Dr. Peggy McNamara is currently the Chair of the General Teacher Education Department at Bank Street College of Education, where she has also served as Reading and Literacy Program Director and taught a range of literacy pedagogy courses in general and special education. Before going to Bank Street, Peggy taught in general and special education, in private and public schools, Pre K – 5th grade. Peggy has provided professional development in social studies curriculum, early childhood curriculum and literacy curriculum.
Kyla Ryman: So, talk to me about Common Core.
Peggy McNamara: Common Core literacy and math standards are useful for teachers to observe students’ strengths and needs in literacy and math. One of the major issues occurring with CC enactment is that expectations that were in 1st grade are now being expected in Kindergarten. Therefore, 1st grade is more like 2nd and so on. Some children come into Kindergarten ready for these expectations, but other children are being judged as not on grade level. These children need fewer standards and more time to meet them, instead of being seen as behind as they are entering school for the first time. Teachers' attention to CC appears to be impacting the important role of play, inquiry, and social/emotional development in kindergarten because some teachers are focusing too much on skills in common core and not engaging children in discovering themselves as learners.
The CC standards are not so different than NYS standards, except for expectations being higher in each grade. The ideas behind the CC relate to backward planning. The designers were considering literacy skills and strategies students needed to be ready for college or a career. At Bank Street College of Education course instructors and fieldwork advisors have been paying close attention to the ways in which teachers and schools are using the CC. In the most successful schools the CC is being used as a resource for observing children and for creating lessons that engage children in ways that can be effective. Through analyzing the CC with teachers, I have found that it can provide them with systematic ways of examining speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills and strategies of a range of children. However, I found that teachers needed support to engage in this process.
KR: I have been talking to people, and I have been feeling that the reason (the push down of expectations) is happening is because of the testing and how that is affecting all of these standards. That tying these test results to what happens to teachers and what happens to schools is pushing the curriculum down and making it more complicated, rather than being able to say, “we want to go for this”.
PM: The connection between testing and common core and teacher evaluation has complicated the process of using common core. NYS has tried to have high standards in terms of kids, but then again, because of the resources in different schools, it’s tricky. I think it’s good to have the standards. I think that the way we have rolled them out has not been supportive. The focus on testing came too soon and teachers had not had the time to integrate the standards into their curriculum or to think about ways they needed to change. I think that what we have done, when something is complex, is try to make it simple. Scripted programs for reading and math get created instead of helping teachers to be curriculum makers who assess students' learning needs and create appropriate lessons. We know we haven’t done enough to help teachers to really grapple with it, but it doesn’t feel like the system has begun to think about how the schools are, in fact, relating with CC.
KR: Will the system ever think? Does a system ever think about that stuff?
PM: Recently I reviewed NYS social studies standards and they have been connected to the literacy frameworks and the CC. And they are pretty similar. The hard issue is that if they are not helping teachers to grapple with the curriculum that relates to the CC, and the CC is the way that they are being measured on the test, then there is a big hole there.
At Midtown West and some of the other high performing schools, they’ve just figured out how CC relates to what they are already doing. As soon as it started, they started looking at it and incorporating it into how they were thinking about lessons and how to make the connections.
KR: I feel like they created CC for the kids who are having the hardest time, who we want to help and are not succeeding, and I’ve yet to hear that this is what’s happening. The schools who do well are always going to do well. It’s a community of people who are on board. The kids come in with well developed language, and all the things are already in place. It’s always the most struggling students and schools who have a hard time with it. So, there is another thing we have to figure out!
PM: It doesn’t feel like a resource for them—that’s the problem. The emphasis on test scores and teacher evaluation has often gotten in the way of supporting teachers to use CC as a resource.
KR: So, as a final note, what is something exciting that is going on in literacy these days?
PM: I think non-fiction is very big and what people are doing with that. Also, teachers are thinking about the ways in which literacy can be integrated into social studies, science and the arts. What I think is interesting about what you’ve decided to do is having this connection between art and literacy. Bank Street literacy instructors are taking their graduate students to art museums to support them to use these experiences as a way to extend language. That integration of subjects has become important.