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Common Core hucksters... We're being steamrolled into one-size-fits-all

NOTE: I am one of six "experts" invited to comment on the Common Core, the only one criticizing the document, at the Learning Matters blog. Of note is the Learning Matters subtitle: Reporting You Can Trust. Well, you decide. You might find it interesting to note that the only changes the editors made in my text was criticism of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2 times) and of Achieve (1 time). I have indicated the cuts in red below.

Of course it is coincidental that Learning Matters, Inc. has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, most recently:

2009: $325,000 2007: $308,000

In my final paragraph they substituted "among others" for my "acting in concert with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation." If you want evidence that the Bill and Gates Foundation financed the Common Core, see my article 'Race to the Top' and the Bill Gates connection in FAIR's Extra (September 2010). The URL for those who can't get the hotlink is http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=4147

We'd do well to heed 19th-century abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher warning to gardeners against being "made wild by pompous catalogue." These days, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) hucksters pitch a pomposity more noxious than giant hogweed. We should name the CCSS for what it is "a dangerous distraction from the real needs of children. [Cut from the commentary: No matter how many hundreds of millions the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pours into developing, promoting, and enforcing the CCSS, no matter how many desperate governors sign on to collect blood money from Arne Duncan's flimflam supporting Gates' obsession, no matter how many curriculum border patrol agents police school hallways to make sure all 15-year-olds are reading Death in August on schedule, the poverty rate of children attending most urban and many rural schools exceeds. . . .].

Here's a central problem: despite all the money and policing that goes into this, the poverty rate of children attending most urban and many rural schools exceeds 50 percent — and that remains the elephant in the room. The fact that so many of our children live in poverty, not teacher incompetence or a dearth of rigorous texts, is what should concern us. If the Standardistos weren't so intent on downgrading the very idea that fiction teaches important lessons, they might heed Alice Walker's observation: The most important question in the world is, "Why is the child crying?"

Back during a different education crisis, I received an emergency credential to teach English in a New York City high school larger than my hometown. When one of my students refused to read the assigned text, I panicked and ran to my department chair. He gave me the best pedagogical advice I ever received: "Then find a book he will read."

Later, when I taught 8th grade, 15-year-old Keith was astounded to read his first book ever. "I read it, Miz O. I really read it. Honest. Listen, I'll read it again." Keith's reading of Hop on Pop is one of the triumphs of my career. Funny thing: My principal hadn't understood my determination to subscribe to the Dr. Seuss book club. And today's CCSS fundamentalists would term Keith's experience as my failure to supply the "substantial supports and accommodations" to give him "access to rigorous academic content" such as Little Women, "Paul Revere's Ride," and Travels with Charley.

[Cut from the commentary: As ever dutiful teachers across the country provide scaffolding to force feed rigorous books chosen by committees outsourced from Achieve, Inc., millions of children will never want to read another book. Look up the definition of rigor.]

Billed as the CCSS architect, David Coleman delivered a teaching guide to the pompous and sterile pedagogy underlying CCSS when he spoke at the New York State Department of Education in April 2011, proclaiming, "[A]s you grow up in this world you realize people really don't give a sh*t about what you feel or what you think." Certainly, nobody writing the CCSS gave a fig about what teachers thought, and now the model lessons designed to turn English classrooms into boot camps for the global economy are spreading faster than ragweed. Coleman heralds the CCSS emphasis on nonfiction, insisting that readers gain "world knowledge" through nonfiction, which he calls "informational text," as though fiction doesn't provide readers with plenty of critical information. Skeptics might doubt that replacing Brown Bear, Brown Bear with a Wikipedia entry on Ursus arctos will fix our balance of trade -- but the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco's Web site is listed as a CCSS exemplary text.

Although I find it easy to mock the CCSS exemplary texts, don't misunderstand: If the CCSS listed all my favorite books, I'd still denounce it. Different readers need different books, and teachers discover children's needs through close encounters, not by committee fiat. Education policy makers should read Arnold Lobel's lovely little fable "Crocodile in the Bedroom." A crocodile who loved the neat and tidy rows of the flowers on the bedroom wallpaper was coaxed outside into the garden by his wife. The crocodile couldn't stand the "terrible tangle" and retreated to his bed, admiring the neat and tidy wallpaper. There, "he turned a very pale and sickly shade of green." With David Coleman as their spokesman out on the stump, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the U. S. Department of Education [ELIMINATED--acting in concert with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, --} prescribe a very pale, sickly shade of green future for our deliciously messy classrooms. Certainly, Lobel's moral — without a doubt, there is such a thing as too much order — is critical here. Letting corporate school reformers steamroll our schools into a neat and tidy standardized one-size-fits-all product puts our children in great peril.

