Common Core and Education in Davis

CommonCoreStandardsby Blair Howard

The contracts that public school educators operate under are often broad and offer many protections for educators. Yet, for all of the processes that a contract puts into place, the district has a great deal of control over what we teach, how we teach it, and where we teach it.

The California Education Code gives school districts the power to set the conditions in which we teach, what materials we use, how we teach the standards, what assessments we use and where we teach.   Because DJUSD has high expectations of teachers, they afford us the respect we deserve by allowing teachers to determine the best way to instruct their students.   This allows us to teach things differently and more effectively than teachers in other school districts who have mandated pacing guides and scripted lessons.

Hopefully members of the community have noticed the new Common Core standards being implemented at their child’s school. One of the goals of the Common Core standards is to give teachers the freedom to create meaningful lessons and relevant learning experiences that allow all students to develop a deep understanding of content and a mastery of skills for both college and career paths. This is a promise that I still hold on to, but already I am already seeing dynamics that concern me at both a district and state level.

This fall, before many teachers had an opportunity to begin implementing the Common Core, elementary school teachers were directed to begin creating Performance Tasks.   While you may not be familiar with the term, a Performance Task is a type of extended assessment, depending on your child’s grade level, it could involve reading multiple sources, synthesizing information and writing to a prompt in a set amount of time.

The aim of the district directive was to begin moving assessments towards what would be expected in the new Common Core state tests. This directive was problematic for several reasons. First, because the Common Core assessments are still in the process of being written. In our state, they are known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or SBAC.

The assessments this year were not normed, and were merely a test run for future SBAC assessments.   Secondly, because they were tasked with creating assessments, teachers lost valuable time to not only become more comfortable with the new standards, but to create new lessons aligned with the Common Core.   More importantly, while good teaching often includes backward planning (this is teacher speak for planning lessons that focus on multiple learning goals), it is usually not with an assessment in mind, but rather the student centric goals of the lesson or unit.

An assessment should support the higher goal of meaningful student learning-the assessment itself should never be the goal.

When the good news came that state standards testing would be minimal this year, I was encouraged that educators could free ourselves from the “teach to the test” mentality that pervaded previous tests, no matter how much we resisted it. I hoped that without state scores that would drive AYP and API scores, teachers would be liberated of the feeling that we are always being judged by our students’ test scores.

I hoped that piloting the new Smarter Balanced assessments would not put too much pressure on educators to prepare for these tests. But this spring it seemed like there was more energy and effort expended to get students tested on computers, to get them familiar with new testing formats than for the tests to assess their understanding.

Even though the test scores are meaningless this year, I am concerned that that our teaching is being driven not by our interpretations of the standards, but by the form of the assessments.

As I mentioned earlier, SBAC is still working out exactly how to test the Common Core.   It is unclear to me if the assessments reflect the values and goals of the Common Core.   If you are interested in the SBAC, I encourage you to explore a practice test at: here.

Parents of school-aged children may have started seeing new approaches in the work their children do in school or bring home for homework. Social media has also spread some examples of Common Core assessments, often met with confusion, anger and derision. Some parents and states are questioning or rejecting the Common Core. While I advocate for questioning of most things, most of the time, I feel that the Common Core is being judged not on how educators are implementing it, but on how materials and assessments created by companies seeking a profit envision the Common Core should be implemented in the classroom.

Therefore, it is not an entirely fair critique of the new standards, but is rather a statement against private corporations who are not stakeholders, cobbling together lesson plans that are not designed to meet the specific learning needs of students in a community. It is in the interest of every stakeholder to ensure that if Common Core is to be implemented, it is done in a sensible way that allows educators to control its implementation in their classrooms, not by outside forces seeking to derive profit from implementation, or by teaching to an assessment.

About The Author

Blair Howard is the current President of the Davis Teachers Association. A social studies and science teacher for 10 years, he teaches at Martin Luther King Jr. Continuation School in Davis.

Related posts


  1. Ryan Kelly

    I looked into examples of Common Core math problems and found that all of the methods were readily understandable – number lines, graphics, etc. The problem is that students aren’t allowed to pick the method that they understand the best to solve the problems. Also, the manufacturers of materials sometimes don’t seem to understand the methods themselves or the concept that is trying to be taught, which produces the hilarious (or horrifying) examples that are passed around on social media.

    Teachers should be required to solve all of the problems themselves before assigning homework to make sure that errors have not managed to work their way into the assignments and ensure the problems are appropriate for their students. Manufacturers of materials should be required to have an actual team of people who can receive feedback from teachers when errors are found and a way to revise the material quickly, i.e. online materials, rather than physical books.

