The View from Japan: Common Core is a Disaster in the Making

This is an interesting perspective on testing from an American teacher who is teaching at a University in Japan.

Creative by Nature

 “What many supporters of Common Core ignore is that the “rigorous” high-stakes testing approach that they wish to impose on our children has been experimented with in many other nations, and has been a complete failure. Once in place it dominates all instruction, turning schools into test prep factories, and students into test-taking machines.”

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I’m a full-time University teacher, living and working in Japan since 1994.  We had our entrance exams a few weeks ago, and part of the job for University teachers here is to mark certain sections of the tests by hand. One of the things I notice each year is that most Japanese students get 30 to 50% of the answers wrong.

Sometimes answers are close but test markers are looking for the “exact” right answer. If the student spells a word wrong they may receive half credit or no points. Why are we so strict with spelling? Because these kinds of high-stakes tests are designed to select and sort…

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Defeated by the Common Core State Standards

Tears in his eyes.  My 3rd grade son was waiting in the foyer when I arrived home from work.  His eyes were filled with tears, and he looked terrified.  I had a panicky feeling because I thought something was really wrong.  I asked him why he was crying, and he proceeded to tell me that he got a 100% on his social studies test.  I was elated because we worked really hard for two days studying the different landforms!  But, he went on to tell me that he got a 33% on his math test and a 62% on his reading test.  He told me that he was worried that he would fail third grade.  My stomach dropped.  I felt sick for him knowing that he was obviously devastated by his low grades.  He did not even seem excited at all about his 100%!   How sad that a child in third grade was this upset about his grades even though neither my husband nor myself have ever pressured him about getting good grades.

My 3rd grader has struggled in school for a few years now.  Inconsistent grades in reading and remaining pretty static in math.  He has failed every single math test since first grade. Every. Single. Test.  Imagine the feeling he has as he prepares to take the next test already knowing that he will not do well.  My heart breaks for him and all the other children that are struggling with the new math concepts and applications.

My son has had wonderful teachers that have worked hard with him, but he just doesn’t seem to get it.  The light bulb is not going on for him.  He tries hard and completes his work but can’t seem to grasp the concepts being taught.  It makes me sad to think that the Common Core has defeated my son.  This new curriculum has turned my happy, outgoing, not stressed kid into a high anxiety, cry before school kid.  I am angry that the system that Governor Cuomo has set up has failed my son; the modules are confusing and not age appropriate.

What has changed?

The Common Core State Standards have changed the math curriculum and made it much more challenging for the students in many grades.  So challenging that if your child struggles with concepts, they are left perplexed and broken.  Plain and simple.  The children that are high achievers and normally do well will be okay because they are able to understand the information being presented.  The average achieving students must work harder to understand it, but they will eventually get it.  Unfortunately, the lower achieving students are completely lost and overwhelmed.  Of course this is not the case for everyone, but in my experience with my son this is what I am seeing.

Problems that were once solved by a basic math operation now require you to show work and explain how you got the answer.  I understand the theory behind all of this, but for some kids this is confusing.  I realize that the way I was taught to just do a problem but not really understand the “why” behind it is now replaced by fully understanding why we do things.  But, when applying this to word problems that are four steps long in third grade, some kids are shutting down before they get step one completed.  That is my son.  He rushes through the test missing even basic questions because he is so lost and frustrated.

State Testing

For those of you that do not know, third grade is the first year students will take the ELA/Math State tests.  These 8 and 9 year olds will sit for extended periods of time reading passages and answering questions that are ambiguous and confusing.  They will be required to read multiple step word problems with names of people that they cannot even pronounce.  They will do this for three days one week and three days the following week.  AND the teacher will be scored on each child’s growth.  Growth on a third grade test…how can that be shown if this is the first year taking a state test?  The teacher must predict what each child will get based on the scores from the local tests they are given the first month of school!  Yes, I said predict!  The last time I checked, teachers were not fortune tellers!  Let me also clarify that the local assessments are not at all parallel to the state tests!

