Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 02 2011

Never thought I’d miss AZ standards

My charter network decided that they were going to develop their own 6-12 academic standards for all subjects. This is a nice idea in theory, since state standards are often confusing and reasonable people can disagree over them. But states have been working really hard for a long time on their standards, and most have even adopted or adapted the national standards (which were developed by a serious team of experts with plenty of public input. Even I got to tell the Common Core people my thoughts before they finalized things).  Let’s just say it was very brave of this tiny charter network to think they could take a couple of people and a very brief amount of time and do a better job.

Not only was it brave, but honestly it was also very nice of them. They were trying to give teachers input into what they teach and make sure that they had a set of standards that worked for them. There’s a list of Very Important Standards, and after you cover those, you’re allowed to teach whatever makes you happy. Take time for projects. Delve deeper into conceptual understanding. Follow the interests of your kids. I know, this sounds really amazing.

But what about the fact that creating 6-12 standards in all subjects is a HUGE project that maybe we aren’t equipped for? In math, at least, the standards document is such a mess that they had to cut large, vitally important pieces of it and tell teachers to figure it out on their own. It’s riddled with objectives that are mathematically incorrect or imprecise. The district tests we’re supposed to take don’t even align to the explicit list of topics they’re supposed to cover, much less to the list of things we should be teaching at that grade level. When we go to plan the “whatever we want” piece of our curriculum, we’re given no sense of what should be covered at each grade level. Is it just me, or is much of mathematics a sequence built on prior learning? If I were just to follow my passion, I’d be teaching 9th grade algebra (MY FAVORITE), which would be wildly inappropriate with 11-year-olds. Or I might choose to focus on something relevant to 6th grade, but unknowingly leave out something that the 7th grade teacher depends on me teaching. And we get scolded for wasting time “reinventing the wheel” instead of using resources created by teachers in past years, but absolutely everything has changed dramatically every year. That means the resources we’re supposed to be using have actually little to do with the way we’re supposed to be doing things now. Oh, and the resources I was using to plan my year at the end of the summer have actually changed since then, so all that hard work was stupid.

I’m frustrated almost to the point of tears trying to plan my next couple of units. I’m really obsessed with alignment to standards, which was actually a valuable quality in my old school. But careful analysis of standards now just leads to me tripping over errors and contradictions, and I don’t know how to skim standards as lightly as I should to keep from getting bogged down in this mess. I also don’t want to be told to teach whatever I want, because I’m not confident that I’ll teach what my kids need most. I just want to teach what 6th graders are supposed to know.

I tried to talk to the People In Charge when I was blindingly lost, and they just clearly thought I was a moron until they exasperatedly opened the document I was talking about and realized there was a giant error that I had every right to be confused by. They fixed it and apologized, but now that I have the necessary basic information from them I don’t feel like I can open my mouth about anything else. I’m guessing I’m the only one who cares about all the things I’m going crazy over, and I don’t want to go be anal at someone who has a million other things to care about. Plus, these people have been doing this for longer than I have and probably know something I don’t know about the logic behind all of this. I know what it sounds like when you complain about something that works fine for everyone but you, and I don’t want to be that person. So I’m venting here and then going to shut up, promise. (But I reserve the right to slam my head against the wall every time I’m planning by myself.)

2 Responses

  1. Ms. H

    If anyone can make sense of the jumbled standards and foster learning in the classroom, it’s you!

  2. Umm. I’d say, maybe just go with Common Core standards in planning and tell your school you are using their standards.

    You are 100 percent right that it is ABSURD for a small team of people to think they can write standards for that many subjects and grades. how could they possibly think that they could do it better? I know some of the people who wrote common core and they wrote objectives on topics that they had 20 years research experience in. They actually knew what topics were appropriate for which grades and what ideas built on which other ideas.

    I know this was awhile ago, but honestly, I’d just go with common core and ignore the disaster they came up with. Just make sure the that you tell them you are using their standards if they ask.

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