  2. Frankly

    So Democrats and their education union benefactors howled at NCLB. So now they seem completely in support of Common Core. I have not researched enough to understand the reasons, but I am guessing that Common Core lacks school and teacher accountability measures and limits the risk that the teachers unions might experience some drop in their membership from the elimination of under-performing teachers.

    1. wdf1

      Frankly: So Democrats and their education union benefactors howled at NCLB.

      I take it from your comment that you think NCLB is appropriate and acceptable, then?

    2. Davis Progressive

      they howled at nclb because it introduced mandates without funding, tests for no purpose, and at some point the natural result of nclb was going to be 90 percent of schools end in pi status.

      i don’t know enough about common core to weigh in. tell me why i should oppose it?

    1. Frankly

      Bill Gate is a backer… sure he is…

      Diane Ravitch, a former assistant U.S. secretary of education who was appointed to office by both Clinton and George H.W. Bush, recently changed her mind about Common Core. Ravitch now refutes claims by Obama and Common Core that the standards were created by the states and voluntarily adopted by them. She writes in The Washington Post, “They were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association, both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation. There was minimal public engagement in the development of the Common Core. Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states.” Instead, Common Core is being driven by policymakers in D.C.

      It is Obamacore.

      1. Don Shor

        Um, you don’t believe me that Bill Gates is a huge, huge backer of Common Core? Just google it, dude. I can’t believe you’re saying this.
        In fact, just look at what you posted.

        both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation.

        both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation.

        both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation.

        both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation.

        1. Frankly

          You missed my sarcasm. Yes the Gates Foundation was involved. I don’t know enough about “Obamacore” at this point to say if I support it or not. I just find it interesting how Dems support it but NCLB was the devil incarnate. Wdf1 for example was always clear that he didn’t support testing standards because it destroyed teacher creativity… they would teach to the test instead. From what I have read so far, Common Core is just another set of standards that must be tested. So what is the difference?

      2. wdf1

        Who supports Common Core:

        Bill Gates, link to article entitled, “How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution”

        David Coleman, president of the College Board.

        Michelle Rhee & her group, StudentsFirst

        Pearson Publishing and other large educational publishing companies.

        David Brooks

        Arne Duncan

        Jeb Bush

        Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers

        Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Educaiton Association, as interpretted by

        But there are recent more oppositional statements from both that suggest that they are not liking how Common Core is implemented. For instance, Weingarten said, “You think the Obamacare implementation is bad? The implementation of the Common Core is far worse.” (source)

        Who has spoken out against Common Core:

        Marco Rubio

        Chicago Teachers Union

        Oregon Education Association opposes at least the Common Core tests

        Louis C.K.

        Rand Paul

        Ted Cruz

        Mike Huckabee has apparently back-pedaled from one-time support of Common Core

        Rick Santorum

        Rick Perry

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          OK, let’s pretend I’m agnostic on CC. Here is the fundamental question:

          Why are we experimenting on our children? Why didn’t we pilot this in 10 cities, or 5 states, and implement this, lay it out, and then measure the results?

          See, we put the cart before the horse, or, more accurately, we put the cart before the half-baked horse.

          Why the rush for a half-baked system?

    1. Adam Smith

      Hooray! Many steps remain before we rid the system of the outdated concept of tenure for elementary and high school teachers, but this is clearly a step in the right direction.

        1. Adam Smith

          As I said, many steps remain. But it takes the first step to get started. Lots of support from Arne Duncan and others in educational leadership positions. The teachers unions are not in a good public relations spot…outside of teachers and professors, who gets such significant protections from firing or layoffs?

    2. South of Davis

      A friend real involved with Democrats for Education Reform sent me an e-mail with the link below today:

      “The judge in the landmark Vergara lawsuit just issued his decision (attached and posted at: and it was even better than I could have hoped for – it’s a grand slam win for students! (And a grim day for the Blob, especially grossly ineffective teachers and the unions that protect them.)”

      1. Frankly

        As Adam Smith points out, it is just a step. But it is a milestone.

        I fully expect our Democrat state legislature and governor to pass legislation that defends against the potential impact of this to the teachers union. It will take at least 2 years for this to work its way to the CA Supreme Court. That gives the unions and their political pals time to put up barriers.

        From a practical perspective, we are never going to see public education improve in a meaningful way while tenure exists and while seniority rules over performance for teacher retention. I have said it before… the underperforming teachers are no bad people, they just landed in the wrong job. I think the number might be as high as 40% statewide. The system keeps them job-locked in a profession that is not a good fit. They need to be helped to find more suitable work.

  3. TrueBlueDevil

    Back to the original article. So we have foisted another experiment on our children with little planning or tested results?

    Why didn’t these “educators” fully flesh out their new, untried system, create the materials, and implement it in 2 or 3 states to prove that Common Core is better than what we had? Test the students and prove, via a pilot system, that Common Core is better?

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for