Saturday, March 1, 2014

What's the Big Deal with Common Core?

So we’ve all been hearing A LOT about the Common Core Standards (CCS) these days.  Up until now, my knowledge of it has been embarrassingly small.

When I envisioned doing some research and writing a blog post, I was just going to write one concise post on the subject.  Now that I’ve typed out all I want to say, I have decided to split it into several posts for ease of reading.  If you are still interested after you read this article, the following two posts will talk more specifically about the English Language Arts standards and the Math standards.

**NOTE:  I have listed most but not all of my sources.  This is a blog post, not a research paper.  But trust me, I cross-checked almost everything.  If you want to cross-check me, pull up Google and get to work.
According to the Common Core (CC) website,

Building on the excellent foundation of standards states have laid, the Common Core State Standards are the first step in providing our young people with a high-quality education. It should be clear to every student, parent, and teacher what the standards of success are in every school.
Hmm.   I’m thinking “the first step in providing our young people with a high-quality education?”  So up until now, we have taken NO steps in giving our kids a high-quality education?  Serious eye-rolling going on right about now.    
But 45 states plus the District of Columbia have adopted these standards.  So they must be pretty good, right?  Well, we know that our schools depend on federal funding to survive.  So, if the government ties critical federal funding to implementation of the CCS…
CC came about after basically everyone was willing to admit that No Child Left Behind was a royal failure.  What NCLB showed us was that students were not meeting existing standards.  So what do the CCS plan to do?  Make those standards higher and the testing harder.
The CCS mainly fall into two categories:  English Language Arts and Math.  They were developed by a team of 25 people who were organized into a work group and were in charge of developing the standards.  Of those, NONE were classroom teachers.   A complete list was hard to find, but here it is if you care.  Notice that most of these people are associated with either ACT, Inc.; The College Board (makers of the SAT); or Achieve, Inc. (a group consisting of half governors and half CEOs of large corporations).  Should we be worried that these standards were at all influenced by opportunities to make money? 
I’m not even going to go into all the articles I read about the $160 million that the Gates Foundation has poured into CC.  Lest you think perhaps Mr. Gates is doing this out of his generous nature and genuine concern for the youth of America, consider the fact that he has also invested $2.2 billion into Coca-Cola and $871 million into McDonald’s, despite the fact the Foundation “works to help all people lead healthy productive lives.”  Come on, people!  He’s a money-making man!  He does nothing that won’t benefit him.

Suffice it to say that from what I read, the authors of the CCS, the textbook publishers, the test developers, and the Gates Foundation are so interconnected financially that it will make your head spin.  If you want to read more, go here.
CC is a top-down approach. There is apparently no plan to work out the curriculum and testing as the process emerges. The standards are set and are clearly defined. The tests are written, developed, and published. All of this without any kind of pilot program to find out if it will work.
Teachers will be evaluated based on how their students fair on the standardized CC tests, so what choice do they have but to teach with rigid adherence to the CC curriculum?  And these tests will be administered numerous times throughout the school year, at a price tag yet unknown but which will most definitely be high.  That’s not even mentioning all the time spent testing that could be used for learning.  In Colorado, the tests are given 4 times a year.  4 times a year!!
Charlotte Danielson, a supporter of CC and a leading teaching expert with degrees from Cornell and Oxford admitted,
I do worry somewhat about the assessments—I'm concerned that we may be headed for a train wreck there. The test items I've seen that have been released so far are extremely challenging. If I had to take a test that was entirely comprised of items like that, I'm not sure that I would pass it—and I've got a bunch of degrees. So I do worry that in some schools we’ll have 80 percent or some large number of students failing. That's what I mean by train wreck.
I found the following question on an ACT 1st grade English Language Arts Practice test:

The Play

Karen and Rudy were bored on Saturday. They did not know what to do.

"I have an idea!" Karen said. "We should put on a play!"
"That's a great idea!" Rudy said.

Rudy and Karen asked all their friends to act in the play.