The state tests do not define my son; therefore, he will not be taking the third grade test this year.  His anxiety is so high already that there is no need to push him over the edge.  He will not benefit at all from sitting and taking a test that is so over his head that he shuts down.  The test is not beneficial for his teacher because the results are not used to remediate him. The scores are not actually sent out until the following September.  There is no good reason that I can think of for him to be subjected to the NYS testing mess!  My son is much more than a test score, and I refuse to allow his spirit to be completely broken at 8 years old!

Homework or Torture?

When I first became a teacher, I was so focused on my students and their education that I never really stopped to think about how homework was affecting their parents.  Boy, has that changed!  I have realized that parents struggle with educating their children because kids don’t want to listen to their parents.  Kids never trust their parents’ knowledge and are constantly reminding them that the teacher does it a different way.

When my oldest son began school, my husband and I couldn’t wait to see what school was like for him.  He did well from day one and continues to excel.   He completes his homework without complaining and is flourishing in his honors classes.  My second son enjoys school, but not the academic part of it, only the social aspect.  He does pretty well, but we have to stay on him and make sure he keeps up with his work.  My third son has struggled since day one.  Sometimes it is like I am banging my head against the wall when we do homework together.  Some days I feel like that would actually be less painful! My daughter still likes doing homework because she is only in 1st grade.  But there are some days that she just wants to play, not do flashcards or practice her sight words.  My kids are probably like many other kids across the country that don’t like to do homework!

I am extremely grateful that my kids’ teachers only assign an appropriate amount of homework that is used for reinforcing skills, not just busy work. Since my kids have started school, I have a new-found understanding for the parents of my students.  This is why I assign valuable homework that allows my students more practice with the concepts taught at school.

My Second Job

When I leave my teaching job at school, I go home to my second teaching job.  This one is often difficult and can be very overwhelming.  Honestly, I dread doing homework with my kids.  It is a battle every night to get my children to sit and finish their work.  All of the advice I have given to parents over the years about making their kids set a timer, blah, blah, blah…not working here!

Even though I value homework as a teacher, doing homework with my own kids stinks…the tears, the yelling, and the crying…all of it.  I do not think of it as bonding time with my children, but actually more like me turning into a crazy parent forcing them to do something they strongly dislike.  It is like torture for both my kids and myself.  The homework battle has become ten times worse since the Common Core Standards have been introduced.  The problems don’t make sense and the kids become frustrated more easily.  They tend to give up before they even start.  At least that is how it is for my third grader and many other children out there.

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand the importance of homework, and I think the CCSS are actually beneficial in some ways.  I like the idea that there is consistency across the states in what the kids are learning at each grade level.  I have no problem with raising the bar to get students to think a little bit deeper.  But, many of the standards are developmentally inappropriate.  Some of the math homework is so difficult that the students and parents are not even sure what the problem is asking.  Setting kids up for failure is not my idea of teaching.  Despite this new educational idea, I have trudged on trying my best to get my children to cross the finish line.  Even if it means just giving my son the answer on his homework because we have been staring at the same problem for forty minutes!

I am sorry to all the parents out there struggling to help their children.  This is a hard job!  Parents and teachers are in the same boat; we all want kids to succeed.  But, we must continue to fight for what we know is right and not accept what is harmful and stressful to our children.

I Am That Parent

When my kids started school, I had these grand visions of being this organized parent who reviewed flashcards nightly and corrected every single piece of homework before it went back to school.  I always told myself that I would not be that parent that forgot to sign the permission slip or the agenda….but actually, I am that parent.  I do not review flashcards every single night nor do I have time to correct every last piece of homework.  I have turned into the parent that doesn’t send in absence excuses because I forget to write them.  I am that parent that tries to keep all the papers organized, but just can’t seem to find the right sorting system for four kids.  I am almost there and that is good enough for me.

