Thursday, April 11, 2013

My Open Letter to Mrs. Zeanah about the CCRS

Open letter to Mrs. Elois Zeanah, 
President of the Alabama Federation of Republican Women 

Mrs. Zeanah opposes the use of Common Core standards in our math and English Language Arts Courses of Study, also called the College and Career Ready Standards.   Her claims are slanderous and insulting to our teachers and our state's education leaders.  I posted several comments on her video, which the Wetumpka Tea Party recently removed.  As a fellow Conservative, I also contacted the W. Tea Party and offered to answer any questions they may have at their next meeting.  No response there either. 

Common Core, Why it's bad for Alabama & America ~ Elois Zeanah from Wetumpka Tea Party on Vimeo.

Even though her accusations are outrageous and completely untrue, she continues to spread these claims around our great state, including our churches, further persecuting the dedicated teachers behind the scenes, who are truly changing children's lives to "change the future,*"  as so many great teachers have done before.  Like the ones Mrs. Zeanah must have had as a child.   

She's refused to respond to any of my emails or phone calls, so here goes.....

*Her words, although used in a negative connotation.

Mrs. Zeanah,

I wanted to reach out to you one more time.  I'd like to start by telling you more about myself.  

I've taught in both private Christian and public schools.  I was the exact same teacher in both settings.   In one of my favorite novel assignments, my students memorized 1 Cor 13 every year: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." Never once did I have a public school parent complain. Ever.  Why? Because I invited them in my classrooms.  Because I communicated with them each week.  Because they knew I loved their children like my own. Because they trusted  me. Was I indoctrinating my students to become Christians, like me? Of course not.  I was having them memorize a powerful "life" verse that corresponded beautifully with the text.  Fifteen years later, I still run into students who begin reciting this verse and other poetry I had them memorize.    I also taught American History, where we discussed racism, women's rights, social justice, Communism....all the things kids should know about before going to college. Was I indoctrinating them then?  No...I was TEACHING them about history. I say all this because at any time, I suppose a parent could have swayed my instruction to infer "indoctrination."  

You've  mentioned several pieces of literature in your speeches and posts.  I taught To Kill A Mockingbird, a Southern classic, for years.  I recently read an anti-CC post, claiming this novel perpetuated "rape" and "social justice."  Seriously? And then in the very next post, a parent was complaining that her child may never read To Kill A Mockingbird  because  of the informational text requirements.  Such a paradox has teachers scared.  They are darned if they do, darned if they don't.   

As I side note, that's one of the things I love most about the CCRS.  For the first time in Alabama, we are requiring our science, history, and Career Tech teachers to embed reading and writing into their curricula (however they choose), which is something good teachers have always done.  The Informational text requirement is shared with all content areas, not just English teachers, meaning NO CLASSIC LIT will ever be removed to satisfy these requirements.  Take away Romeo and Juliet from a 9th grade English teacher...see what happens. 

What you must understand, and everyone else, IF some rogue  teacher has an agenda to turn our children into socialists or homosexuals (as opponents claim), the Common Core or any course of study has NOTHING to do with that. When that classroom door is closed, a teacher can teach whatever he/she wants.  That's why we have mentors, principals, and district leaders to make sure we have the best teachers in our schools, and beyond that, parents must trust us, as they would their pastors, physicians, and other professionals.  

Several of our mutual friends forwarded me your recent email blast.   Having read it, I feel even more so that we want the same thing.  If any of those concerns mentioned in your email  were true for our state, I'd be fighting alongside you.  You discussed several  "Common Core"  and Race to the Top Initiatives.  We don't have (nor want) those in our schools either.  The ONLY thing we teachers are fighting for are the actual College and Career Ready Standards themselves.  We don't want "data mining," gov't control of our classrooms, or less rigorous expectations.   As for Dr. Bice (who you obviously mistrust), I don't know him socially, but I've been following his respected career for many years.  He's a  convicted man of vision, with a "teacher's heart."   He has no agenda, other than making our great state better in education. Just a few months ago, I was telling our teachers  that this was the most exciting time to be a teacher in Alabama.  We have a state department who "gets it."  We are getting more local control, more effective assessments, and they really value innovation and creativity  in the classroom.  Ironically, CCRS opponents claim just the opposite. seems to me we have a semantics issue.  We teachers just want to continue implementing the College and Career Ready Standards, which do include, but are not limited to the Common Core standards. However, we don't want  "Common Core" initiatives. Our math and English courses of study (CCRS) meet and exceed the Common Core - we don't even refer to our courses of study as Common Core.  No one can argue that these studies are not more rigorous and reflective of 21st Century instruction than the previous from 2003 and 2007.  Furthermore, the CCRS (and Common Core, for that matter) is NOT a curriculum.  They simply provide a standard (Ex: use proper punctuation) in which we teachers can develop a curriculum and select texts, as we have always done.  I promise you this: If and when the gov't ever tries to tell me what and how to teach my students, you'll be hearing my voice from every rooftop.  I wouldn't have it, and I speak for every teacher I know.