— Susan Ohanian, Learning Matters, 2011-12-07

http://learningmatters.tv/blog/web-series/are-common-core-standards-good-or-bad-for-education/8280/

RACE TO THE TOP AND THE BILL GATES CONNECTION, BY SUSAN OHANIAN. ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN FAIR SEPTEMBER 2010. REPRINTED HERE AT SUBSTANCE WITH PERMISSION.

Extra! September 2010. ‘Race to the Top’ and the Bill Gates Connection. Who gets to speak about what schools need? By Susan Ohanian

Race to the Top (RTTT), announced by President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on July 24, 2009, is a $4.4 billion grant program generating more conversation than its relatively small money amount might suggest. What has people talking is its competitive structure that forces cash-strapped states to make radical changes in education in order to stay in the running—changes a National Research Council report (10/7/09) warned were not backed by research. Instead of dispersing grant money on the basis of greatest need, RTTT chooses a few winners based on the degree to which the states deliver what the feds want: more charter schools, so-called merit pay for teachers and new curriculum standards known as the Common Core. Another key requirement is “using data to improve instruction.” This means basing classroom lessons on data collected from highly criticized standardized tests. So if you’re a third grade teacher and lots of kids in your class missed questions on apostrophes, that’s what you have to teach, whether it’s appropriate to children’s individual needs or not. Teachers with a high immigrant population, for example, might well feel the children need to learn English before they are drilled on apostrophes.

The director of this RTTT competition was Joanne Weiss. Now Duncan’s new chief of staff, Weiss is the former COO of NewSchools Venture Fund—which received millions of dollars from the Eli and Edythe Broad and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundations to assist charter management organizations. The Gates Foundation, which has given $650 million to projects that advance educational priorities like charter schools, testing and “teacher effectiveness” in the last two-and-a-half years (Washington Post, 7/12/10), awarded grants to some states to hire specialists to aid in the application process for RTTT round one, which Weiss estimated would take state personnel 681 hours. “The Gates program and the Arne Duncan program are pretty much the same program,” Nancy C. Detert, chair of the Education Committee in the Florida Senate, told the New York Times (10/28/09). Mike Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, agrees, telling the Puget Sound Business Journal (5/15/09), “It is not unfair to say that the Gates Foundation’s agenda has become the country’s agenda in education.”

The Business Journal noted that as of that date, the Fordham Institute itself had received nearly $3 million in Gates Foundation grants. Delaware and Tennessee came out on top in round one of RTTT: Delaware got $100 million (about $800 per student), and Tennessee $500 million (about $500 per student). Since these states radically changed their education strategies to receive what amounts to 7 percent of their total expenditures on elementary and secondary education, the feds are getting a lot of bang for the buck. And other states are making radical changes in hopes of looking good for Round 2. Across the country, progressive educators complained that despite all the conversation about RTTT, there was little serious questioning of this radical federal deformation of what should be local school policy; the “other guys” got all the press.

I decided to take a look, which meant reading some 700 articles on the subject of RTTT and the Common Core standards published between mid-May 2009 and mid-July 2010. Wanting to see which “independent experts” reporters called upon to explain these programs, I eliminated cites from state ed officials, union officials and politicos. This left me with 152 outside experts in 414 articles. Of the 23 experts quoted five times or more, 15 have connections with institutions receiving Gates funding and 13 with strong charter advocacy institutions. One oft-cited “expert” is Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the nonprofit Council of Chief State School Officers. Wilhoit’s group and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, its partner in spearheading the drive for the Common Core standards, received more than $35 million from the Gates Foundation (Boston.com, 7/30/10). In Bloomberg Businessweek (7/15/10), Daniel Golden revealed the man behind the curtain, pointing out that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation “bankrolled the development of the common curriculum standards.” In the Lowell Sun (7/18/10), Matt Murphy provided dollar amounts, provoking Sam Smith of the Progressive Review to offer this headline (7/23/10): “Is the Gates Foundation Involved in Bribery?” Golden writes, “Today, the Gates Foundation and Education Secretary Duncan move in apparent lockstep” on an agenda Golden calls “an intellectual cousin of the Bush administration’s 2002 No Child Left Behind law.”