I used to say that I would read to my kids every single night of the week.  I would love to tell you that I really do read to all four every night, but that would be lying.  I read with them often, but my two older boys have not wanted to read with me for years now.  I do my best, but they are not avid readers. In fact, none of my boys really enjoy reading!  Since I am a reading teacher, this just about kills me!! But, there is still hope for my daughter.

I have learned to just let some of the everyday things go in order to remain sane.   If my kids do not have a fruit or vegetable in their lunch every day, they will be okay.  It is not the end of the world.  When we have a rough morning, my daughter goes to school with her hair sticking up.  If my son has on a wrinkled shirt that does not match his pants, that means that he dressed himself….after all he is colorblind!  I always wonder what the teachers think when my kids come to school disheveled.  But then I realize that when my students come to school untucked and mismatched, I don’t think twice.  I know their parents are doing the best that they can.

Although I might not be the most organized parent in the world, I truly do care about my kids and their education. Since the shift in education a few years ago, I have been hit hard with the realization that some of the curriculum is just not age appropriate. Parent help is needed at home.  I do my best to communicate with the teachers often, and I work with my children daily.  I am that parent that makes my son rewrite his spelling sentences because they are messy.  Unfortunately for my children, having two parents that are teachers does not allow them to get away with much!

I may not check every piece of homework, but I talk to my kids about what they are doing in school.  I don’t get much of a response from my boys, except for hearing about what they are doing in physical education which is their favorite subject!  My daughter, however, is full of stories but most of them do not relate to academic work.

I call my daughter the “common core baby” because she embarked on her educational journey right when these new standards were introduced.  She has had wonderful teachers, just like my boys have, but she will never know what school was like before modules and testing.  This makes me sad.  I know that I am not alone in feeling this way, and I am confident that parents and teachers will work together to stand up for our children’s future.

From the Beginning

Educating the future. That is my job…both as a parent and a teacher. I am a mother of four and a sixth grade reading and science teacher. I love both of my jobs, most of the time. Obviously, being a parent means lots of ups and downs. I trek through day by day making things work as best as I can. But, I would not trade that job for anything. At work, I do the same. I do what I think is best for kids each and every day. Making quick decisions on my feet as I see fit based on what my kids need…knowing what works and what doesn’t work.

This blog is an inside perspective on being a parent and a teacher. I will not share data and stats, but I will share my heart-felt day by day findings and understandings on what it means to be a teacher these days. I will not preach about politics, but I will write about my daily experiences with education…both as a parent and as a teacher.

How did I get here? Ironically enough, I went to school to be a politician. It is funny that I even considered this, seeing I do not have much faith in politicians or what they are trying to do. I realized quickly that I was not cut out to sit at a desk all day long….really getting no where. Would I really be able to make a difference in our society doing things this way?

My junior year of college I had the opportunity to help others by going abroad and teaching English in Poland. I ventured out without knowing anyone, and ended up being on a trip of a lifetime! I learned so much about myself on this adventure. I learned that I wanted to teach others. That I cared about the future and what they have to offer to this world. I chose to go to Poland the following year to teach again. This experience is what made me realize that teaching was for me. I wanted to make a difference in a young person’s life. I enrolled in graduate school at UB and started my whirl wind education to get my teaching certificate.

How many people can actually say that they love their job? When I first started teaching, I was one of those people who could honestly say that I loved my job. I worked long hours organizing lessons, keeping tabs on my students abilities, and getting to know my students’ personalities. I loved teaching. I read great books with my students, and we had meaningful conversations. We did science experiments and learned through exploration. We had computer centers that enabled the students to go beyond the text-book to further their understanding of specific concepts. The kids loved science and so did I! I felt like I could make a difference.

This was what teaching was like years ago, before my own children were in school. Things have changed in the past few years. More restrictions, more testing, more curriculum to teach. Being a teacher these days is not what it used to be….maybe this isn’t what I am meant to do. But, how can I give up when I know the importance of what I do each day?