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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Common Core does not address the nation’s real problem, poverty (rough draft)

Common Core does not address the nation’s real problem, poverty

Let me ask you a couple questions.

Will common core fix hungry children’s stomachs?

Will common core change apathetic parent’s minds?

Will common core make some neighborhoods safer, bring economic opportunity to parents worried about putting food on the table or give kids the basic supplies they need to be successful?

The answer to all those questions is no. The problem we have in education is not dumbed down or mediocre standards as common core supporters would have the public beleive, it is our dogged denial of poverty and poverty friends is the number one measurable factor in education. Students who live in poverty don’t do as well as those that don’t. Common core does absolutely nothing to address poverty and until we address poverty we can have one miracle fix after another and we will find ourselves right back where we are.  
Over a fifth of our children live in poverty and another fifth just above it and the problem is getting worse not better. It is beyond the pale to think a deeper dive into fewer topics is going to change that. Instead we must put into place things that will mitigate poverty.

We need legitimate after school and summer school opportunities’’, often two of the first things cut during lean budget times.  Kids who live in poverty often need more time to learn material and less time in between school years so they don’t lose what they have leaned. Furthermore we must strive to make these times fun for kids. One of the solutions in my district is to give kids an extra hour of school. Well friends many of the kids forced to stay after think it’s a punishment.  What have I done wrong, they ask their teachers.

Kids in our poorest schools need smaller classes so they get more individualized instruction and our best teachers to provide it. Instead people like Jeb Bush who sent his kids to exclusive prep schools that tout smaller class sizes say we should give our better teachers even more students.  The problem with this is twofold, first no teacher ever said give me more kids  and that will make me a better teacher and quite often we make working conditions so intolerable at our schools with the most poverty it is hard to get our best teachers to go there, not that we are trying to do so anyways. Instead many districts are doing the exact opposite of best practices and staffing the classes with Teach for America hobbyists who think, I will give that a try. This assures our neediest kids will have an ever revolving door of novices who often don’t know what they don’t know and don’t stay around long enough to learn it.    

Furthermore why would teachers want to work at those schools knowing their pay and future employment will determined by how their students do on standardized tests, that and the fact they are often micromanaged by administrators more interested in artifacts than instruction. We could and should have our best teachers work with our most challenging students unfortunately we put in place obstacles to them doing so.

If we offered autonomy, smaller classes, behavioral support, job security and adequate supplies to those districts identified being the best we could get teachers to go to those schools. Unfortunately those things cost money. Common core costs money too but that money unlike the ideas above is money siphoned out of the classroom and to the bank accounts of testing companies who are the ones both selling and trying to profit off of it.

Then we need to slow down on the reliance on standardized tests which are doing a job they were never designed to do. Standardized tests have sucked the joy of both learning and teaching out of education for many students and teachers; furthermore they have become punitive and do little to help students improve.  Starting in the third grade why don’t we give a test the first week of school to see what kids don’t know and the same test the last week of school to see if they got what they needed. Florida’s FCAT perhaps the most famous of high stakes standardized  tests does nothing to help teachers know what kids don’t and by the time the results come out it doesn’t aid teachers in knowing what to teach either.

Then we have to slow done on the remedial classes which have taken the place of electives, i.e. those classes which make school enjoyable to so many. We make school such drudgery for kids and then we wonder why they don’t do well. I have learned in my 13 years of teaching that if we put kids in situations where they will likely succeed, then they often will but that’s not what most education reforms do.

We can’t just stop with classroom and school fixes either.  We must also start addressing the entire child. The school reformers like to blame public education but the truth is, why a kid acts up or does poorly in school often has nothing to do with school. We need social workers, mental health counselors and nutrition programs that extend beyond the time our children are in school.

I am against Common Core but it has practically nothing to do with the standards and just because I am against common core it doesn’t mean I don’t care if my students do well in life or not. I am against then because they are an endorsement of the current system of over testing, we lack the infrastructure/computer resources to do it correctly, many teachers feel as if we are not ready, it siphons money out of schools and classrooms and it does nothing to address poverty.   Proponents make it all about them wanting to better prepare children against people that support dumbed down and mediocre standards who don’t care about children and they refuse to address legitimate concerns about a whole host of issues.   

Then I would also like to point out that the big supporters of common core are also charter school, voucher and merit pay fans. None of which has evidence saying they work better or at all. How can they be so consistently wrong and expect the public to give them another chance? My grandmother would call that chutzpah.

Jeb Bush while criticizing those against common core asked for solutions. Well above are a few I believe would have a much greater impact than common core but I also have one more. And that’s for Jeb Bush, who never taught a class in his life and who wants to send public school kids to very different schools than he sent his children to, to get out of education. He is doing infinitely more harm than good.    

People have to decide if we want our limited resources to go to schools and classrooms or if we want them to go to testing and software companies.  People have to decide if they want to address the real problems facing our schools or if they want another miracle fix, an untested, expensive miracle fix at that.

We can debate all day long if a deep dive into fewer standards is better than a hodge podge of standards that get lightly covered.  But what we should stop debating is the number one cause for poor performance in school and that is without a doubt is poverty. Until we address poverty and put in place things that mitigate poverty all we are doing is spiting in the wind and putting both teachers and students in impossible situations where failure not success is likely.

Chris Guerrieri                                                                                                                                              School Teacher


  1. On target and so well written -- thanks!

  2. I see great thought and passion in your draft.

  3. Working with children in all age ranges throughout poverty stricken areas in Louisville, KY and now Jacksonville for two years in all levels of math I have seen two reoccurring themes. Number one are the kids in Algebra classes without an excellent grasp on the fundamentals. Some cannot multiply or divide by hand Some even have trouble with negative addition and simple subtraction. Number two. The children who are unable to to find after school reinforcement for learning math quickly start falling behind at the level where reinforcement is no longer available. There are of course many circumstances for individuals but for children who are otherwise dedicated students I feel that the two themes above would lead to drastic improvements if addressed with immediate actions and funding.

    Beaches Habitat for Humanity, Education Volunteer,
    Jacksonville, FL

    Masters of Engineering
    University of Louisville