Thursday, February 23, 2017

Moultrie's Jody Stallings Hits Another Home Run on Teaching Standards!

From the Moultrie News:

Teacher to Parent - Are the common core replacement standards any better?
By Jody Stallings Special to the Moultrie News Feb 22, 2017 Updated Feb 22, 2017   (1)

Q. As a a parent, I was not a fan of the Common Core Standards and was happy to see South Carolina get rid of them. Are the replacement standards any better?

A. Nope. Now, that’s not to say that the Common Core standards were good. At best, teachers were ambivalent. Some really loved them. Others thought they were terrible. So I’m not suggesting that we revert back to those. All I’m saying is that the new state standards are like Britney Spears circa 2007: they have serious issues. One of the worst is that they are a ruthlessly complex scattershot of completely incomprehensible gibberish.

In "Walden," Henry David Thoreau said, “Simplify, simplify.” The writers of the S.C. Standards didn’t get that message. Most teachers believe learning standards should be highly rigorous but also simple and clear. This helps students learn, teachers teach, and parents know what the heck is going on. Overwrought complexity, on the other hand, breeds chaos, confusion, and costliness.

As an example, the state standards for my eighth-grade English class list 147 discrete learning items. For this article I tried to find the exact number of actionable phrases (things like “students will analyze poems,” “learn what a verb is,” “identify metaphors,” etc.). I got up to 192 before I stopped counting. My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that there are about 252 such standards, just for an 8th grade English class. There might be more.

Keep in mind there are only 180 days of school, and 10 of those are set aside for testing these very standards. Just when are teachers supposed to teach all of these things?

That assumes, of course, that you really want us to. As I mentioned, not only are there far too many standards, many of them are totally unintelligible. Here’s a verbatim example:

“Integrate an information (cueing) system that includes meaning (semantics), structure (syntax), visual (graphophonic), and pragmatics (schematic) to make meaning from text.”

And you thought you had trouble getting your child to pick up his socks. Try getting 120 eighth-graders to integrate graphophonics into their information (cueing) systems.

I’ve been around a while, so I happen to know that back in the day the above standard used to go by the single word “Read.” But imagine being a brand-new teacher struggling with 30 wild, wired pre-recess eighth-graders reading on a fifth-grade level, and you are charged with getting them to “integrate a (cueing) system that ..." — Oh, you get the idea.

And let’s consider the thousands of perfectly intelligent teachers who don’t have the faintest clue what that standard means. Educational administrators will say, “That’s okay. We’ve hired professionals to train teachers to learn it. Plus we’ve purchased some wonderful programs to help them teach it to their students.” You can probably hear the cash register already.

That training and those programs are expensive. Really expensive. A few years ago, CCSD alone spent $5 million to train its teachers in the Common Core standards, and those were a cakewalk compared to the new ones. This reveals one possible reason why the new standards are so plied with indecipherable jargon: Someone has to make money, and it sure ain’t teachers. (Pardon my grammar. I was just trying to be graphophonic.)

What’s the solution? Listen to Thoreau: Simplify, simplify! Our students (and teachers) are being overwhelmed by educational standards that have little practical connection to real life. We need to get back to basics. Course standards should be able to easily fit onto a single page and should be decipherable by any parent.

This would eliminate the need to spend money we don’t have on expensive consultants we don’t need to instruct teachers who are leaving the classroom in droves how to teach standards that make no sense to students who deserve much better.

The great computer scientist Edsger W. Dijkstra described simplicity as a tremendous virtue, “But it requires hard work to achieve it and education to appreciate it. And to make matters worse: complexity sells better.”

Indeed it does. Much to the detriment of our students.

Jody Stallings has been an award-winning teacher in Charleston since 1992. He has served as Charleston County Teacher of the Year, Walmart Teacher of the Year, and CEA runner-up for National Educator of the Year. He currently teaches English at Moultrie Middle School and is director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance. Please send your questions to him at


Anonymous said...

I guess the parent wasn't interested enough to read the replacement standards for his/herself.

Jen Brock said...

Or was lost in the verbiage and acronyms and asked someone they thought was an expert. Someone whose Gmail and district email has been discontinued.
Don't believe everything that's printed. “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” George Orwell