing teachers’ knowledge and practice. To promote social justice and equity for all of our students, teaching and learning in their entire complexity need to be considered to improve public education rather than simply changing the learning targets or standards.

Mary A. Avalos, Ph.D., is a research associate professor at the University of Miami’s School of Education and Human Development Department of Teaching and Learning.

From: Miami Herald

By: Mary A. Avalos
02-28-2019