Lincoln High School – Des Moines, IA

(Des Moines, IA) Professional Educators of Iowa late last week released the results of their survey of members on Iowa’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards.  This wasn’t a scientific poll, but it does raise questions about how many teachers on the front lines really do support the Common Core.  This particular survey seems to poke a hole in the narrative heard from Common Core advocates that there is widespread support for the Common Core among teachers in Iowa.

PEI Director Jim Hawkins told Caffeinated Thoughts that the survey questions were member generated and sent to their members across the state.  “We have not made a summary, but the personal notes are reflective of the charts and figures in the supportive and negative.  One thing for certain is that our teachers are continuing to experience a piling on of extra responsibilities while there is little or no reduction to ease the mandates that have accumulated over the years,” Hawkins said.

“We do not know of any organization or state agency that has actually surveyed or maybe even been concerned about the reactions of the troops on the front line who must implement the core,” Hawkins added.

He said the notations made by teachers were “revealing” and the survey was structured to be unbiased.

The survey consisted of five questions.  They were:

As opposed to adapting national standards, should Iowa maintain its autonomy?

271 PEI members responded with an overwhelming majority (69.7%) believing that  Iowa should maintain its autonomy.  20.2% of respondents said no with 9.9% who answered they were not sure.

Here are some of the comments:

  • “If we don’t adopt the common core we will all have to rewrite our standards again and again.”
  • “Yes, it is important that those closest to the student have the ability to determine what is taught.”
  • “I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a national curriculum, but I doubt if all states are in the same place. What Iowa kids need may not be what other kids need.”
  • “We have tried to do that for the past 15 years or more and it has not worked. It has created more work and  confusion for teachers. As a mother, I want my daughter to be competitive with national and international  students.  But they are taking it way over the top. It has been done in other states for decades without all the additional pieces.”
  • “Let teachers teach creatively!!!!!!!”
  • “The common core has some great aspects, pertaining to students that are college bound, but it is a legalistic  nightmare for students that are on a different path, or students that have learning disabilities.”
  • “I think some of the methods pushed conflict with my personality and teaching style.”

Do you think that the core curriculum reflects what needs to be taught?  Educators were more closely divided on this question.  Out of 274 respondents 48.1% answered No with 40.1%.  13.1% answered that they were not sure.  Here is a sampling of the comments.  “Core curriculum” refers to what the Iowa Core used to be called and looking at the comments educators had the Iowa Core in mind, not just the Common Core Math and ELA standards.

  • “From the math instructors I work with, this is by far the most disheartening.  Social studies is also another
    frustrating area. Basically specific courses such as psychology and sociology are implied to have no relevance.”
  • “There seems to be confusion on what the common core is asking us to teach.”
  • “I feel that the core is very narrow in scope. They exclude many areas.”
  • “I feel that the core will help with schools that are in need of some sort of guidance. Remember it says this is the minimum you can add more. “
  • “To a point. It cannot touch the intangibles like developing a passion for reading/writing.”
  • “For the most part, the common core does reflect what needs to be taught. However, it is a general document, so any more specific information would dictate a curriculum.”
  • “As a special educator I focus more on my student’s needs verses the core standards anyways. Yet now I’m being  told my IEP goals have to align with CORE standards. It’s hard to close the gap when we are making students robots who all have to learn the same thing when the grade level standards are way above them and what they  individually need.”
  • “Yes, but in math there is too big of a jump and too many assumptions which could have consequences for  students who can jump several levels. “
  • “In my area of math, it is sufficient, not rigorous.”
  • “For the most part I would say yes. However, the trouble with the common core standards is that they are not  focused enough to give teachers an accurate view of what is actually required of the students. They are very broad.”
  • “I answer both yes and no to this question. I am an elementary teacher and I believe the majority of the standards  we teach are important for kids to learn. However, I have heard from secondary teachers that some of the  standards are inappropriate for what needs to be taught. Since the Common Core was created by major  foundations such as the Gates and Walton foundation, most of the standards focus on how to survive in a  business world, which limits the focus at times.”
  • “Somewhat, nothing replaces the teacher in the classroom.”
  • “to a certain degree but are by no means comprehensive and relevant for all students.”
  • In my opinion, it’s very weak on grammar and writing in the early elementary years. I see this with my second graders who struggle to capitalize and punctuate correctly, much less write a coherent sentence. My experience  has been that literacy curriculum that is aligned to the Common Core is weak on writing instruction.
  • For math, yes. Although I think it is impossible for all students to reach the high school math goals…the equivalent of Algebra 2 + statistics. This might change if our elementary program is beefed up. But I am seeing deficits in most of our transfer students, which take a long time to catch up. There is a conflict with the amount of  topics listed in math and then the directive to cover less and more deeply. In English – goals are good, texts selected open door for moral issues.

