What do Arkansas teachers think about the Common Core? According to a recent survey, 61 percent would keep it rather than eliminate it, but 87 percent don’t like the testing.
Those were some of the findings of the University of Arkansas’ Office for Education Policy, which asked 2,795 teachers to participate in an online survey and received responses from 975 of them.
Many Arkansas teachers seem to find a lot of positives in the Common Core, which is a set of common standards in math and English language arts currently used by 43 states. Sixty-six percent said they were satisfied with the standards, and 92 percent said they were more rigorous than the previous ones. Large majorities agreed or strongly agreed that the Common Core will lead to improved student learning, help students think critically, and better prepare them for college and the workforce.
Lt. Governor Tim Griffin, who is leading a panel appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to review the standards, found the results somewhat contradictory. Despite the above results, when asked to complete the sentence, “Overall, my students will be ___ after the introduction of the Common Core Standards,” only 46 percent said “better off,” while 28 percent said “the same” and 26 percent said “worse off.”
In other words, less than half of the teachers said the Common Core will make a positive difference overall in the same survey where large majorities were saying it makes a positive difference in the areas that matter – learning, critical thinking, and college and career preparation.
Griffin, a public school father who seems willing to listen to both sides of the Common Core debate, said the survey is “interesting” and “helpful” but “not dispositive” – which, he had to explain to me, is a legal term meaning it doesn’t settle anything.
Polls rarely do, which is why a democracy shouldn’t be based on them. This is not a criticism of the Office for Education Policy, which seems to have conducted a thorough survey. But, as is often the case, of course you get contradictory results when you ask complicated people about complicated issues with only a few simple answers from which to choose. Also, survey respondents often answer the questions they want to answer, not the ones that are asked. (Happens in real-life conversations, too.)
Which brings us to the 87 percent who said they didn’t like the testing associated with Common Core. Of all the elements of the Common Core, the testing is the most controversial. Arkansas is part of a consortium of nine states plus the District of Columbia involved in the PARCC assessment, which compares students across state lines. At one time, there were 24 states, but a majority have left. Legislators considered doing the same here but ultimately decided to renew Arkansas’ participation no more than one year at a time.
There are many questions about the test, including how the data will be used and whether the results will be known in time to do any good. With an 87 percent majority, it’s clear that teachers don’t like PARCC, but many probably also were expressing years of frustration with testing in general. It takes too much time, and they don’t like being judged for how another human performs on a test.
Teaching has undergone many changes in recent years. No Child Left Behind put the federal government in charge of holding schools accountable. The state has instituted a Teacher Excellence and Support System to evaluate teachers and help them improve. New instructional methods are de-emphasizing lecturing. More and more, teachers instead are expected to guide students through technology-driven, project-based learning.
Change is hard. Sixty-four percent of the survey’s respondents disagreed with the statement, “I like teaching more now than before the Common Core Standards were introduced.” Seventy-four percent said that teaching has become more stressful. But 63 percent agreed that the Common Core has made them better at their job.
So maybe many in that 61 percent who said the Common Core should be retained really think it’s better. And maybe some were really just saying they didn’t want to change to something else yet again. Maybe some were just saying, “Let us catch our breath!”
At the very least, this much is clear: A majority of teachers who answered this survey want to keep the Common Core, and a large majority don’t like the testing.
What should Arkansas do with this information? It’s not dispositive.