Gates Foundation personnel are rarely quoted in the press. They don’t need to be: Their money talks for them. Both Golden and Murphy pointed to the tidy sum that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute received from Gates to provide analysis of the Common Core standards. There are other connections left unspoken: In the 55 citations from Chester Finn, Mike Petrilli and Andy Smarick at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, only five mention that the three served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Of the 152 experts cited in the 414 articles under review, 24 were associated with universities, but you won’t find many professors elucidating pedagogy or teaching strategies here. Instead, we get mostly economists and statisticians. Who knows if it’s deviousness or just sloppiness when the Washington Post (1/2/10) and New York Times Magazine (3/7/10) refer to Eric Hanushek as a “Stanford economist”? Hanu- shek is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank on Stanford’s campus. Carlo Rotella at least gets the descriptor right in the New Yorker (2/1/10) when he pegs Hanushek as “one of the most outspoken senior academics in the market-forces camp.” “Market forces” are the unacknowledged elephant in the room of the Obama/Duncan/Gates school reform policy. But it’s up to the reader to figure out what the agenda might be when the press quotes experts associated with groups like New America Foundation, NewSchools Venture Fund, New Leaders for New Schools, Mass Insight and on and on—without a hint about their pro-market agenda.

Reporters usually don’t even identify the Cato Institute as libertarian, never mind reveal the ties of the charter-advocate NewSchools Venture Fund to both the Broad and Gates Foundations and the administration. How many education reporters, citing Fred M. Hess (14 times in my study), director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, could even name a scholar who represents a view from the left, never mind phone one and ask for a soundbite?

If there were some sort of balance in press coverage of RTTT, they would ask Wisconsin professor Richard Brosio to explain the relationship of capital, democracy and schooling. Or call Richard Rothstein, research associate and respected author of numerous books, briefs, studies and reports at the Economic Policy Institute, including the EPI Briefing Paper he wrote with William Peterson, “Let’s Do the Numbers: Department of Education’s ‘Race to the Top’ Program Offers Only a Muddled Path to the Finish Line” (4/20/10). For years, Rothstein has been reminding people that no matter how many fourth graders pass the test, it won’t raise the minimum wage. The education press seem incapable of hearing this message—or sharing it with the public. I keep thinking about who else is missing. Although I put blogs beyond the purview of this article, this bit from David Berliner’s commentary on Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet blog (Washington Post.com, 6/29/10) nicely shows the kind of analysis that seems to scare reporters off: When poor children go to public schools that serve the poor, and wealthy children go to public schools that serve the wealthy, then the huge gaps in achievement that we see bring us closer to establishing an apartheid public school system. We create through our housing, school attendance and school districting policies a system designed to encourage castes—a system promoting a greater likelihood of a privileged class and an underclass. These are, of course, harbingers of demise for our fragile democracy.

Berliner wasn’t cited once in during the time period studied. So the question remains open: Why would the press shut out an expert, the co-author of the acclaimed Manufactured Crisis and Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools—while calling up Joe Williams and his cohort Charles Barone of the Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee (PAC) tied to hedge fund interests, for 40 citations? Duncan created a firestorm among bloggers when he told Sam Dillon and Tamar Lewin of the New York Times (5/4/10) that his policies encounter no opposition: “Zero.…There’s just an outpouring of support for the common-sense changes and the unprecedented investments we’re making.” This outrageous claim was left to stand unquestioned in the newspaper that still claims “All the news fit to print” on its masthead. No comments were accepted online.

Progressive Texas journalist Molly Ivins once warned (in her George W. Bush biography, Shrub), “People who have read only one book can be quite dangerous.” So it is with reporters who listen only to the same few people on an issue as complex as RTTT. As a longtime teacher, I grieve over the press’s unwillingness to touch on why the current destruction traveling in the name of reform is happening to our public schools, and I fear I might have found the answer in the movie Three Days of the Condor, where Joubert, the contract assassin, sums things up: “I don’t interest myself in ‘why.’ I think more often in terms of ‘when,’ sometimes ‘where’; always ‘how much.’... The fact is what I do is not a bad occupation. Someone is always willing to pay.” Susan Ohanian, a longtime teacher, is a freelance writer. She is author of Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?.