I'll leave you with my favorite "teacher" verse, one that has always been displayed in my classroom to remind me of my accountability as a teacher. James 3:1-2 "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." When I meet God, I will ask forgiveness for many things, but I know my years in the classroom will be among God's proudest moments for my life on this Earth.    How many people can say that about their professions?   

I would love to take you on a tour of our schools to see the CCRS (not Common Core) in action.   As a district administrator and coach of sorts, I visit classrooms 2-4 days a week.  You have an open invitation to join me anytime.  On those days, I get the greatest hugs from our little ones, and I leave inspired by the great things happening in our classrooms, from kindergarten to 12th grade.   Are we "changing society"?  Maybe....but only in ways that bless our students and our communities and pave the way for a better future.  

Melissa  Shields


  1. Great letter! I applaud you for clarifying about CCRS. There's a lot of misleading information circulating. I suppose it's easy to jump on the CC bandwagon without researching the facts, but that makes it even more important for us/educators to inform the public.
    I also agree about Dr Bice. He has a vision for education in Alabama that is student centered and can take Alabama to top of the chart. He is a breath of fresh air for educators who want the best for their students.

  2. Thank you, Rita. Couldn't agree more. Blessings!

  3. Do you feel these statements below are accurate? If so, why do you feel they are ok to delete from the curriculum or delay teaching until later grade?
    What is missing in the new Common Core Math Standards?
    Here are a few examples:
    1. Data analysis tools such as mean, median, mode, and range -- gone in elementary grades.
    2. The concept of pi, including area and circumference of circles – gone in elementary grades.
    3. The Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic (prime factorization) – gone completely.
    4. Using fractions, decimals, and percents interchangeably -- gone completely.
    5. Measurement (including density, velocity, and scientific notation) – gone completely and there is no measurement instruction after 5th grade.
    6. Division of a fraction by a fraction, a key component to number sense – gone in elementary grades.
    7. Concepts and skills in Geometry such as SAS (side, angle, side) and ASA (angle, side, angle) used to identify congruent triangles are gone completely.
    8. Algebra -- inadequate readiness in the elementary grades and pushed back one year (from middle school – 8th grade – to high school – 9th grade). This means the majority of Georgia students will not reach calculus in high school, as expected by selective universities.
    9. Geometry -- inadequate readiness in the elementary and middle grades. Simple elementary concepts such as similar and congruent have been removed from the elementary grades. These concepts serve as the foundation for the development of geometric thinking and have always been key elementary school level concepts.

    1. Shelley,

      I had similar concerns when Alabama included the Common Core math standards in the courses of study (or College and Career Ready Standards). However, your information is incorrect, as was mine. Please remember too that Alabama retained many standards that were not in the Common Core, several of which likely address some of your concerns. No one said we could ONLY teach the CC. In my classes, I always met and exceeded the state standards.

      Part of my job requires me to observe all of our content-area teachers' classrooms, grades K-12, in 20 schools. When I first observed our teachers implementing CCRS Math lessons (last September), I, too, was a bit skeptical. It was different than how we learned. I think it would be safe to say that even some of our veteran math teachers had some reservations. However, around December, I started getting messages from our teachers about how much they loved teaching the new standards. I even had parents contact me, amazed at what their kids were learning and applying at home (one said her first grader declared that their living room rug was a hexagon).

      One of our teachers wrote this on her blog: "We are less than 3/4 of the way through the school year now, but it is clear that the implementation of the CCRS in math has transformed the thinking and learning in my classroom. I see evidence of students using various strategies, choosing appropriate ones for particular tasks. Conceptual knowledge and number sense are growing in my students, and they're becoming well-rounded mathematicians and really great thinkers. They're excited and eager, and the thinking strategies they're using are overlapping into other areas of the curriculum. Finally, I feel like I'm doing what's right for students when it comes to teaching math."

