I’m just back from FETC—the Florida Educational Technology conference. I was there at the behest of Scholastic to talk about Common Core (CC). (I don’t work for or publish with Scholastic, so I wasn’t there to sell their books. They wheeled me in as someone who spends a lot of time thinking about Common Core.) The week before, I’d been in Alabama meeting with high school teachers and seeing where they are in the great leap forward. I’m writing to give you a report from the CC front.
When it comes to putting the new education guidelines into action, there’s one word for where we’re at as a nation: patchwork. The variance among states is astonishing: Kentucky has already had its first CC assessments, and New York is moving full-speed ahead, training teachers, librarians, and administrators for its CC assessments in May. For those educators in Alabama, this is all a very distant star. But when I say patchwork, the state level is only the beginning: district-to-district, school-to-school, even classroom-to-classroom, there’s been a huge range of responses to CC.
Having just attended FETC, let’s begin with tech readiness. As most of you surely know, it’s mandated that the CC assessments be given digitally. One Florida school has 10 computer labs with 30 desktops whistling clean and ready for use—so 300 students can take the tests simultaneously. A visiting librarian from Atlanta nearly fell over backwards when he heard that—the best he can hope for is one lab per school. There is some wiggle room on when a school or district or state must be ready to deliver digital tests, but there’s absolutely no shared timeline or standard.
Digital brings up the next splintering: in Florida, it’s mandated that 50 percent of school materials must be digital by 2015 and digital tutorials must be available for students. On the convention floor, I saw vendor after vendor with materials to fill that digital space: from math apps to flight simulators that teach physics to global connections that link classrooms to fully online learning programs. But who can afford them? In one Florida district, 100 percent of its students receive free or reduced lunches. Yes, the district qualifies for Title I funding, but its kids are likely to be living with grandparents or even great grandparents, with no digital access at home—while another Florida district is encouraging fifth graders to BYOD, because every kid has so many digital devices.
Technology is just the beginning of the beginning. What I’m seeing in schools is a kind of simmering civil war. On the one hand, teachers who have long believed that “once I close the door, it’s my classroom and I do it the way I know best” are often skeptical about CC, especially since it comes with questionable, but high-stakes, teacher evaluations. And on the other hand, there are teachers who are eager to try new teaching methods and tools. So the patchwork response to CC extends literally from classroom to classroom.
One reason for this piebald landscape is that many districts have invested in expensive programs that, frankly, are directly at odds with CC. (For more on that, see my column “(Mis)Guided Reading”. As a school librarian, what can you do? First, be of good courage: the high-pressure but equally highly mixed response to CC you are doubtlessly experiencing is going on everywhere—we’re all facing this moment of flux. Secondly, use this opportunity to seize the leadership reins. Everyone in your building needs your knowledge of good nonfiction and technology and your ability to scour the Net for best CC practices that other schools have developed. One wonderful Florida district made a careful analysis of which digital device best supports learning. What grabbed the top spot? The humble PC, because of its keyboard. And yet, I heard tell of a teacher in an all-iPad school who midway through the semester reported that she had a big problem: she couldn’t figure out how to turn the device on!
Right now, CC adoption is a crazy quilt. Make sure you’re right in the thick of it, pitching in to sew those pieces into a useful pattern.
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