By Guestblogger Sujata Bhatt
There’s been a lot of hullaballoo suddenly about the Common Core. Symptomatic of the strange political times we live in, the Tea Party Right and the social justice Left have found common ground on the purported dangers of Common Core standardization. What both sides miss, however, is the creative power of the Common Core: its potential to bring the professionalism in curricular creation and curation back to teachers.
In the past decade-plus of NCLB, teachers have lost much creative professional ground. States and districts have worked to ‘teacherproof’ curricula such that in many places administrators boasted of being able to leave one classroom mid-lesson and observe that very same lesson continue in an adjacent room. I still chafe at a note I received from an administrator after an Open Court observation: “Great job engaging the students with phonics, but you were supposed to be teaching short-vowel ‘ck’ spellings rather than short vowel ‘dge’” (actually, according to my scripted lesson plan, I wasn’t).
The more states and districts tried to control curriculum, the more power became concentrated in the hands of a few textbook publishers and the populous states whose standards dictated the content of those textbooks. And the less say teachers had in what was taking place in our classrooms. The less teachers were treated as professionals.
I believe the backlash to the Common Core is in part a holdover from these days of hyper-control. Teachers, beaten down by the regime of NCLB, continue to chafe under any threat of standardization. In doing so, however, we are in danger of overlooking its potential.
As with the standardization of systems of measurement across nations in the 19h century, common knowledge standards across states in the union allow for easier, more innovative forms of trade and as well as economies of scale, both of which can help put teacher-professionals back where we should be: in the driver’s seat of curriculum creation.
Content-rich teacher networks and teacher-centered platforms are growing. More than 260,000 of the nation’s 3,000,000 teachers use the Teaching Channel to share ideas and videos. Common Sense Media has just launched Graphite, a free platform that allows teachers to map standards and digital media products and websites. The Library of Congress allows teachers to search for primary source material by standard. Pinterest is bursting with Common Core boards, as is Teachers Pay Teachers, a marketplace where teachers can buy and sell lesson plans and curricular material.
Teacher-led professional development on the Common Core is in great demand. Teach Plus Los Angeles recently put out an announcement for a teacher-led summer conference on Common Core and, despite no monetary incentives for attendees, 1700 teachers signed up within 24 hours.
All of these are signs that beneath the anti-Common Core agitation, something else is also happening. Teachers, assisted by institutions, nonprofits, and entrepreneurs for whom Common Core creates economies of scale, are rising up to regain control of our classrooms and our professional authority in creating and curating curriculum. We should all recognize and support this movement.
Sujata Bhatt is a National Board Certified teacher with eleven years’ experience teaching in Los Angeles Unified School District and the founder of The Incubator School, an innovative LAUSD 6-12 pilot school focused on entrepreneurship and real world learning. She has also developed ‘big picture’ educational policy as a Teaching Policy Fellow with Teach Plus and with Our Schools, Our Voice and Future is Now Schools. She has written on education reform in The Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, and The Washington Post.