THE FULL LEARNING MATTERS BLOG THAT SUSAN PARTICIPATED IN, WITH THE MOST RECENT COMMENTS, IS REPRODUCED BELOW:

December 7th, 2011 Are Common Core standards good or bad for education?

Common Core Standards have caused a dividing line among several voices in education; our own John Merrow has weighed in on the topic as well. As 2011 gradually turns to 2012, we wanted to see what various people in the education field thought of Common Core — so we went out and asked them. Feel free to post your own comments below, as well. If interested in more of these online discussions, please visit our collection page for the series.

Karen Rambo, Colorado State University. Assessments will be the key here

Karen Rambo is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the School of Education and School of Teacher Education and Principal Preparation. Her research interests include assessment, academic growth, and mathematics education. She is a ten year veteran mathematics teacher.

The assessments for the Common Core will provide two key components: 1) allowing comparisons of how well individual states are educating their students, and 2) providing critical frequent feedback to teachers on how their students are performing. The former is of interest to policy makers and the media, but it is the latter that gets me excited about the potential of the Common Core. If the creators of the assessments can design tools that allow for frequent specific feedback of student performance, teachers will have the potential to be quite nimble in adjusting their instruction to meet the need of their students.

When I was a classroom teacher, I (like other mathematics teachers) used assessments frequently to try to find what my students knew and tailor my instruction to their needs. I now know that those assessments (often created by me) — while well-intentioned — were often insufficient. I knew my content area well, but I was only informally trained in the art and science of student assessment.

Having just completed my graduate work, I have a new appreciation for the technical savvy and expertise that goes into making a quality assessment. When I was a classroom teacher, I would have loved access to frequent relevant student information derived from high quality assessments — as long as the feedback about my instruction and student performance was constructive and not punitive.

The goals of the assessments for the Common Core are quite extensive but admirable. If the assessments of the Common Core can accomplish their stated goals, then I am optimistic about the success of the Common Core in ensuring all students are career and/or college ready.

Robert Rothman, Alliance for Excellent Education

There are three elements in the Standards’ favor

Robert Rothman, a veteran education writer, is a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education and the author of Something in Common: The Common Core Standards and the Next Chapter in American Education (Harvard Education Press, 2011).

The Common Core Standards represent a significant step forward in American education. Long before other nations, the U.S. established a basic education as a right for every child. Two decades ago, states began setting standards to define the knowledge and skills that should comprise that education. Now, with the Common Core Standards, nearly all states have defined a basic education as what all students should know and be able to do to be prepared for college and careers. And, significantly, the expectations are the same, no matter where a student lives.

A lot has to happen in order to realize this vision, and the record of twenty years of standards-based reform is decidedly mixed. But three factors are in the Standards’ favor. First, they are clear and spell out a logical progression over time. That makes sense to teachers. Second, the assessments that are currently being developed are designed explicitly to measure the full range of the Standards. Of course, there could be some slippage, but that is the intent, and because of the influence of tests on instruction, this is a powerful lever for change. Third, the fact that forty-six states have adopted the Standards means that other institutions that paid little mind to standards in the past — such as higher education, teacher education, and textbook publishers — are paying close attention to these Standards.

There have been fierce debates over education policy in recent years, but none of the issues that have become such flashpoints are likely to produce anywhere near the impact on student learning that the Common Core could produce. That’s because they don’t address what Dick Elmore calls the “instructional core” — the interactions between students and teachers that are the heart of learning. The Common Core goes straight to the instructional core. Done right, they can affect nearly every classroom in America — and for the better.

Susan Ohanian, Teacher/Author. We’re being steamrolled into one-size-fits-all

Susan Ohanian is a longtime teacher and author of 25 books on education policy and practice. One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards was provoked by the last time corporate bullies tried to push curriculum mandates into the schools. Her website in opposition to NCLB, Race to the Top, and the Common Core was awarded the George Orwell Award for Honesty and Clarity in Public Language.

We’d do well to heed 19th-century abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher warning to gardeners against being “made wild by pompous catalogue.” These days, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) hucksters pitch a pomposity more noxious than giant hogweed. We should name the CCSS for what it is — a dangerous distraction from the real needs of children.

