Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chat archives are below my rant ... 

What Happened to the Balance?
 - by @ryanhorne0076

I can only speak locally, not nationally, when it comes to the balance, or lack thereof, when comparing the time teachers and students spend on Common Core subjects vs Non-Core subjects. I can only comment on the trends that I see locally in my area of southeast Michigan when it comes to the non-core subjects and the possible unintended consequences of those trends.

As an elementary non-core teacher (I teach K-5 Technology) I have noticed a trend that seems to be gaining momentum each and every year. We are pushing our non-core subjects to the side in favor of replacing them with more time on our core subjects. I have no doubts that the current system of high-stakes standardized tests play a huge role in this trend to push non-core subjects aside. After all, our school, and district reports cards are based primarily on tests scores in the area of reading, writing, and math. We do occasionally sprinkle in science and social studies as well.

In many districts in my state, one of the first cost cutting measures is to eliminate the fine arts programs, and/or physical education. Some districts tell their classroom teachers that they are now responsible for teaching the art, music, and PE now that cuts have been made and those non-core teachers are no longer employed. Other districts simply replace the time that students spent with non-core subjects with more time on core subjects.

There is also a push for the non-core teachers to integrate their subject area with the core subjects. Teach music? Then find ways to weave math, reading  or writing into your music lessons. Teach art? then perhaps you could integrate character development as an ELA objective into your art lesson on color theory. In fact, many of us non-core teachers are forced to base a large potion of our teacher evaluation on a goal where we focus our teaching on a core subject, and the student's growth in that core subject. One example would be a PE teacher having a large potion of his evaluation being focused on his ability to teach reading skills to his students, and a smaller portion focused onto his teaching of his specialty, PE standards to his students?

While I do agree that all of us educators are a team working together toward a common goal, I believe that we have lost sight of the goal. Perhaps our goal has changed and we are now focused on the short term? District test scores might go down. Students might leave the district. Dollars could be lost. Cuts might need to be made. We need to improve our tests scores to draw new students and new dollars.

Is the answer to have EVERY teacher focus on the core subjects no matter their specialty? Can the high school ceramics teacher help improve our districts math scores if she adds math standards to her ceramic's lessons?

We are creating schools that are no longer diverse in their offerings. No matter which classroom a student walks into chances are they will be bombarded with a core subject. When my own nine-year old daughter goes to art class once a week for an hour, I want her lost in a world of art for that one hour per week. No fractions, no place value, just art. Can an art teacher occasionally sprinkle some common core into his lessons? Of course, but not each and every lesson. Let our non-core teachers teach what we pay them to teach. Let our non-core teachers help our students in areas that these non-core teachers are experts.

For many students, that one hour of PE, or that one hour of music might be the ONLY hour of school they look forward to each week. What then happens to these students when they enter the music room and are confronted with a music lesson on algebra? These students will then turn off any engagement  or excitement for learning because they know everywhere they go in school will be focused on a core subject.

While having our non-core teachers help out with core subjects might help increase our standardized test scores, what kind of student does it produce? Will this kind of teaching produce the often talked about "21st century thinker" who possesses the ability to problem solve and collaborate?  Is innovation taught better when we include the arts and other non-core subjects, or will more innovation and creativity occur with a larger focus on common core?

Give me more non-core. Give me more balance. Keep the "three r's" but give me choices. Give students choices. Expand their minds. Let them know that there is more to learning than memorizing those multiplication tables. Give me one hour of water colors, one hour of singing, one hour of exercise, and less of the three r's. Give me balance.


  1. I hope when I am done with this educational career, that parents, teachers and students alike will know that how students learned mattered to me. By that I hope that they will see that my striving to teach lessons that were based on not just RBT, but on the 8 Intelligences were important to me...whole child teaching. Common Core is interesting. I think it has been able to draw likemindedness so that we are all going in the same direction per/ grade level...but there are many downsides to it as well. Not all learners learn the same. It takes away many ways children learn best. I want to be responsible for creating generations of #creators, #makers...not bubble fillers. Looking forward to our discussion tomorrow. If it were not for our PLN, I would have given up trying, but the mojo we get from eachother, like quacking geese...moves me forward. Thank you for being such a huge part of my learning, my life and encouraging me in my profession.

  2. Ryan, you bring up some very good points. I think this is a timely post because I was just talking today with Special Education teachers in my building. All of our student learning goals have to focus around reading and math regardless of subject area. Our EBD teacher even has to focus on the academic goals when her kids really need behavior intervention strategies and goal. A student who makes it through the day in her class without hitting another student has met his learning target regardless of the academic piece. So frustrating!

  3. Ryan, this is a great article and thanks for inspiring me to write about it as well.

    I couldn't agree with you more that further marginalizing "non-core" subjects is not the way to improve performance on "core" subjects. It's like the start-up business that is selling its product at a loss on a per unit basis and thinks that it can turn a profit by selling more without actually addressing the per unit loss!

    Rather, the focus should be on the delivery mechanism. The problem isn't that students aren't getting enough math, for example --- at least I don't think that's the problem. The problem, I think is the forced delivery mechanism. And further forcing students to constantly consume mathematics is just going to push them away from it even further.

    Everyone needs a break. As a professional mathematician, I take a break from mathematics and do something related to the arts. It allows me to focus on something else and lets my brain do its background processing of all the technical stuff I so actively focus on.

    Adults talk about career burnout. Well, overemphasizing subject topics (core or non-core) is going to give students academic burnout.


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