Yesterday, the Times posted a story about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supporting a two-year moratorium on any "high stakes" decision-making at the state or local level based on the new assessments aligned to the Common Core. This makes a great deal of sense. Of course, I could write about how frustrating it is that teachers, teacher educators, and educational researchers have been saying this for several years now, and the message only has "heft" when someone else says it. But I won't go into that. I'm more fascinated by doing a close reading of the letter itself from the Gates Foundation.
Vicki Phillips, author of the letter, writes that "[a] number of states, including Kentucky, Maryland, Colorado and Louisiana have provided additional time for teachers to create their own lessons and curriculum, get new professional support, and become familiar with the assessments before they’re used as a measure of teacher performance. Each of these states is taking a different approach, but they all are listening to teachers, and they are all taking steps to align their approach with what teachers need to make the standards succeed." This makes sense. And someone is talking about curriculum! She also refers to teachers who "create their own lessons and curriculum." Our mission here at the Uncommon Corps is to talk about all the different ways that nonfiction texts can be used within the context of curriculum. Curriculum matters! It engages young people. It makes them think. Curriculum, not a program or product, is the vehicle within which learning takes place. Ideally, teachers create curriculum, based on state standards as well the goals established by the teacher, school, and/or district team. End goals are determined, with assessments created to articulate what has been learned, and those end goals and assessment shape instruction. It's also a work in progress each and every time, changed by the needs and interests of students, the teachable moments, etc. This is the work of school that matters most to teachers and students. The locally made decisions and locally crafted curriculum. This is where we need to focus our attention and build capacity and empowerment.
So when Vicki Phillips suggests that this waiting period will allow teacher to "begin to use the assessments to inform their practice, and second, teachers can see how their performance looks using these measures and make sure it lines up with other measures of teaching practice," I have hope that others, too -- state leaders, superintendents, principals -- will see that our most important and fundamental next step is not on the standardized tests, but creating rich and interesting curriculum to engage students and teachers alike in the possibilities and challenges of our complex world.
Onward, fellow champions of nonfiction books for children and young adults. There is good work to be done.