Do you think that the time spent documenting the core is time well spent away from class?  This question is one that non-educators haven’t spent much time considering.  What impact is paperwork involved in Common Core/Iowa Core implementation making in their class?  Out of 273 respondents, 78.3% it was not time well spent.  12.8% said that it was.  9.1% were not sure.

Here is a sampling of some of the comments:

  • “If this is important time needs to be built into the schedule. I teach 8 classes a day. When our school bell rings at 3:25 my day is really just half over due to all the paper work required now. “
  • “We spend more time talking and documenting and not enough time planning or being with kids.”
  • “Most documentation is for administrative purposes that are rarely used to support actual teaching and  improvement.”
  • “We need to document but that should not take time away from the class. Teachers do not have an 8-4 job. They are salaried employees and that means they work until the job is done. Documentation is a way to check on ourselves to be sure we are doing what we say we are. Our students deserve that.”
  • “Putting the objectives in our lesson plans is enough time and should be enough evidence.”
  • “I feel that we are doing our students an injustice by taking time away from them in order to let the state know that we are teaching what we should be. If we expect our students to perform better, taking class time away from them is not going to help. The strategies that are being used to present this to teachers are more confusing than just trying to do it on our own.”

Do you feel the extra time for core implementation is well spent?  Out of 273 members who answered 60.8% said no, 24.9% said yes, and 15.3% said they were unsure.  A sampling of the comments:

  • “Depends on what you mean. If you plan your lessons, then you are already spending time on how to implement the core. However, if you mean all the training that takes up professional development, then definitely not.”
  • “I feel that all teachers need more time being able to implement these standards and not many are getting the time.”
  • “What extra time?”
  • “So far has been a huge waste of time it is the blind leading the visually impaired.”
  • “Some is, some isn’t — all depends on how much you are already doing that is closer to the core. Unfortunately a great number of people need to learn more, so it is time well spent, but is going to shut more teachers down.”
  • “While it took me away from my classroom 12+ days last year and 2 weeks of summer work, I feel it is very important to provide a foundation for our content areas and schools.”
  • “Just creates busy work for teachers who are forced to come up with “strategies” that are nothing short of fantasy just to appease committees mandated by the feds.”
  • “No one knows what the whole thing is all about so everyone just tries to look busy and nothing is accomplished and this is from the governor to the teachers.”

From your experience so far do you believe it will improve school achievement? 274 respondents answered the last question.  58% said they didn’t believe it would improve school achievement.  Only 27% said yes, and 16.0% said they were unsure.  A sampling of the comments:

  • “Who knows? As long as Governors change the education policies every 2 – 4 years, we will never be able to research the effectiveness of policies and programs.”
  • “We need time on task with kids and smaller class sizes. More red tape will not improve achievement.”
  • “I was placed on the Des Moines district’s committee to look at and then roll-out the Core. I disagreed with it then.  I do now.”
  • “I believe the way the core will help most is helping students who transfer schools, districts, or states to have a consistent education.”
  • “No, top-down mandates rarely have much impact.”
  • “Yes, one example is writing. Students in Iowa have never been assessed in their ability to write. The Common Core assures that component.”
  • “Special education students need more time and more intense services. Yet with CORE requirements they are required to stay in classes way above their heads when they could be spending that time in small groups focusing on skills they need as ground work in order to advance to where they need to be.”
  • “Yes, I do. However, I say this with some reservation. It will not show school achievement in the way of Iowa Assessments or other standardized tests we have come to rely on. Legislation needs to change what we use to assess in order to show student achievement. Iowa Assessments, while the formatting is very similar to ACT/SAT tests, does not carry the rigor that Smarter Balanced and other assessments and what they hold.”
  • “Until students and parents as a whole value the Iowa education that they are receiving, nothing will change and the gap between those that take their education seriously and those that don’t will continue to grow. And then we will have to spend so much of our time getting those that don’t care up to the performance level of those that do!!”

While looking at the results and the comments it appears that Iowa educators are not as concerned about the content of the Common Core/Iowa Core as they are with a one-sized-fits-all mentality and implementation issues.  It is a clear there are many Iowa educators believe this is just another example of another experiment in a line of failed reforms.

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