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Can education reform and the common core coexist?

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Lately, I’ve been preparing presentations and webinars about a progressive, student-centered results-only classroom and feedback over grades. As I carefully construct each slide, the common core invariably works its way into the narrative. It’s clear that Common Core State Standards are a reality in public schools — at least for a few years, until the bureaucrats and publishing companies lobby for something new. So, as I discuss technology integration, collaboration and formative assessment, the impact of standards and high stakes testing must be addressed. My steadfast message is that creativity and autonomy should not be compromised, at any expense, especially teaching to the test.

Ultimately, as I hammer away at the keys of my MacBook explaining how I think this looks, my mind wanders off the task to education reform. Although this phrase is overused by people like Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan, who believe accountability is real reform, the word is still important, especially when it refers to valid change.

My stance on legitimate education reform is clear: testing, standardization and accountability inhibit learning and should be abolished, and teachers should be inspired to create vibrant, chaotic, collaborative, technology-rich classrooms that encourage a thirst for learning. Although I preach incessantly that teachers must not allow standards and testing to impinge upon creativity, I still wonder how progressive education and the common core can coexist.

I am part of my district’s Common Core Transition Team, which means I’m working with others to develop curriculum based on the new standards. We are told that the common core provides an opportunity to teach students how to think critically. Rigorous nonfiction texts will be used so that deep reading can be accomplished and thoughtful summations can be written. This may sound exciting to someone who hasn’t read the standards and who is mesmerized by the spin doctoring. Once the rhetoric stops, though, even the most casual observer will understand that words and phrases like “rigorous” and “deep reading” are euphemisms for “boring” and “guided reading,” neither of which lends itself to education reform.

So, prior to returning to my creations, which are driven by my own personal and professional standards rather than those mandated by the government, I contemplate this overwhelming issue. If educators are stuck with the common core and will eventually be evaluated on how well students perform on the tests that accompany it, how is a progressive, student-centered learning environment to survive? Will teachers be willing to extend their own professional development and hard work beyond what is provided by Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College (PARCC), which governs the CCSS and the assessments? Will students be relegated to months of rigor, deep reading and test preparation, in lieu of collaboration, project-based learning and independent reading?

Or, in my contemplative break from slide creation, am I overreacting? Can the common core and education reform really coexist?

Mark Barnes is a 20-year classroom teacher and adjunct professor at two Ohio colleges. He is the creator of Learn It In 5, an award-winning how-to video website for educators. When not teaching middle-school students the love of reading, Barnes teaches five online courses about Web 2.0 and social media integration into any classroom. Look for Barnes’ new book, “Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom,” due this month and published by ASCD. Barnes blogs regularly at ASCDEdge and tweets @markbarnes19.