My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.

Uncommon Core

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July 25, 2013
“The Common Core kills innovation.”
(Quote from “Eight problems with Common Core Standards )
The Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss
Dear Readers,
Once again, America’s education system is on the precipice of reform.  Common Core Standards is just the latest in a long line of revolutionary, best practices foisted upon an unsuspecting public.  Historically, K – 12 education in the United States has met with more than its share of reformists who tout that which is in the best interest of students.

Beginning with the early American settlers, education has been a concern.  In 1635, Boston Latin School, a public secondary school for boys, began what we know as tax-supported public education.  However, it wasn’t until the 1830s that the Common School Movement gave rise to the acceptance that publicly supported schools could and should exist for all children, regardless  of social class, gender, religion, ethnicity, or country of origin.  The crusade for reformation and common schools had roots in the belief that social harmony and political and economic stability depended on universal education.  Of course, the movement met with public resistance.  Opposition forces clung to the desire to maintain strict, local control over schools.

Any of this sound familiar?  Replace the historic “Common School Movement” with today’s “Common Core Standards”, mix in the same belief of a direct correlation between universal schools and social, political, and economic stability, add the same deep desire to maintain local control over schools, and viola! you are met with the exact same public resistance.  Although I care not for the adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” it certainly seems apropos.

One of many complaints of today’s Resistance is the implementation of the dreaded high-stakes testing.  Unfortunately, once Common Core Standards is in place, teachers will live and die by standardized test scores.  Subsequently, this will inevitably lead to one of the most ineffective “best practices” teachers have in their arsenal:  teaching to the test.  In part, teachers’ evaluation and retention will be tied to test scores.  And sadly, some teachers will, in fact, teach to the test.  I will resist, dear Readers.

However, I secretly yearn to know how well my students do on these high-stakes tests.  Call it ego, call it hubris, call it a tad narcissistic; just, please call me when the scores are distributed!  And here is the crux of today’s blog post – English test scores rise for Emirati students

I ran across the above headline in an article on the blog Edarabia.com.  The information was culled from a recent article in one of the UAE’s newspapers, The National.  Apparently, Common English Proficiency Exam, or CEPA scores have risen for the first time in five years.  CEPA is  the high-stakes, end-of-the-year English test that Emirati, high school seniors must take in order to gain entry into one of the country’s universities.  But wait, there’s more!  According to the article, ” Of the country’s 10 education zones, the Western Region of Abu Dhabi produced the largest gains, seven points higher on average in 2013 than in 2012.”  That was me, I taught English to high school seniors in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi.  Now granted, I was only their English teacher for a minute.  However, I do believe I have earned bragging rights, and I’m bragging.  Should my dear Readers read said news article, they will discover that the rise in scores may mean absolutely nothing as far as a trend in test scores is concerned.  But to me, they mean everything.  I will take validation of my time in the UAE wherever I can get it.

For the most part dear Readers, I try not to bow to the pressure of teaching to the test.  And for the most part, I am successful.  I also try and place very little emphasis on my students’ test scores, for the most part.  And, I am successful, for the most part.  But I do have to admit, when I ran across that news article, I was overjoyed.  I affected change.  Not only that, I affected change 7,000 miles from home.  Although I have been content to value my teaching experience in the UAE as an end unto itself, I had secretly hoped that it had been more; I do believe this qualifies.  My teaching in the Middle East was but a pebble, dropped in the middle of the ocean.  And now dear Readers, I can see the ripple effect my teaching had on students halfway around the world.  Maybe, for the briefest of moments, in the tiniest of ways, I changed the world.  Peace, ~v.

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