Here’s a central problem: despite all the money and policing that goes into this, the poverty rate of children attending most urban and many rural schools exceeds 50 percent — and that remains the elephant in the room. The fact that so many of our children live in poverty, not teacher incompetence or a dearth of rigorous texts, is what should concern us. If the Standardistos weren’t so intent on downgrading the very idea that fiction teaches important lessons, they might heed Alice Walker’s observation: The most important question in the world is, “Why is the child crying?”

Back during a different education crisis, I received an emergency credential to teach English in a New York City high school larger than my hometown. When one of my students refused to read the assigned text, I panicked and ran to my department chair. He gave me the best pedagogical advice I ever received: “Then find a book he will read.”

Later, when I taught 8th grade, 15-year-old Keith was astounded to read his first book ever. “I read it, Miz O. I really read it. Honest. Listen, I’ll read it again.” Keith’s reading of Hop on Pop is one of the triumphs of my career. Funny thing: My principal hadn’t understood my determination to subscribe to the Dr. Seuss book club. And today’s CCSS fundamentalists would term Keith’s experience as my failure to supply the “substantial supports and accommodations” to give him “access to rigorous academic content” such as Little Women, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and Travels with Charley.

Billed as the CCSS architect, David Coleman delivered a teaching guide to the pompous and sterile pedagogy underlying CCSS when he spoke at the New York State Department of Education in April 2011, proclaiming, “[A]s you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a sh*t about what you feel or what you think.” Certainly, nobody writing the CCSS gave a fig about what teachers thought, and now the model lessons designed to turn English classrooms into boot camps for the global economy are spreading faster than ragweed. Coleman heralds the CCSS emphasis on nonfiction, insisting that readers gain “world knowledge” through nonfiction, which he calls “informational text,” as though fiction doesn’t provide readers with plenty of critical information. Skeptics might doubt that replacing Brown Bear, Brown Bear with a Wikipedia entry on Ursus arctos will fix our balance of trade — but the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Web site is listed as a CCSS exemplary text.

Although I find it easy to mock the CCSS exemplary texts, don’t misunderstand: If the CCSS listed all my favorite books, I’d still denounce it. Different readers need different books, and teachers discover children’s needs through close encounters, not by committee fiat. Education policy makers should read Arnold Lobel’s lovely little fable “Crocodile in the Bedroom.” A crocodile who loved the neat and tidy rows of the flowers on the bedroom wallpaper was coaxed outside into the garden by his wife. The crocodile couldn’t stand the “terrible tangle” and retreated to his bed, admiring the neat and tidy wallpaper. There, “he turned a very pale and sickly shade of green.” With David Coleman as their spokesman out on the stump, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the U. S. Department of Education — among others — prescribe a very pale, sickly shade of green future for our deliciously messy classrooms. Certainly, Lobel’s moral — without a doubt, there is such a thing as too much order — is critical here. Letting corporate school reformers steamroll our schools into a neat and tidy standardized one-size-fits-all product puts our children in great peril.

John Cronin, NWEA. What’s important is the quality of the response to adversity

John Cronin is the Director of the Kingsbury Center at Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).

For ten years now, thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), teachers have focused their efforts on increasing the rate of student proficiency on state assessments. Our organization’s research has found that proficiency standards on these assessments are generally very low. And because NCLB’s accountability formula is focused on increasing proficiency rates, most schools devote their energy to moving relatively small numbers of kids performing near the proficiency bar -“bubble kids” in educator lingo - above it.

The Common Core standards represent a major departure from current state standards in three respects:

1. The standards are substantively different. A May 2011 University of Pennsylvania study found only low to moderate alignment between current state standards and the Common Core. This suggests that teachers will be expected to deliver significantly different curriculum as we make the transition to the new standards.

2. The expectations are higher. The Common Core standards are grounded in the concept that students should leave school ready to enter college without requiring remedial courses. If the tests associated with the standard truly reflect this, then meeting this standard requires much higher performance by kids than is currently demanded by state assessments.

3. The standards affect everyone. The accountability expectations associated with the Common Core focus on evaluating schools and teachers by the growth they produce for all students rather than the number of kids who achieve proficiency. Teachers can’t meet these expectations by focusing on a few bubble kids; they will have to deliver instruction that is aimed at moving all students forward, regardless of their current performance.

All of this is a good thing, but it’s a huge change. Schools have spent the last decade calibrating their practices to a system that was focused on moving a few more kids each year over a low, fixed, achievement bar. Now we’re asking educators to teach to a much higher bar and adapt practices that move every kid forward. Let’s not be surprised when initial results on assessments of the Common Core seem disappointing, and let’s judge schools instead on the quality of their response to these challenges.

