Wednesday, May 7, 2014

An Open Letter to Louis C.K.

Dear Louis C.K.,

We don't know each other, but I heard that you sent some tweets about the Common Core State Standards. More than heard about them, actually.They're everywhere! I'm guessing you might be surprised by the response. I'm guessing that many things are being said about your tweets--hailing them, using them as leverage, attacking them. In fact, I saw all of that and more on your Twitter feed--it's trending!

I went to Twitter looking for more information about your thoughts. Your tweets that day hit a nerve with me (and a gabillion other people). I suppose, in all honesty, I was irritated by them. You see, I typically agree with the things you say. I find you funny and usually just right enough to make people uncomfortable--pulling the curtains back on a social issue that needs airing. I am honest enough with myself to know that when something sticks in my craw, I have more to learn. 

I stewed on it for the last week, read articles, editorials, Facebook posts, heard jokes about it on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, read your Twitter feed, and finally figured out my issue. 

This whole thing is just one sound bite. One sound bite that has the ring of truth because it is your experience as a parent of children in public schools. One sound bite that has been strung up on flag poles across the nation (nations, even) to leverage the agenda of... any group with an agenda it would seem.  Part of me hopes you're irritated by that, too. Instead of opening up a conversation, looking at all the sides, intelligently examining the specifics, the mudslingers are on a tear and your face is on the flag.

I don’t sling mud. I don’t insult what I don’t understand. I spend time reading all sides of an issue before I assert an opinion. Sometimes, I don’t pick one clear side because the information provided is too shadowed by rhetoric. Considering all of that, weighing all of the issues, I do support the Common Core State Standards. I support the intent of the standards themselves--absent the ever present conspiracy theory. I agree that what we have done in the past has not developed the learners we need. I have read the CCSS in detail, across grade levels, even the appendices (more than once, even) and it is a simple truth--there is good to be found there. I agree with you, we can’t expect something new to be perfect, and the CCSS isn’t perfect. I don’t expect a set of standards to be the panacea for a centuries-old system that no longer serves the needs of our society. I expect a set of standards to be exactly that—a set of standards. Standards are simply an end-goal, a level of quality, a guideline. As a set of standards, I support the Common Core.

The CCSS didn’t create high-stakes testing. High-stakes testing has been here for over a decade. It is a separate issue and worthy of discussion in its own right, but not on the coat tails of the CCSS. That limits the conversation to one iteration of the problem, misplaces the responsibility, defeats the purpose of the argument.

The CCSS didn’t write New York State Assessments. I've chosen not to research who did write them, but I know a set of standards didn’t do it. If the assessment is poorly written, poorly implemented, or used unfairly, that is also worthy of discussion. This is true for any assessment written by anyone. If it is a poor assessment, implemented poorly, or leveraged inappropriately, that is a concern. 

The CCSS didn't implement themselves. Poor implementation is a concern.. New York implemented early and quickly. We can learn from that. We can also learn from states and districts that are implementing differently. 

The CCSS didn’t teach your children math that made them cry. It is my guess that it was a deeply passionate, caring teacher trying his or her best to teach a wholly new focus on math without adequate preparation.  The new math standards are wildly different than what we’ve done in the past. And it's about time. In the same breath that someone blasts the CCSS math standards, they also accuse the public education system of keeping our children behind other countries in math. If you read the standards, the background of the standards, the thought behind the changes, the pedagogy at work there, you will see that the authors agree. What we have been doing isn’t working. This is an attempt to change that. A change of this magnitude is going to take time, high-quality teaching, sound pedagogy, and support. If teachers in a particular state or district are not getting the support they need, that is yet another worthy discussion.

I want to chat with you Louis C.K.—hear more about the specific concerns you have, share some insights into the standards themselves, look for ways to leverage the strength of your voice with the strength of my experience to affect positive change for all students. I don’t have a political agenda, an ad campaign, a book to sell, or a fan base to please. I have nothing to gain personally from supporting or denouncing the CCSS. What I do have is a deeply rooted passion for education. I work every day to provide quality education for all learners. It is what I was meant to do. I have seen waves of change in education, and it is this current wave—the wave that includes a set of standards focused on learning behaviors over stacks of content—that has me hopeful.

So what do you say, Louis C.K.? Why don’t we chat about all of the sides of this issue that you inadvertently stirred up? I can learn from your experience as a parent. You can tell me what you know, what you want to know, and what the solutions might be. I can share my understandings with you, and, in the process, learn more myself. Nothing to gain but mutual understanding and movement towards a mutual goal of improved public education. Yeah?  Sound like a deal?

--a dedicated education professional

P.S.—in response to the person that is concerned with your habit of double-spacing after a period. I do it too. It’s how we were taught in high school in keyboarding class.Word processing programs do it for us now, so we are, in effect, making three spaces when we try to double-space. That doesn’t stop me. I just use the "find and replace" option after I type to take them all back out again. I support you in your double-spacing.