      Fast forward to my February classroom "walk-throughs." I visited classrooms who had been implementing these standards for six months. Literally, I was stunned at the comprehension levels I witnessed. I've never seen anything like it. The students were engaged, bridging math to real-world applications. One 7th grade made class had made real catapults after studying angles and researching medieval times in their English and history classes. Here's a link:

      I can address #8 and #9. #8 is simply ridiculous. It's just the opposite. Every one of Alabama's middle schools are encouraged to teach Algebra I to those 8th graders who are ready. Those who are not still take pre-Algebra. In my district, every single middle school offers Algebra I. If we didn't, our AP math students would never be able to matriculate to Calculus as seniors. I supervise AP, so this issue is near and dear to my heart.

      As for #9, Geometry standards begin in K: "Analyze and compare two- and three-dimensional shapes, in different sizes and orientations, using informal language to describe their similarities, differences, parts and other attributes (e.g., having sides of equal length). [K-G4]" As you see, even in K, our children are looking at "similar and congruent." As far as I can tell (being an English teacher), Geometry is strongly evidenced in grades K-8.

      I really appreciate your questions, truly. I don't claim that the CC is the best thing to happen to education, but for Alabama, I do think they are a step in the right direction. Our SDE recently made significant changes to the math CCRS, after listening to teacher and parent concerns. In Geometry, for example, large chunks of standards were removed and replaced. They listened to us, and that does not seem to be the case for teachers in many other states.

      Sorry so long winded! Thanks for joining the conversation. Blessings.

    2. Shelley, I meant to add that I will send your list to some of our lead math teachers (who are actually teaching the CCRS), for their input. I'd be curious to hear their response. I'll let you know if they tell me something I think you'd find interesting.

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  5. Thank you for your reply and I will keep checking in. Your experience with Common Core State Standards and GoMath (is that correct?) are your experiences. I am glad that it has been positive for your students.
    I am both curious and concerned as to why standards would be so quickly and widely adopted by states without the standards being piloted, trialed, and studied. Can these results be duplicated in both intercity and suburban schools? Can we say that the schools will graduate with students who are improved in these subjects? It that I have read such great things about Everyday Math and how much teachers enjoyed teaching that curriculum, but now they are seeing high school classrooms full of kids test poorly in math after this curriculum.
    Also, is it possible to adhere to these standards and use what I would consider traditional teaching methods as opposed to inquiry, discovery methods? From my experience in a private school, there is the alignment with the standards, but also a major shift in the methodology of teaching math by switching to GoMath.
    I appreciate your replies. Please continue to share your thinking. I am being asked by my school to separate how I may feel about the "political" side of how these standards were created and adopted by states, etc, and how these standards are beneficial to students--that the standards themselves are good and not a detriment to the students. As of now, I cannot separate the two.

  6. I'm actually an English teacher and have worked extensively with the ELA standards, but I supervise curriculum for our district, so yes, I've also done a lot of work with the math standards and our new math program, Go Math.

    I can't speak for other states, but Alabama was one of the last states to add the CCSS into our courses of study. There was no rush. Teachers, parents, and other stakeholders studied them carefully before including them into what we now call our College and Career Ready Standards.

    Can we say with certainty that our students will perform better? No, but could we do the same with any set of standards? I do truly believe students in intercity, rural, and suburban schools will benefit greatly from this these standards (as I have had experience in each).

    I'm not familiar with Everyday Math, so I can't help you there.

    I also use some "traditional" teaching methods, but I find they marry well with inquiry-based instruction. In my opinion, there should be a nice balance between the two.

    Give GoMath a chance. While it is a bit different,I think you'll be surprised how well (and how quickly) your students learn math. I certainly was.

    I don't have any problem separating the two (although I certainly know where you're coming from). Teachers did have a voice in these standards, no matter what anyone says. Some states have done a lot of crazy things, all in the name of "Common Core," and that's given the CCSS a bad rap. I don't blame CCSS for that - I blame the people who carried out these ridiculous initiatives and programs. In no way are these standards a detriment. I don't think they are perfect, but I definitely believe they are good for our children. However, like any set of standards, it depends on the commitment of the teacher who puts the standards into play.