B. Jason Brooks, Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability. It could be great — or it could be an exercise in futility

B. Jason Brooks is the Director of Research at the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability.

The new Common Core learning standards in English language arts and math are a firm step in the right direction. As a nation, we are saying what students should know and what they should be able to do at each grade level. Yet, as significant as this development is, reformers need to tread cautiously to put this effort, and its potential results, into proper perspective.

Simply changing learning standards won’t result in improved student outcomes. Other things — big things — need to change as well.

Academic content that gets tested is more likely get taught, especially if there is a teacher-evaluation system in place that takes student achievement on assessments into consideration. Recognizing this, the federal government awarded nearly $400 million to state consortiums to fund the development of new rigorous assessments based on the Common Core learning standards. The hope is that these exams will allow states to evaluate how well students are meeting learning expectations.

It remains to be seen if state leaders will have the courage to implement assessments that are as comprehensive and rigorous as they need to be. Results of the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam, commonly referred to as the “gold standard” of assessments, reveal that a whopping 63 percent of the nation’s 8th graders failed to demonstrate grade-level proficiency in reading and 57 percent failed in math. Are these numbers the type that state education leaders are willing to admit? In the past, states have watered-down their exams and lowered the scores needed to pass, and thus artificially inflating pass rates, rather than telling families that most students aren’t being adequately prepared for college or a career. States must avoid similar temptations for the new Common Core is to be a success.

While national standards movement shows promise, the devil will be in the details of its implementation. Without proper rigor in both the content of these standards and the assessments designed to measure what our children have learned, this latest Common Core standards effort will rightly be little more than an expensive, time-wasting, over-hyped national exercise.

Joe Aguerrebere, Former President/CEO of NBPTS. A true turning point in our education policy history (Joe Aguerrebere is a former President and CEO of NBPTS (2003-2011), as well as a Deputy Director of the Ford Foundation from 1994 to 2003.)

Common Core has the potential to provide consistency, focus, and coherence regarding what all students in this country should learn where there is now wide variation in student learning and performance. However, standards are only the beginning. The standards move us toward some agreement on the first pillar of a quality education program, which is a consensus on what students should learn, often referred to as a curriculum. A second pillar addresses what and how we actually teach inside the classroom, or instruction. A third pillar involves what and how we assess learning so that we know what is working and what needs adjustment.

Moving ahead, there are many concerns to address. The first is that the standards are currently limited to English/Language Arts and mathematics. A well-rounded education demands more than a focus on two subjects. In addition, the groups that develop the standards for any subject should contain more generalists who can provide a counterbalance to the content heavy influence of subject matter specialists. A bottom line question for the inclusion of any set of standards should be “why does learning this stuff really matter in life?”

Secondly, standards should never be seen as final, but rather dynamic with periodic updating to maintain their currency. Therefore, the governance structure for oversight must be performed by a body that is inclusive, transparent, and independent. The current oversight is performed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. Unfortunately the membership of these organizations tends to change rapidly due to the volatility of electoral politics. This leads to a risk that the standards can be affected by shifts of political ideology and consequently lose their credibility. Therefore, a governance structure must maintain an arms-length relationship with any policy-making organizations.

Lastly, we know that student learning and performance will vary with some students reaching the standards and others not. What happens to students who have not mastered the standards? Unless standards are used to set targets and develop action plans to help all students achieve, we run the risk of standards being used as new barriers to keep students from charting a road to college and careers.

What we do now will determine whether standards become another barrier or a constructive tool to support all students.

FIRST COMMENT: December 7, 2011 at 1:03 pm

John Thompson says:

Back when the national History Standards were rejected, I was still a historian, not yet a teacher. But, they were about as good as anything I could imagine. We haven’t gotten any wiser in only 20 years have we? On the other hand, twenty years later there is a lot more history be be studied … Granted, that’s just one subject. I’ll be interested in seeing how this works out, but mostly I suspect its an academic exercise.

SECOND COMMENT: December 7, 2011 at 1:17 pm

John Bennett says:

Common core standards (or virtually anything else!) will of course have varying impact depending upon the motivation and intention of those engaging with them in some manner. If those involved have some narrow, even hidden, objective(s), the efforts will be doomed from the start. If the interested parties bring their initial positions AS WELL AS their commitment and motivation to find what Covey (new book, “The 3rd Alternative”) argues as the better alternative - believed by all parties as better than their initial positions, then enormous progress will occur.

