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Teacher Voice

This Kindergarten Teacher Will Not Throw in the Towel on Common Core

I have been teaching for 15 years within the Los Angeles Unified School District, am a product of the LAUSD and the parent of two boys who attend Title I schools in the district. In spite of the daily challenges I wrestle with as a kindergarten teacher, I have no desire to resign in protest over the current conditions of my school implementing the Common Core, as this teacher did in the The Boston Globe. Whether the Common Core standards are developmentally appropriate or not is a moot point. Teachers still have to differentiate according to readiness levels, and while one student may come in to my kindergarten class as their first school experience (which will require me to teach more of a preschool/early literacy curriculum), other students will come in already having memorized emergent texts and are ready to engage in guided reading. Most of my students are in the middle, and the Common Core standards are an appropriate benchmark. I disagree that the Common Core leads to worksheet-style teaching and rote memorization, while eliminating play-based instruction; I have experienced just the opposite.

Seeing the Forest

I often struggled teaching my students the bigger picture of reading and writing because the California State Standards were so prescriptive. However, with the Common Core, I can coach my students through conventional reading and writing for real-life purposes, such as teaching them how to read their favorite books, like adults do. I am also offended by suggestions that reading instruction in kindergarten makes no difference in the long-term academic achievement of students. Kindergarten instruction makes a monumental difference in what they are able to do in first grade and for the rest of their academic careers. It’s also crucial that the instruction they get after kindergarten is consistently high quality. For the upcoming 2015-2016 school year, the first-grade teacher and I have agreed to discuss the academic progress of her incoming students. No, they are not all meeting the Common Core standards for kindergarten, but I can tell her how close they are and what I think could support their development, allowing her to plan next steps. I think second-grade teachers who inherit struggling students and try to make up for two unaccounted years of instruction would say academic learning for the very young counts a lot.

But Not Forgetting the Trees

When we look at Finland as a model to on our own educational dilemmas and practices, we are not comparing apples to apples. I was part of a teacher delegation to Finland last April. I met with key officials in the Ministry of Education and visited schools to talk with teachers and students. Public education is given deep respect in the country. Unlike the United States, Finland is much smaller and marked by cultural and linguistic homogeneity (Finland is smaller than the state of California and its entire population is smaller than Los Angeles). In terms of the Common Core math standards, my students can look at the number 72 and tell you that there are seven tens and two ones in that number. That is power for a five-year-old! Do all of my students leave kindergarten able to do this? No. Again, this is why we differentiate. Most students can, some students can’t.  Some students will begin working on multiplication and division, addition and subtraction of two-digit numbers. The Common Core kindergarten math standards are a fair request to most of my students who demonstrate their readiness to take them on. I know that educators feel the pressure to get everyone to meet the standard by the end of that grade, and when the data does not reflect this, we can’t help but feel judged and a sense of failure. But data tells me where my students are and directs my next steps. I remind myself often that low scores do not determine the worth of my students or myself. Recently, I was at a gathering of public school Common Core teacher leaders. While we all agreed that Common Core supports good teaching, we also acknowledged the lack of quality professional development and assessments that hamper its implementation. I am surrounded by many colleagues who faithfully show up everyday, in spite of the challenges of implementation, and pour their hearts to boost our students’ ownership of what they are learning. It is hard, but many of us are nowhere near throwing in the towel. We remain committed to teaching the standards because our kids need us.  
Angelina Sáenz piloted the acclaimed Aldama Elementary Dual Language program in northeast Los Angeles in 2008 and served as lead teacher from 2009-2013. She provides school-based support in elementary writing as a teacher consultant and fellow of the UCLA Writing Project.
Angelina Sáenz piloted the acclaimed Aldama Elementary Dual Language program in northeast Los Angeles in 2008 and served as lead teacher from 2009-2013. She provides school-based support in elementary writing as a teacher consultant and fellow of the UCLA Writing Project. She served on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council and has worked on educational policy as a Teach ...

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