The Race to the Bottom: Losses in the Classroom.

Through the past half century of political posturing for control over education, it is families and teachers who have come out the clear losers. Test scores remain flat, education spending continues to skyrocket and the once bedrock principle of local control is all but extinct and now merely given lip service by state and federal politicians. Bureaucrats far removed from American families and their children’s classrooms are doubling down on control. Implementation of the Common Core is just another in a long line of government’s empty, failed promises.

Ellie Rubenstein is one of the countless teachers and parents who have witnessed these losses firsthand. Rubenstein entered her career in education at the end of the Goals 2000 era and the beginning of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and the Common Core State Standards Initiative. She described the startling changes she has seen in the classroom over those years.

Curriculum is mandated, minutes spent teaching subjects are audited, and schedules are dictated by administrators. The classroom teacher is no longer trusted or in control of what, when or how she teaches…. More and more we are being forced to administer paper and pencil tasks, multiple-choice tests that can be graded by a computer and skill and drill assignments that don’t require or reflect higher level thinking. Authentic literature has been replaced with dry, uninteresting text and teachers are being forced to do away with constructive projects in order to fit in all those mandated instructional minutes and assessments.

Christy Hooley, a sixth-grade teacher from Green River, Wyo., has also witnessed the loss of creativity and freedom in the classroom. Hooley went into teaching because of a love for school and literature, and has been teaching for six years.

Hooley began her teaching career in Utah after NCLB had been put into place. At first, she didn’t really notice any effects in her classroom. However Hooley admits that she, like many other teachers, did not always understand the federal and state programs that were being enacted in her classroom. For her, it was about focusing on her kids and getting through the busy days. But when she moved to Wyoming, she noticed a huge difference.

I was floored by how much testing was happening in our school and it wasn’t me doing the testing, it was outside sources. Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) are given three times a year, Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) also three times a year and Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students (PAWS) at the end of the year, along with other tests. I was floored at how much time was taken away from my teaching.

This past year things began to change for Hooley after she and other teachers were told about the Common Core and its development in the Green River school in which they taught. Hooley began to see that this new curriculum was much more than just fewer, clearer, higher standards. She quickly realized that something big was happening and that teachers were losing their local control and their local voice.

One of the people I really respect said, “let’s just do it, that’s what we have to do, do what they well us.” That’s where I came up with - look at us, we’re like sheep. Do we really agree with this policy? Instead we are given videos, propaganda to fire us up about how great this is…. Administrators showed us three videos, but we were never allowed to sit down and hash out if we think this is really good for our kids.

For Hooley, she couldn’t just “do it” and instead started doing her own homework. When the Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students (PAWS) test was being put into place across the state several years ago, according to Hooley, teachers in her building sat down and “hashed out” what was wrong with PAWS. Hooley said the process was difficult, but teachers were able to sit down and make those changes and do what they knew was best for their students. It was a collaborative process in which every teacher participated.
But as Hooley learned more about the Common Core and the subsequent assessments that were coming after the implementation of the Core, she began to see a big problem with the complete lack of teacher input. The Common Core was clearly an edict not to be questioned or changed.

How is this going to increase the collaborating for our kids if there is no amendment process? When we are told they (teacher’s lesson plans) all have to be common core and yet supposedly we have 15% we can add, yeah right, but that 15% is not going to be tested so that’s the first thing that’s going to go. And those are the things that are dear to most teachers, the things that bring out the citizenship of our students, Wyoming’s history, and the geology of our state….that stuff’s going to go away.

Hooley sent an email to colleagues she knew and had worked with, stating her concerns. A fellow coworker she admired sent back a reply that stunned her. It said, “Common core is going to be the law and the law is what we have to follow.” Other colleagues, however, thanked Hooley for the information, and raised many of the same concerns. Hooley sat down with her administrator to talk about the email.

I left the meeting feeling that we would just have to agree to disagree. My administrator didn’t tell me I couldn’t share my views. A few of my colleagues said I should share my information with others, so I shared it in a staff meeting. That’s when my administrator got up and said we were done. We could not talk about the Common Core again.

For Hooley, it was the beginning of the end. “That was a part of what led me to not going back. I loved teaching. But I also want to get my kids out of the public schools right now.” Hooley will not be returning to her building this fall; she has chosen to leave teaching for the time being and is working fulltime to remove Wyoming from the Common Core.

A teacher from Southeast Wyoming with 11 years of experience has also seen the loss of teaching freedom firsthand. She agreed to be interviewed for this work under the conditions of anonymity, as she does not feel free to speak openly about her concerns. She began her career teaching middle-school and high-school English, and went into teaching because she wanted to have a positive educational impact on students.

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