By the way, I would argue that far too much emphasis has been given to COMMON at the expense of including CORE in these efforts. I would argue that if efforts were made to identify COMMON CORE standards, there would be far less concern about what was included and what was not. It’s far easier to eliminate those topics that don’t satisfy the core knowledge test.

THIRD COMMENT: December 7, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Dea Conrad-Curry says:

Of course, anyone with practical experience in education knows that delineating standards are not in and of themselves the cure to the quagmire in which the US educational system finds itself. Not will assessment be the only answer, especially if assessment is annual and without timely, useful feedback. Moreover, although I admire much about the goals and content of the standards, I question the motivation. Public schooling was not instituted in this country as a direct means of capitalistic success; however, the involvement of near incestual relationships between foundations, funding, and major decision makers taints the belief many have in the motivations of players in this important and potentially life-changing venture.

FOURTH COMMENT:: December 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm Robert L. Arnold says:

Why a standardized core curriculum? Robert L. Arnold, Professor of Education, Emeritus - 326 Bay Lane - P.O. Box 103, Willsboro, NY 12996 - remakingourschools@willex.com - Website: remakingourschoolsforthe21stcentury.com

Identifying a standardized core curriculum makes it easier to construct standardized tests that will be made”longer and more comprehensive” according to David Abrams, Assistant Commissioner of the New York State Education Department.” These longer and more comprehensive standardized tests will be utilized to measure improvements in learning outcomes. According to Abrams, “These changes are in preparation for the transition into assessments based on the New York State Common Core Standards, which will begin in 2013.” He says “We are also moving toward the use of growth metrics for institutional, principal, and teacher accountability.” (code words for using student scores on standardized tests to identify failing schools, principals and teachers) This is being repeated across the USA. New York State, after initially rejecting the standardization premises, finally gave in and agreed to participate in return for money.

How can thousands of adults, college professors, popular educators, teachers, congressman, senators, governors, presidents, school superintendents, chancellors, commissioners, assistant commissioners, the Secretary of Education and members of the public be so wrong?

THIS CAN BE EASILY EXPLAINED! If deliberations and actions are based on a set of invalid assumptions and beliefs, conclusions and plans will be wrong, wrong, wrong. For example, everyone knows there are no two people alike in this world; not their DNA, not their experiences nor what they have done with their experiences. Yet, all these people are willing to ignore this fundamental truth and under the slogans, “Race to the Top” and “No child Left Behind” plan to arbitrarily impose on an innocent public, on parents and their children, a misinformed and arrogant position that supports standardization, believing that one-size-fits-all.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS POSITION? For starters, a standardized common core of content for the school curriculum and the standardized tests designed to measure performance by students ignores developmental differences in individual learners. Human development is known to occur along an invarient sequence, unless of course, this sequence is driven off course by life’s trauma, developmentally inappropriate experiences imposed by educators or some malady that interferes with the usual growth patterns, Emergence of advancing levels of biological development is unpredictable and cannot be accelerated by instruction. If you need proof of this consider accelerating the arrival of puberty. Development is fundamentally shaped by a unique genetic code, supplemented by a unique set of experiences and a unique transformation of those experiences absorbed into the neurological mechanisms of each individual. A well known and validated developmental sequence of cognitive capabilities has been around for at least sixty years, developed by the late Jean Piaget. This sequence has four highlighted and observable levels of performance in the cognitive behavior of learners. These points along a cumulative developmental sequence were labeled by Piaget first as a motor response to sensory input, followed by a pre-operational, pre-logical, imaginative capability for defining sensory input from experience, followed by a concrete operational, logical, capability for acting upon one’s direct experience, and finally formal operational capabilities characterized by abstract manipulation of sensory data including logical thought, hypothetical deduction and critical/creative thinking. These mature capabilities are necessary for advanced problem solving. Full development at each point on the continuum of development is dependent upon full development at each prior level.

WHAT DOES A FOURTH GRADE TEACHER FACE EVERY DAY? In a group of ten year olds, one can typically find three levels of developmental capabilities based on Piaget’s schematic. There will be a few pre-operational, pre-logical, youngsters, many concrete operational youngsters capable of logical operations applied to concrete, direct experience and a few formal operational youngsters who are fully capable of hypothetical deduction and abstract, critical and creative reasoning.

