MEDIA WATCH: As more states leave Common Core, Chicago Sun-Times doubles down with abstractions, inaccurarcies, half-truths -- and stupidities

A couple of days before Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal ended the state's relationship with Common Core and PARCC, the Chicago Sun-Times editorialized in favor of Common Core and misrepresented the position of the Chicago Teachers Union in the process. While the stories out of Louisiana are becoming more and more droll (apparently the State Education Supt. thinks he can override the governor and keep Common Core humming in Louisiana), it's worth re-reading and commenting on the version of reality currently being peddled by the Sun-Times.

Chicago Sun-Times editorial writer Kate Grossman at the June 15, 2010 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Common Core worth fighting for. CHICAGO SUN-TIMES EDITORIALS June 15, 2014 7:38PM

Dont dump them. Do them right.

Thats our motto for navigating the thicket of conflicting and often inaccurate claims floating around the country on the Common Core learning standards, an ambitious set of annual learning goals for K-12 students in reading and math.

The big news last week was what some characterized as a retreat by one of the Common Cores biggest boosters: Bill Gates. His foundation called for a two-year moratorium on making high-stake decisions based on the results of tests that are tied to the learning goals, most notably teacher evaluations. Testing in most states begins next spring.

Gates is right and this, thankfully, already is the plan for Illinois, with Chicago as a key exception. His call echoes that of many others, including the nations two largest teacher unions. For more than a year, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has expressing deep unease about the potential for misusing tests that will be measuring mastery of material that is just starting to penetrate classrooms.

But, like Gates, we still strongly support the Common Core standards and the tests aligned to them. Gates call is for a reflective pause, not a retreat.

The new list of learning goals asks all teachers not just the top-flight ones to emphasize critical thinking and reasoning over rote learning. In Illinois and most states, they replaced weak guidelines that often expected too little of our students, producing curriculum and testing that did the same.

A recent Washington Post story laid out how Gates financed a $200 million effort to create, implement, study and promote the standards beginning in 2008. By 2010, 45 states, including Illinois, had adopted the standards.

Gates campaign highlights the pernicious problem of money buying outsized influence. But make no mistake about how Common Core was born: It originated with governors and education officials from across the U.S. They came to Gates looking for financial support to replace a patchwork network of 50 standards for each state, most inadequate, and jerry-rigged testing systems that made kids appear better educated than they really were. Because of that sorry state, Illinois, for example, already was moving to a Common Core-like set of standards well before 2010.

Debate about Common Core, then, should center about how to make it work, not about how to get rid of it, as the Chicago Teachers Union has called for.

And, make no mistake, there is much to improve.

? Common Core was first introduced in Illinois in 2010, but in February just 17.5 percent of Illinois teachers surveyed by the state board of education said they felt completely prepared to implement the new standards. Some 67 percent say they were somewhat prepared. The new standards arrived during a period of deep budget cuts in schools across Illinois.

? Educators have raised particular issues with the primary grade standards, saying they arent developmentally appropriate.

? There is great concern about the potential overuse of testing this is a key issue for the CTU and something Illinois is grappling with. Lawmakers and education leaders several years ago wisely chose not to fold the Common Core-aligned test results, which begin next spring, into teacher evaluations for the first two years, as Gates is recommending and other states should heed.

New teacher evaluation systems that include student test results arent required by law until the 2016-17 school year.

Chicago is an exception. CPS already uses a set of student standardized test results in teacher evaluations but CPS will not replace them with the new state-administered Common Core tests next spring, which is a wise decision. Its not clear if or when Chicago will switch. The delay has merit, but it also opens the door to excessive testing in Chicago. Plus, giving multiple tests, each potentially focused on different skills in reading and math, could undermine full implementation of the Common Core standards.


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