"I'll be a bear," Sheila said.
"I'll be a deer," Myron said.
"We'll be campers," Karen and Rudy said.

The kids spent all morning making their costumes. Then they invited their parents to the play. The adults sat in Karen's backyard and watched the show. It was about two campers who see a deer in the forest. Then they get chased away by a big bear! All the parents loved the play.

5. If this story were turned into a book, it would be

a. funnier
b. more serious
c. longer
d. less interesting

I read this, and I seriously sat there and looked at the answers, unsure what to choose.  The answer is c because books are longer than stories.  But isn't this a little confusing?  And this is on a test for 6-year-olds!

New York recently completed its first wave of CC assessments. Teachers and students reported extreme student stress during the rigorous exams. In fact, 8 principals of prominent New York schools wrote and signed a letter to parents that noted their concerns about the CC testing that took place in the 3-8 grade levels.
We know that many children cried during or after testing, and others vomited or lost control of their bowels or bladders. Others simply gave up. One teacher reported that a student kept banging his head on the desk, and wrote, ‘This is too hard,’ and ‘I can’t do this,’ throughout his test booklet.

That's hard for me to stomach.  You can read the rest of the letter for yourself to see what else they said about the tests, including how they were too long and some of the questions were so ambiguous that not even the teachers and principals could agree on what the answers were.

When the results came in, only 26.4% of all students met the ELA proficiency standards and 29.6% passed the math exams.  Compare those numbers to 47% and 60% last year, respectively.  Less than 4% of English Language Learner students passed.  70% of the students were identified as needing “academic intervention.”  70%!! 

(On a side note and going back to my earlier point about the curriculum being influenced by corporate money-makers, the tests reportedly included corporate logos and promotional material in reading passages. Hmm...)
This blog has the following tale:
 A fellow parent told me about the effect of the Common Core testing on her daughter. Last year her little girl took the New York State Mathematics exam in the fourth grade. Her performance level on the Common Core test was scored as a 2 (below proficiency), however, the year before she was a 4 (advanced) and has been a very strong student in Math. Unfortunately, this parent was told by her school that her daughter must be placed in an additional Math support class for academic intervention services because of her score. Upon hearing this, the student said, “Now I’m stupid. Now I’m a dumb kid,”. The parent told me that her daughter’s teacher told her that she really does not need AIS, but the State of New York mandates it because of her score on the exam. The student’s confidence has been unnecessarily crushed and the parent is outraged.

Over and over, CC states that their goal in education is “college and career readiness.”  This sounds good.  Don’t we want our kids to go to college and get good jobs? 

But then I started to think about it.  Aren't we missing something?  Dr. Terrance Moore, in his book to which I will refer more to in a later post, asks a good question.  “Is going to college the same thing as knowledge?”

Let’s compare that guideline for today’s students to one from 1879.  The Massachusetts School of Law of 1789 stated that all instructors of youth must

impress on the minds of children and youth committed to their care and instruction the principles of piety and justice and a sacred regard for truth, love of their country, humanity and universal benevolence, sobriety, industry and frugality, chastity, moderation and temperance, and those other virtues which are the ornament of human society and the basis upon which a republican constitution is founded; and they shall endeavor to lead their pupils, as their ages and capacities will admit, into a clear understanding of the tendency of the above mentioned virtues to preserve and perfect a republican constitution and secure the blessings of liberty as well as to promote their future happiness, and also to point out to them the evil tendency of the opposite vices.
Wow.  That makes it sound like training children to become upstanding, honest, loyal, and happy human beings was more important than preparing them specifically for the workforce.
There's a thought!

Oh, and did I mention?  Sidwell Friends, the prestigious private schoool where President Obama sends his girls, has not adopted and does not plan to adopt the new Common Core standards.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you Heather. In my high school Government class we were told that the constitution specifically did not give the Federal Gov't. any right to interfere with the education of our children because our founding fathers knew that the gov't would then impose requirements about what must be taught. I wish I knew when and how that got changed. We need the federal gov't completely out of our educational system. Really glad you are doing this!


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