HOW WILL A STANDARDIZED, ARBITRARILY-DEFINED BODY OF CORE CURRICULAR CONTENT AND ACCOMPANYING TESTS RESPOND TO THESE DEVELOPMENTAL REALITIES? Youngsters who are developmentally at the pre-operational, pre-logical, level of functioning will likely fail to even guess what the writers of test questions had in mind. This group will most likely be destined to receive remedial instruction, when in fact, what they probably require is more time to develop biologically and be allowed to process their personal experiences in their unique, perceptualy-based fashion. The consequence of misunderstanding the results gleaned from standardized tests label these students below grade level, therefor needing remediation. Not only will this information be used erroneously to grade teacher and school performance, it will label these individuals with the stereotype of deficiency that will likely last for a lifetime. It will also necessitate costly remedial programs that can be avoided if only there can be patience shown with the principles of human growth and development. The concrete operational youngster will be able to predictably answer questions that bear some resemblance to this individual’s direct, concrete experience. Any questions that require comprehending hypothetical or abstract ideas will not likely be answered correctly, although some educated guesses may be possible. Answering questions correctly is limited by the current intellectual capabilities of the individual, and the extent and quality of experiences acted upon at his or her level of development. The concrete operational youngster will not perform at the expected level demanded by the advocates of standardization. The results from these tests will lower the acceptable performance-indicators of the classroom and the school. Failures are predominately due to developmental capabilities, that are biologically based and influenced by the quality and quantity of experience. The concrete operational youngsters will be labeled on grade level statistically allowing for a certain amount of failure consistent with an average of scores on the tests. The individual with formal operational capabilities will be able to answer questions correctly that require logical connections, abstract reasoning and educated guesses, provided there has been experience with direct and related content. This experience need not be in-depth. Most school experiences are superficial and yet correct answers on tests are still possible. The sub-group of developmentally advanced learners will be showered with accolades for meeting the standards. However, this individualized performance is primarily due to advanced developmental capabilities, ushered in as a result of this individual’s more accelerated biological, gene-driven growth, differing from fellow ten year olds. This happens regardless of innate neurological differences that may also exist. These youngsters will be considered above grade level.

WHAT IS THE GOAL? All learners in the current standardized paradigm will be asked to try and reach the performance of formal operational youngsters. This achievement for most ten year olds is impossible due largely to developmental differences, and often due to a lack of exposure to developmentally inappropriate experiences.When an arbitrary grade level definition is applied it takes into account the average performance of learners, due to its imposed definition, the scores bear little resemblance to the real performance of individuals of their age.

WHAT OTHER PROBLEMS EXIST WITH THE CURRENT STANDARDIZATION MENTALITY? If these developmental shortcomings in the use and interpretations of standardized test results, based on a standardized common core curriculum, are not troubling enough, consider this thoughtful treatment of “Unanswered Questions About Standardized Tests” written by Marion Brady and published in the April 24th, 2011 edition of the Washington Post.



Comments:

December 8, 2011 at 5:21 AM

By: Kimberly Bowsky

Common Core Standards

We must watch for the tyranny of future rules. It's our job to make sure that our students are not Common-cored to death. The criticism can be leveled at 20th-century education is the failure of the standards and accountability movements to uplift education. Everyone needs to be wary for the 21st.

December 8, 2011 at 8:55 AM

By: Jean R Schwab

One Size Fits All

Susan is right! That was one of my frustrations when I was teaching. We had everything dictated to us and some students were better served by reading more complicated books and others needed easier reading. They had to experience success first and then they could move up. I kept saying to my principal. I was in the classroom and knew my students better than anyone else and I knew what they needed. I was also frustrated because much of the work they wanted me to do was "busy work" and did not help me or the student at all. I wanted to spend my time actually doing something productive and helpful for the students. I felt that I had so little free time that I wanted to use it actually doing something of value. I must admit that so much "busy work" (in my opinion) was given to keep teachers occupied so they couldn't do anything of value or wore themselves out doing it.

December 9, 2011 at 9:48 AM

By: Susan Ohanian

Censorship thwarted

After I complained about Learning Matters (John Merrow/PBS censorship of my invited contribution — on Substance, Daily Censored & Twitter — they "restored" my criticism of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Achieve, Inc. We can't compete with Gates money but we can — and must — remind the media that we are watching.

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